Give your brain a rest this week with Bombstrike. Although the screenshots may tend to make it look a little more deep and strategic than it is, it’s still a good bit of fun that will test the player's spatial awareness, reflexes and trigger finger. Once I got over the fact that it wasn’t a remake of Microprose’s brilliant chopper combat sim “Gunship” (which I literally played for days on end in the 80s), I quite enjoyed playing Bombstrike for what it is.
The player controls an attack helicopter from the 3rd person perspective through missions in various settings that involve blowing a lot of stuff to smithereens. Keyboard and mouse input is necessary with the WASD keys facilitating lateral movement over the terrain and the mouse used to control pitch and altitude simultaneously. Mouse down and the chopper will pitch up and climb, mouse up and it will pitch down and descend regardless of the speed and orientation at the time. This unusual and frankly very arcade style of setup allows the helicopter a range of manoeuvrability way outside of the envelope of traditional aerodynamics. I struggled at first with what seemed a bit of unintuitive and totally unrealistic flight model, but did manage to come to terms with it after a while. When the player finally gets into the groove, the result is a nimble weapons platform that is capable of dealing never ending streams of hot death to any enemies foolish enough to come within range. Normally this might cause the game to be very short lived but, luckily, in Bombstrike there’s no shortage of cannon fodder.
Left click unleashes the primary weapon, which is a sort of non-guided rocket launcher. The targeting system will aim-assist the volleys of rockets biased towards the currently targeted enemy. As long as the player has line of sight, the rockets rarely miss and are quite devastating even over hundreds of metres. These rockets are also unlimited in quantity and are ironically the most powerful weapon in the chopper’s armoury. Right click will allow the chopper to fire alternative weaponry that can be selected via mouse wheel or number keys. Pound for pound, the limited numbers of surface to ground missiles do pack more of a punch than one standard rocket volley, but the amount of time and the close range that is required to get a lock on the target (and thus expose the chopper to enemy fire) is too long to make them very useful. Likewise, the air-to-air missiles that the documentation insists are fire and forget, simply never seem to hit the targets intended. The only alternate weapon that I find to be remotely useful is the bomb, which is an explosive charge that is dropped vertically on to dug in and entrenched enemy positions. This can be useful in some situations where the terrain and vegetation can block a rocket attack from a distance.
The chopper starts each mission with 100 armour points, and when these are depleted, it’s game over. Each of the 14 missions needs to be unlocked in sequence, and there seems to be a weak plotline tying the missions together in a haphazard way, but there’s little sense of continuity between missions. I don’t think that the game needed it to be brutally honest, and the convoluted text and numerous typos need to be addressed as they just detract from a fairly solid action shooter. Once unlocked, the player is free to play any mission out of order anyway.
The game wouldn’t run on my Windows 7 desktop machine with a GTX 260. Something about “failing to render” something or other which meant absolutely nothing to my non-programmer brain. I have my drivers up to date since I’m reviewing lots of games on a regular basis, so I’m not sure what was going on there. I was forced to review the game on my laptop with a Nvidea Go 7600 chipset, and surprisingly the game ran reasonably well even on the highest settings at my 1440x900 native resolution. I would recommend giving the demo a play before running out and forking out your hard earned cash for this one just in case there’s trouble running it on your PC.
Once the game was up and running, though, I must admit to being quite impressed with the level of detail in the effects and the diverse 3-D modelling. There’s a noise filter applied over the display to give a grainy and gritty war zone appeal to the overall production. I quite like it, but it might not be to everyone’s taste. The game also seemed to cap out the framerate at 20 FPS, which is adequate for gameplay but probably going to be less than optimal for high end systems. The explosions look very realistic sometimes. There’s a really cool effect where an explosive ring flies out at a higher velocity from the epicentre of the blast sometimes that is very convincing! The sound effects are a immersive cacophony of explosions and weapons discharges, computerised aural warnings and indications that just create a white knuckle experience when the action heats up.
The gameplay is somewhat unrealistic by design, yet not ridiculously contrived and totally unbelievable. For example, line of sight rules apply to the enemies as well as the players attacks, and taking an enemy by surprise by popping up from behind a hill and attacking from unexpected directions can earn the player valuable seconds as the startled foes scramble to align turrets and take aim. Using the terrain to the player’s advantage gives the game a slight tactical aspect that is all that is needed to give an edge to an otherwise button mashing experience. Make no mistake though, strategy plays second fiddle to reflexes in Bombstrike; shooter fans will get more from this title than anyone else.
I did notice a bug which seems to affect the high score list, displaying ridiculous numbers in place of valid scores, but this doesn’t really affect the gameplay to any extent. The collision model is a bit lenient as well, and although this seems to be constant for both player and enemy attacks, it does have the effect of making shots that look like they should miss as registering hits from time to time.
As long as you don’t approach the game with an expectation of anything other than an action shooter, then Bombstrike will not disappoint. The terrain generation and game engine is so good that it almost seems a waste to use it on an arcade style blaster. I’d love to see a follow up that involves elements of career progression, dynamic campaigns, realistic flight/damage modelling, inventory management etc. Perhaps that’s just me though, but Bombstrike does strike me as a bit light for the amount of effort that has so obviously gone into its production. A fine job.
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