Hands On: The Showdown Effect

By Adam Smith on February 7th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

The Showdown Effect stood out at the Paradox Convention. Among the fine Port*, maps and history, here was a game that threatened to introduce itself like a shot of Tabasco sauce to the back of the throat. GUNS! ONE LINERS! SWORDS! BLOOD! ACTION MOVIES! THE EIGHTIES! I was braced for impact but as the sauce settled, I paused to swirl it around my mouth, nodded appreciatively and then turned a man’s head into a blood pudding by liberally applying a fire extinguisher to his face. There are explosions and gibs aplenty, but between the bullets and blades, there’s a great deal of precision.

The Showdown Effect is terribly irresponsible. It’s not the scattered limbs that an explosion will send bouncing around the level – those teach that actions have consequences – and nor is it the fact that its world is one centred entirely around violence, a series of messy massacres without purpose or prologue. Almost everything scattered around the game’s levels can be used to kill opponents and allies alike, and that’s an important life lesson with so many accidents happening in the home, but here’s the problem: a pillow will stop bullets. That’s just silly.

Yes, The Showdown Effect, is silly. It’s often gloriously silly, causing jovial cursing and disbelieving laughter as another round ends in defeat following a frying pan to the face or sword to the gut. The short time I spent shooting and slashing didn’t inspire the same sort of glee that Magicka has always been able to tease from me but I don’t think that’s the intended effect of this particularly Showdown.

While there is genuine wit in the movie send-ups that Arrowhead have clothed their game in, the actual experience of playing demands far more precision than I’d expected. While it’s certainly possible to run around like a soon-to-be headless chicken, firing and fleeing as the rapidly-changing situation appears to demand, even in a brief session it becomes obvious which players are mastering the controls and the flow.

The levels are small but with enough room for chases to be valid and the best pursuit is often a bluff, a darting out of line of sight followed by a pounce and a pummelling. Alongside the split second carnage, mindgames emerge. Of the two levels we were shown, the Neo Tokyo city structures were the most immediately appealing, purely because there’s a left to lure opponents toward. Hop in and your character rides up to the next floor and can then dive out of a window, back to a point next to the lift’s entrance, and slaughter the person who was pursuing a moment ago. Often, a character that appears to be fleeing is bait skewered on its own hook, ready to eliminate anyone foolish enough to bite.

Videos had led me to expect an ultra-gory Smash Bros, with weapons galore, and chaos rewarded more than cunning, but that’s not entirely the case. Arrowhead do cite Nintendo’s franchise as an inspiration but they also namecheck Goldeneye and there’s more of the deathmatch than the bewildering beat ‘em up in The Showdown Effect. While learning the layout of each level most likely won’t be as important as in Quake, the need for a rapid, steady aim and precise timing lends a more competitive edge to the game than the madcap styling might suggest.

Much of the skill lies in understanding the benefits of melee and ranged weaponry, knowing when to switch between them, and mastering individual weapons. I didn’t expect to notice the difference between a sword and an axe, except perhaps that one would cleave corpses into different configurations, but the former is a speedy, flashy, stabby blender and the latter takes half a second to heft. That may not seem important but death is rarely more than a breath away.

Guns require aiming, activated by holding down the right mouse button, and running, aiming, dodging, jumping and blocking – all at the same time – is tricky. Behind the irreverence, there is a game of skill that does not only have its decade of choice in common with Hotline Miami.

I spoke with Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt shortly after playing a few rounds, including some team elimination in which I quickly found that team killing is, as expected, a very real possibility. It’s fair to say that we were both surprised by how much time we spent discussing boardgames and I’ll share the full transcript of that conversation in the very near future, but one of Pilestedt’s statements is worth repeating now: “A game for everybody is a game for nobody.” It’s not a stunningly original sentiment but given The Showdown Effect’s influences and the nostalgic appeal of its movie pastiche, the game does seem primed to appeal to a wide base. The nonstop violence and ludicrous comedic excess are crowd-pleasing but the game underneath the gloss, at first meeting, is more delicately poised than expected.

That said, I did spend quite a lot of time diving on top of people and then running away, without shooting them, without stabbing them and without winning any points for my team. I did it because it felt like the right thing to do and because I’m not particularly competitive. The person on the next PC craned his neck to look at my piffling score at the end of one round and then pointed at his own kill total proudly. Who had the higher ‘chortle’ count though? Which one of us could say that we had accidentally thrown a shotgun into the face of an onrushing gentleman with metal legs and a stained McClane vest? That was all mine.

There are jokes and nervous smiles about Magicka’s buggy release, but Arrowhead haven’t allowed the acclaim to blanket concerns. The Showdown Effect needs to be stable and fluid because the nature of its tight deathmatches demands it. I’ll be playing more of the beta this week – it’s available to people who have pre-ordered – but everything seems solid at first impression. Playing against the wider, scattered population will be the real test though.

Content is a different matter. There is more to come and Magicka certainly received plenty of DLC, but the brevity of the sprees cries out for variety. Character customisation is fun, with several surprisingly varied stereotypes to pick from and then pick apart. There are hats (always), shirts and trousers, although some of the trousers are actually legs and some of the hats may well be hairdos or heads. I entered one round in which everyone had picked the ‘last day on the job’ cop but even with the few options present in the build we played, each avatar was distinct. Weapons can be selected too and success in combat provides currency with which to purchase new equipment.

The Showdown Effect has something of the cartoonish style of Mark of the Ninja and the manic pace of Smash Bros, but my perspective on its chosen perspective shifted early in the play session. When the bullets and blades are flying, the tightness of the combat has more in common with my memories of the final few seconds of an encounter in Quake deathmatch than anything that scrolls from side to side.

*there was no Port but there was ‘Viking’ beer.

We’ll have a full interview with Johan on the site in the next few days. The Showdown Effect is available to pre-order now, which provides beta access. It costs £7.99.

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47 Comments »

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  1. jonfitt says:

    I’m very wary of niche multiplayer only titles having been burned on a few great games which lacked players. Does this have a single player mode? If it did, would it be any good?

    • LimEJET says:

      No, and no. Balancing the AI for this game would undoubtedly be a nightmare, and I doubt the end result would be satisfying anyway. Besides, the setting is pure nonsense, and making a single-player mode would require a coherent story, which would be pretty hard to pull off.

      If they did pull the story off, it’d most likely be some kind of Last Action Hero/Matrix/Pulp Fiction mashup, and I’m not sure I like where that is going.

      • jonfitt says:

        I’d counter that it wouldn’t need a story, I know people who only ever played UT with bots.
        But yes, I think making convincing bots for this which could exhibit human flaws and cunning would be incredibly hard.

        • wodin says:

          I agree you wouldn’t need a story at all…multiplayer only..no sale. Also to hard to make an AI for it? Really?

          • jonfitt says:

            With tight reaction-based gameplay it can be hard to make something which exhibits human like flaws without being a predictable walkover, or an unbeatable terminator. Many games rely on their bots being quick and accurate to mask the fact that they have no tactical sense.
            I’m not saying it’s the 3-body-problem, but it’s not easy.

          • Baines says:

            Fighting games accept that bots aren’t going to equal humans. FPS as well. Pretty much every game with an AI, honestly. It doesn’t stop developers from making at least a token effort.

            Okay, some FPS makers have stopped making even token efforts. And some developers have just gotten horribly lazy about it, like fighting games where “can’t mimick a human” too often leads to a straight “no effort spent to design blatant cheating”.

    • Gnoupi says:

      It doesn’t, it’s multiplayer only. And yes, I have the same fears.

      Having liked Lead & Gold, Section 8, Shattered Horizon (and Brink, also), etc…. I’m quite used to multiplayer-only games which are becoming ghost towns after a month or two.
      People are afraid about the SimCity being always online, and not knowing for how long they will be able to play it… But it’s even worse for multiplayer-only games which are not CoD, or CS. A month is usually all you get.

      • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

        There’s actually an RPS Steam group for Shattered Horizons and other old MP games that don’t get played enough, at http://steamcommunity.com/groups/rpshh formed after a bunch of us got SH for the first time in the last sale and fell in love with it.

        Join up, there’s enough of us available to fully populate a server with some notice.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          The problem is “some notice.” I have a few hours to play, but I don’t know that I’m going to have a few hours to play next Thursday between the hours of 6 and 8 PM.

          • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

            The RPSHH events are scheduled for 7.30pm each Monday (although obviously the Bat Signal can be activated at other times). It’s not Shattered Horizons every week, but if you’re interested then join the group and request it for that Monday slot.

      • jonfitt says:

        ” Lead & Gold, Section 8, Shattered Horizon”
        You pulled that list of games from my brain! I’d probably add Plain Sight to that.
        .
        These are perfect candidates for F2P with purchasable vanity items. I am so glad Planetside 2 and Tribes Ascend started f2p. It makes so much sense for competitive multiplayer games which need to operate more like a service than a product.

        • gwathdring says:

          Poor Plain Sight! It’s such a brilliant little action game!

          • Baines says:

            I wanted Plain Sight since the first promo stuff came out for it.

            But it was multi-player only, and thus a waste of money to buy it.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Seconded, and it’s unfortunate that ‘niche’ has to count against them, but if you’re unable to make the noise to attract players… Like you I’ve got enough of these, especially in my Steam library – unless there’s a very good reason to assume it’ll remain sufficiently populated, anything in this area’s going to have to cost less than a pint for me to pick it up.

      Which is a shame. Not sure I like the art and animations, but Showdown Effect looks like a good chuckle. Hopefully I’ll have an excuse to pick it up at some point.

    • Baines says:

      Steam page says it is multiplayer only.

      And yeah, they should have been able to do at least some kind of singe player. Most games of its type have something, whether it is just fighting bots or a full on story mode. The bots may be good or bad, but the option is almost always there, because in the past developers knew they needed something besides multiplayer to sell these games.

      Like others have implied, multiplayer only is a likely death sentence for this title.

      • Premium User Badge

        darkChozo says:

        Eh, saying multiplayer-only is a death sentence is a bit of a stretch. The easy comparison to make is to Chivalry; indie multiplayer-only P2P game with fairly unique skill-based gameplay. Multiplayer-only is certainly a risk, particularly in the age of F2P, but this has the mark of a game that could do well (Emphasis on could there, nothing is guarenteed, as with any new game).

        • Baines says:

          I said “likely death sentence”. I’ll allow that it could be a surprise hit with a long life, but I think the odds are stacked hard against it just because the devs chose to make it multiplayer only.

          There are good games that are dead online, and they can die really quickly. (And that will only increase as publishers push for more titles to include some form of online multiplayer.)

          A single player mode could keep people buying the title even as online interest wanes, which can in turn prop up online interest. A good single player mode can do even more for the title’s long term prospects, though it could theoretically actually cannibalize some of the earlier online interest (as some people would be playing the single player mode instead of trying online).

          • MrLebanon says:

            even when online interest does die down… its usualyl pretty easy to pick up new players with a free weekend + sale

            Looking at my current “favourites” list on steam, 90% are MP only and 10% are SP only.

            Not to mention, an MP focused game with Single player thrown in just to draw in the single player crowd tends to have a subpar singleplayer game that they are criticized for
            Likewise a SP focused game with a tacked on MP usually gets criticized for its lousy MP

            Having playing the showdown effect, I would be hella surprised if they could replicate t he same intensity and skill ceiling with AI, and I think the title would probably suffer to metacritic for having a poor SP aspect.

            TL:DR – They are best off going full MP and focusing on a great core MP game if they are going to want to draw in an audience

          • Baines says:

            The Steam sale effect is temporary, though. Section 8 Prejudice used to get a short revival for a few days when it had a sale. I don’t know if it still does, but even back then the boost was only temporary.

          • MrLebanon says:

            Is Section 8 prejudice any good though? Have the devs provided additional content updates? Is there a compelling reason to want to play it?

            In the long run – no doubt MP games can die and end up doing essentially nothing.

            But look at successful MP-only games.. RO2 (which I will call MP only, as the SP is a glorified and glitchy tutorial) has had a huge boom at release, dropped down to near nothing, and has had a steady increase over time as the devs provide more content, more reason to play, and of course free-weekends coming up right after a succesful new patch.

            I can understand for many games – being run-of-the-mill modern combat shooters, the worry for having the game die if it is MP only. I think unique titles tend to do well though. It is hard to be certain that is for sure. At the same time, I don’t think a tacked on SP is going to do a dead game any good anyways. If RO2’s MP community dies tomorrow I don’t think anyone is going to be buying the game for the SP after reading about how bad it is.

            Plus, at 10 dollars, if you enjoy the game, you’ll probably get your moneys worth before it dies anyways :)

          • Kitsuninc says:

            I think that if the game isn’t going to be fun single player, why would you bother to program bots? The game may die, but maybe that’s something we just have to deal with. I understand that it sucks to watch it happen, but it will always be possible to revive them by gathering enough people to play some games of it, as long as the game allows player to host servers. Even if you can’t, if the price point is <$20, it shouldn't be a huge worry for “getting your money’s worth”as long as you play it while it survives.

            I don't think we're going to see any more multiplayer only games than we already do, it's already something every publisher pushes to have, so I don't think the problem will 'only get worse'.

    • Steven_Flowers54 says:

      my neighbor’s mother makes $86/hour on the laptop. She has been out of a job for 5 months but last month her income was $17128 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site… http://www.amazon.com.qr.net/j8jT

  2. DiamondDog says:

    Through this entire article I kept reading the name as “The Slowdown Effect” but because it’s actually “Showdown” it’s now just morphed into Sean Connery saying “The Shlowdown Effect.”

  3. Srekel says:

    As one of the devs, it makes me unreasonably happy to see the game I’ve been working on for a year to get on basically the only gaming news site I read, except for Reddit, if you could call it that. Also, it seems you like it, so yay! :)

    • jonfitt says:

      Did anyone suggest going for free-2-play and selling the vanity items? From the preview I see it already has player customization.

      • Srekel says:

        Every idea possible has been talked about at some point or another during the development process. :) As for F2P, sure, but it’s honestly quite scary (not least from a “do it right from an ethical perspective” POV), and the price point it will be sold at is pretty much what we imagined from the start. IMO players will definitely get their money’s worth, unless, you know, you really don’t like the game at all, but if the game concept is in any way shape or form up your alley, I think you’ll be quite happy having spent those $10/£8. :)

        • MrLebanon says:

          I love Magicka and bought the game + every DLC on sale at one point or another.

          This has had my fancy-tickled for quite some time so I just bought the deluxe. Keep up the good work guys, yourselves (and your publishers Paradox) are one of the few gems in game development these days

    • Premium User Badge

      Surlywombat says:

      This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a creator of a game in the comments of an article about they game they made.

      I am very much looking forward to the time they make such a note worthy comment that this in turn creates another news article which they can then comment on and we enter an infinite loop..

  4. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    From what I’ve seen of this, it looks incredibly boring. Of course, it might well be a game that must be experienced first-hand to truly appreciate, or perhaps just not my kind of thing.

    • Srekel says:

      Like Pilen says, it’s not necessarily a game for everybody, so if you don’t like it that’s totally fine. Though I think if you have any inclination towards multiplayer action games, get it, and play it against a bunch of friends in a LAN (or over Skype), it’ll honestly be one of the most fun times you have had :)

    • Kitsuninc says:

      I think it must be much more fun to play than to watch. Every video I’ve seen looked incredibly boring, yet the people playing the game appear to be having infinitely more fun than you would guess.

  5. lucky jim says:

    The game looked pretty cute and funny, but I was worried it was just going to be a crappy party-style game. I’m glad to know there are definitive differences in player skill. I’m far more interested in checking it out now.

    Played the hell out of Soldat for quite some time, and this game seems to take some inspiration from it but with more… stuff. Also a lot flashier.

  6. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    I think it’s worth mentioning that the dodge mechanic that the game touted during development is gone. It used to be the case that you had an energy bar for dodging that let you evade bullets for a short time. TotalBiscuit says it’s no longer in because it made ranged weapons too weak.

    Evading bullets would really bring out the action movie gameplay in my opinion, so as someone who has never played the game, I’m kind of sad to hear it’s gone. The game seems much more like a run-of-the-mill platform shooter now.

    • Premium User Badge

      darkChozo says:

      One thing that makes it different from basically every 2D shooter I’ve played is that aiming isn’t directional, you actually have to have your crosshair over your opponent. So while you can’t Matrix dodge, actual dodging plays a huge rule in not dying to guns. Shooting while doing backflips backwards is an (annoyingly) effective way of mitigating damage in this game.

      I haven’t actually played the game long enough to really form a good opinion of it, but in terms of game feel it’s a lot like an arena shooter in a 2D plane. It’s rather unique.

      • Kitsuninc says:

        Ooooh.

        That’s an incredibly important piece of information, and makes the game sound way more interesting. I would never have guessed it would work like that in a 2D game.

      • MrUnimport says:

        Wait, really? Now I’m interested.

    • Srekel says:

      TotalBiscuit pieced that together based on what very limited info he had. The truth is that we spent a lot of time thinking about the shooting and dodging mechanics and weren’t happy with how they actually worked and what gameplay they produced, so we changed the shooting mechanics and then the dodging fell into place after that.

      Btw, you can now *block* incoming attacks if you have a melee weapon and hold down the RMB.

      • DK says:

        The short term energy bar based Dodging Mechanic would make a great special ability for a Neo style stylish-hacker-from-the-notmatrix character.

  7. Kohlrabi says:

    Reading about Smash Bros. in the article gave me a feeling of heresy. As a PC centric site I would have expected to rather see this game compared to Soldat or even Action Quake/Half-Life. :P

    I only played a couple of beta rounds, I’m not really convinced that it will be a mainstay in my gaming routine, but that could also be due to Chivalry being outrageously fun right now. Then again rounds are quite short, so I might just drop in for a single round of carnage in the future.

    • Baines says:

      I’m sad that people compare it to Smash Bros instead of the early 90s arcade game The Outfoxies.

  8. JasmineGibbs22 says:

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  9. Nixitur says:

    I was very excited about this game, then I saw that it required Direct X 10 and thus does not support Windows XP.
    Oh well.

    • MrUnimport says:

      You must lead a difficult but spiritually-satisfying life.