The Showdown Effect Review: Yippee-ki… Ah, Screw It

the-showdown-effect-bannerHave you ever wondered what would happen if Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Bruce Lee and Liam Neeson did battle in a giant battle royale of action movie superstars? I’m sure a drunken conversation has resulted in a battle between movie heroes but nobody’s really gone beyond the argument over pints.

The Showdown Effect, a new game from Magicka devs Arrowhead Studios, tries to answer the question of which action star would win if placed in a battle to the death. If Super Smash Bros. dropped the more family oriented direction for the comically clichéd action ripped out of 80s and 90s action movies, it would be The Showdown Effect.

As I mentioned in my beta impressions post about The Showdown Effect, there are multiple game modes for you to play through. The main mode is still the Showdown mode which is a timed deathmatch with a last man standing “showdown” at the end. This is my favourite mode because I found it to be the most fun. Fortunately for me and other who really like Showdown matches, this is also the mode primarily used for ranked matches.

There is a unique take on team deathmatch type of game mode called Team Elimination. In this, teams aren’t trying to rack up the most kills but must have all members of the opposing team dead at the same time. This is accomplished by having a five second respawn for the first death and adding five seconds to each subsequent team respawn. I have a few issues with this mode but I’ll get to that in a bit.

the-showdown-effect-screenshot-04-team-deathmatchThe other team mode is Expendables. In this, one team plays as the expendables while the other is the henchmen. This mode goes for two rounds in which each team gets a go as the expendables and one go as the henchmen. The winner is the team with the most kills as the expendables. Teams switch sides when all expendables are dead which happens similar to the Team Elimination mode. Henchmen get instant respawns but don’t get to choose their loadout or get to heal while the expendables get that opportunity.

The second free-for-all mode is the one of the four modes that I didn’t get to try in the beta. It’s called One Man Army. One player is the Army while the rest are the henchmen from Expendables mode. You become the one man army by killing the One Man Army. The winner is the player with the most kills as One Man Army.

It should be noted that this game is only online multiplayer. There is no single-player game mode apart from the tutorial mode which doesn’t really explain how to play or give you any tips and tricks. It’s just a speed run to take out a series of target dummies. So I hope you like gaming online.

The game has four maps to play on. Two are set in a medieval castle and two in a futuristic Tokyo. While the quantity is lacking, the quality isn’t bad. The levels feel big and they’re well designed so there are multiple ways to approach an attack, whether it’s a leaping attack from above, a sneak attack from below or a basic frontal assault.

The core combat hasn’t changed between the beta and the full release. There’s still a mix of shooting, melee and platforming. Rather than write it all again, here’s what I wrote from the beta post.

the-showdown-effect-screenshot-06-combatThe combat in TSE is pretty unique for what is a cross between a side-scrolling platformer, a shooter and a multiplayer combat game. There are both guns and melee weapons but the balance comes from the fact that you must place your crosshairs over a target to shoot it. Aiming short or long causes you to miss. This makes it easier for you to move towards your target and decapitate it without becoming Swiss cheese.

As for the platforming, there are a couple of action movie clichés thrown in here. There’s diving and shooting which is every action hero’s favourite. Another popular move is the jump onto the side of the wall and pull yourself up. You can also do a bit of wall running and sliding down walls which is more kung-fu movie cliché than action movie cliché but let’s not get into a big argument over clichés.

the-showdown-effect-screenshot-03There isn’t much to say about the graphics and audio. The graphics are cartoony. The levels look good but they’re not going to wow you. At least there are the action movie cliché big explosions. Speaking of action movie clichés, that’s all your character speaks in. It fits with the action movie combat style that Arrowhead have gone for here.

So with all that about the game written, does that mean that this is a great game that you should buy? I wouldn’t go that far. While the game is fun to play, it’s only fun to play when it works well. Everything but the actual hacking, slashing, jumping and shooting could use some work to make the game playable.

Because this game is always online, there is some lag . That’s to be expected. However, the lag is some of the worst I’ve ever experienced. There is some built-in lag compensation to handle that but it can result in mutual kills (in which two combatants squaring off mano e mano kill each other). In the beta, there was a ping indicator in the match selection screen. Now, they have a distance filter that lets you see which games are “near,” “medium” and “far” from you. I used to sort by ping to get the least laggy game. Now, it’s a craps shoot whether a game’s host is laggy or not.

the-showdown-effect-screenshot-07-glitchIf you can get by the lag in the gameplay, it gets very unstable when people enter or exit a match. My screen has frozen for seconds at a time when people enter or exit in the middle of gameplay. It’s not just me, though. I recall Total Biscuit mentioning that in his impression video for TSE. If a momentary freeze is all that happens to you, you should consider yourself lucky. I’ve read multiple anecdotes about the game crashing with alarming frequency though I’ve been luckier with this in the full release than I was with the beta.

There are a few more missing pieces that should have been in there. The team based game modes have no balancing, either automatically or manually by the host. That means all the noobs can get on one team and all the ass kickers on another and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Similarly, the game doesn’t rebalance between games or rounds if one team outnumbers the other. It’s a pain to be at a four-on-two disadvantage at the end of a game and no balancing gets done in the lobby.

Finally, text chat is just a terrible idea for a frantic action multiplayer game like this. When you need to co-ordinate in a team made, you can’t really do it on the fly with text chat. Not to mention that there are no in-game instructions for text chat. How do you use it? Hit enter. The problem is that you have to figure it out for yourself. It looks like there is the ability to send messages to your team or specific gamers. I wouldn’t know how to do that because there are no instructions for the text chat.

Before anyone asks, while I’m mildly annoyed that there isn’t a single-player mode or more maps, given the price of the game, there is only so much that one could expect. The maps we have aren’t many but, as I said earlier, they’re big and they’re well-designed. Similarly, for $10, coding good AI or a story mode would, admittedly, be far too much to ask of Arrowhead.

Conclusion

the-showdown-effect-screenshot-08I really wanted to like The Showdown Effect. That’s not to say that I don’t like it. When it’s running perfectly, this game is immensely fun to play. The problem is that TSE runs perfectly so seldom that I can’t recommend it. I’ve heard that Paradox Interactive has a pretty lax QA department and tends to let glitches and bugs slide. Well, they did again here and it massively harms what could have been a very enjoyable experience.

As it stands, I wouldn’t recommend buying it. Sure, it’s a good price but a low price does not forgive a series of terrible errors and oversights.

Rating: 5/10

The Showdown Effect is available for Windows and Mac. Your impressions of the game will vary depending on PC specs, how big a fan you are of classic action movies and Super Smash Brothers, and how many games you can actually find with a low ping.

Cross-posted from et geekera.

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