These characters are nothing but an assemblage of a ludicrous number of action movie clichés and references, creating an iconographic superimposition of a character that comes from no narrative or definable place but that could fit into any of them.
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Title: The Showdown Effect
Players: up to 8
ESRB Rating: N/A
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Release Date: 2013-03-05
The Showdown Effect is a multiplayer only title. Without any end point or natural conclusion of a story or world building, the entire experience is contained to how enjoyable I found it to fight my fellow players. The most important question I ended up asking myself was: will I continue playing after I’ve finished reviewing it?
The Showdown Effect is by no means a bad game. In fact, it is super enjoyable with its over-the-top premise and loving relationship to action movie clichés. You pick a character, each of which has their own special abilities and personalities, which are largely represented through catch phrases and other one-sided dialogue. These characters are nothing but an assemblage of a ludicrous number of action movie clichés and references, creating an iconographic superimposition of a character that comes from no narrative or definable place but that could fit into any of them. They are the Ur archetypes of action movie heroes and heroines.
For instance, Dutch McClone is a man who had his identity stolen before being transported in time and now he wants his life back as a kindergarten teacher. And, of course, he comes with a hilarious Schwarzenegger accent. Or one can play as Hank Stream, whose family has been kidnapped and has 24 hours to use a particular set of skills he learned from his time in Delta Force to get them back. He comes with an even worse Liam Neeson accent that I only recognize as such because I read the above paraphrased character profile.
The levels are complex sets of, again, amalgamations of various similar action movies settings into standard action locales for a battle to the death. You have the mountain bandit hideout, the medieval castle, the city fish market, and so on. The level is built in the style of a multiplayer Metroidvania game, but you can only see what your character can see within his line of sight. Everything else is a grayed out fog of war. Sound becomes you ally as you try to figure out where the opponents you cannot see are.
The game designers clearly love action movies and poured that love into ever facet of the game in hopes of placing the player into such action movie style battles. The hope is that the ridiculous and iconic moments will spawn out of the players use of the toolbox of elements that they are handed. And underneath that spectacular skin of equal parts parody and homage is a pretty tight third-person battle game.
There are a number of different match types, though I was only able to play two of them, as the others don’t seem too popular in the community. Showdown, the battle royal mode, and Team Elimination, a rather clever take on team deathmatch. Each time a member of your team dies, the next respawn is delayed 5 seconds and is compounded as the match goes on. The match ends when all members of one of the teams are dead.
You earn points at the end of each match that you can spend on unlocking characters, weapon skins, or rules to adjust the matches. But ultimately all of that is at the mercy of whether you find the basic combat of the matches engaging. The moves are simple enough that you can pull off action movie stunts with little effort, but more experienced players will learn how to chain these moves together and time their attacks, dodges, and specials in the most effective ways possible. Melee fighting is a one click affair, but the main sticking point is how the guns work. You use the mouse to point in the direction you fire, but you also have to keep the target circle on the opponent or you wont hit them. If it is behind or ahead of the character that you are trying to shoot, you will end up shooting the walls. You can also pick up weapons from the environment, from knives and pipes to swords and fire extinguishers, and use them either as either melee weapons or projectiles.
All of the battle mechanics are tuned towards replicating the over-the-top battle sequences of action movies in the most cartoonish way possible and allowing the cool moments to emerge organically from the mass chaos. One of the coolest moments I saw was when two players, who were the last ones standing, independently threw away their guns and swords to finish the match mano a mano. I never saw that again in any other match I played.
The Showdown Effect is a game that desperately needs controller support for all of its quick button presses and timed platforming. The keyboard is not ideal for the action that the game wants its players to perform. But I don’t think that is possible given how the developers choose to implement guns.
Ultimately, I enjoyed my time with the game and there’s nothing really wrong with it, but I just don’t see myself going back. I’ve had my fill, and it was fine. It was just fine.