The Showdown Effect is all about taking down your opponents in style. It's a 2.5D multiplayer platform game for PC and Mac that boasts interactive environments, big guns and silly costumes. Players control a singular character and charge around large arenas looking for enemies to shoot or slice to death. Skill is the bedrock on which the game is formed: you'll get short shrift without it.
Movement is controlled with the WASD keys on the left hand, with the mouse cursor providing the reticule. Aiming is entirely deliberate, as you can't shoot wildly and hope to make a connection - the cursor needs to be directly over your opponent in order to score a hit. Click either side of your enemy and you'll miss.
Special moves are assigned to Ctrl, and then there's buttons for jump, throw, healing and so on. The initial challenge is co-ordinating yourself during the unrelenting and frantic scraps. Several hours in and wrong button presses are still a regular occurrence, but once the controls are mastered, moving through the arenas becomes second nature.
It's at this point that you can start adding flair to your actions. Wall jumps, slides, leaping over rockets, blocking incoming blows from katanas: it's not long before all of these moves are part of your repertoire. They'll need to be, because without them you're merely feeding other people's meters, so to speak. It's also possible to utilise the environments around you, using one hit wonders like the fire axe that are there to help you bring the pain, or defensive aids like pizza boxes that are on hand to shield you from incoming projectiles. Throwing these "props" is also essential for disrupting incoming attacks, stunning your opponent long enough to give you time to retaliate.
Each game holds between two and eight players, and during each round they traverse the multi-layered levels in search of each other, trying to notch up as many kills as possible. Much of the excitement comes from taking down an opponent, then escaping by the skin of your teeth. This then (usually) requires you to find a quiet place to bandage up, before returning for another slice of the action - though it's not uncommon to be discovered in this vulnerable state and finished off by an opportunistic adversary.
There's no winning number, instead a clock runs down leading to a final showdown at the end. The game continues seamlessly into this endgame, and each player is given a full compliment of health and ammo, handed one last life, and then everyone goes at it until there's only one fighter left standing. That final player is then handed a bonus, and the overall match winner is declared. If a high number of kills has been amassed then being the last player standing isn't always a necessity in order to win, but it most certainly helps.
There are eight different characters, each with a special power or skill. Dutch McClone can throw up a defensive shield to deaden the pain heading his way (though in my opinion perhaps this could be nerfed ever so slightly - either way it's a useful skill for players just starting out), Hailey Skye can rocket boost out of harms way with a huge leap to safety. Hank Stream throws explosive grenades, Lord Edmund Gauntlet does the same, except his ‘nades leave behind a poisonous haze of gas. The list goes on, but in short there should be something that appeals to most playstyles.
It's the characters themselves that give Showdown its distinctive flavour. They're all inspired by action films from the last thirty years. Each of these characters can be fully customised (apart from their special powers). You can dress them in different outfits, with three different slots to choose from. With a helmet or hood (big fat nod to Magicka) you can obscure the face of your fighter, and in doing so make them truly your own. There's plenty of costumes that can be purchased using both AC points and real money via the store, but these outfits are purely cosmetic. It'll keep things looking fresh, because while they haven't got boring yet, it's not hard to envisage a time where the cheesy one-liners spouted throughout each bout don't hold the same appeal as they do to fresh ears.
Playing dress-up aside, building your character is the name of the game. Turning a generic loadout into your personal recipe for dealing death takes a little bit of time. AC points are handed out after each game, and these can be spent on unlocking new weapons, weapon skins and characters. You're given a selection of basic builds at the start, and there's more to be unlocked as and when you please (the number you start with depends on which version of the game you pick up).
The weapons that can be selected offer much needed variety. Initially each character is equipped with a katana and an assault rifle. Once these have been mastered you can branch out with pistols, shotguns, RPGs, throwing knives, SMGs and rifles to choose between. Different weapons have different reload times and magazine sizes, and each packs a different punch. Once your aim has improved you may want to switch from the more general assault rifle to the more deliberate pistol, for example. Once you've picked your firearm of choice, you can dress it in a different skin, further differentiating you from the crowd. There's plenty of freedom to express yourself, and create a build that really plays to your strengths on the battlefield.
You can take your personalised action-themed character into one of four modes. Showdown is the game's bread and butter, but there's variety in the other three that makes for a welcome change. The Expendables has one team taking on waves of player-controlled grunts possessing decreased health and randomly assigned weapons. Team Elimination throws two teams against each other, with respawn times increasing as more and more people die, until one side is wiped out. One Man Army has one player taking on waves of henchmen until they're KIA, at which point someone else assumes that role and the dead player comes back as generic footsoldier: meat for the grinder.
On top of these different modes there are customisation options that can be unlocked, meaning you can create custom games with, for example, one shot kills, or no healing. For groups of friends or like minded players it means a huge variety of different options are available for creating a more personalised experience. There's also a spectator mode and Twitch TV integration, so you can watch others and learn from them (or their mistakes) if you want.
There's a more rigid experience awaiting those willing to take to the Ranked playlist. Here players are able to see their head to head scores against each player on the field. There's nowhere to hide, and getting plenty of kills is not enough on its own, it's all about having a positive K/D spread across the board, with your success in this area having a considerable impact on your overall score at the end of the game.
The Showdown Effect is not a game without flaws. Some of the powers feel a little unbalanced, and there's the occasional issue with lag. We didn't have too many problems in this area - in fact most of the time we encountered people with choppy signal it made them easier to kill, not harder - but there are others at Gamereactor who've had trouble in this respect, so it's worth noting. There were also a few crashes to desktop, which is never appreciated.
There could be more maps, and more characters, and undoubtedly this much needed content is to be made available/sold to us at a later date, but given the budget pricing of the title (£7.99 standard, £14.99 for the Deluxe edition), what there already is feels like good value for money. The maps are pretty sizeable, so there's plenty to get to grips with at first, but increased variety will go down a treat in the long-run.
Gripes aside, Showdown is great fun play. Sure it's brutal and uncompromising for newcomers, but get through the first couple of hours and you'll be knee-deep in frantic, explosive action, humorous parody and catchy one-liners. It's got amusing characters, great audio, interesting 2.5D visuals and a welcome emphasis on skill-based combat. If all that sounds appealing, and you don't mind dying a lot, it's well worth the price of admission.
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