Wot I Think: The Showdown Effect

By Adam Smith on March 11th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

Congratulations! You made Magicka and have finished creating odd DLC content for the friendly fire(ball) simulation. What do you do next?

1) Go hiking in the Pyrenees.
2) Why not craft some sort of single player Magicka RPG?
3) Form a band sort of like Daft Punk but with all the sci-fi robot vibes replaced by wizard’s robes and jokes about willies.
4) Create a fast-paced multiplayer homage to eighties action movies, of course.

If you picked four, you are probably Arrowhead and you have made The Showdown Effect.

The Showdown Effect is both a departure and a continuation of the systems and world of Magicka. What remains is comic chaos, although the carnage is tighter and more controlled than the elemental melting pot of confusion that spilled over to create Magicka’s best moments. When my bionic gentleman dives through a window and burts into pieces before he hits the ground, struck by shotgun blasts, pillows and throwing knives, I occasionally feel guilty. I’ve let my team-mates down.

I consider a session of Magicka to have gone particularly badly if I don’t set my closest friend on fire and then explode. If Magicka was a building it’d be the smouldering ruins of an alchemist’s lab. The apprentice would be a sizzling circle of fat in the doorway and a charred beaglepuss would bristle knowingly from the centre of the pool. The Showdown Effect would be plastered with neon signs and would have quips instead of windows, but the interior is defined by its carefully crafted lines. The few rooms are precisely constructed and surprisingly clean.

All of the silliness, the spoofing and the riffing, initially works to conceal a delicately poised and surprisingly competitive arena-based multiplayer murder-game. A single bout is over quickly, a blurred ballet of crunching melee attacks and erratic bursts of gunfire, and the score actually matters. When it comes to competitive killing, I’m the worst person to find by your side, usually too busy exploring mechanics to be much use to anyone.

When I say I’m ‘exploring mechanics’, I generally mean I’m seeing how far the constituent parts of my player character will bounce when various weapons deconstruct him or her. If you ever hear me say ‘ludonarrative dissonance’, assume something similar. These are terms I use to shield myself from accusations of being incredibly bad at shooting virtual characters, particularly in cases when those characters are controlled by other people.

I am terrible at The Showdown Effect, is what I’m saying, although I have improved a great deal. Thankfully, I’m not the only person who struggles to stay alive – life expectancy is less than a minute and the last thirty seconds of that esteemed existence will be spent hopping, rolling, diving and dodging, all the while clicking various points on the screen in the vague hope of connecting a blow, or firing a bullet through somebody’s face. The controls aren’t complicated but they are finicky and intentionally so. Melee combat is the simplest way to dispatch opponents because a click of the mouse will turn anything in front of your character into tripe, or at the very least make them bleed a lot and reconsider a frontal assault, but aiming a gun is slightly different.

Bullets strike wherever the cursor is placed, so pointing a gun in someone’s general direction is not good enough. The target has to be directly over them or they’ll escape unscathed. Now, I don’t know if I’ve made this clear already, but every living thing in Showdown Effect’s maps will be bouncing around like a flea that has been feasting on a whippet’s rear end all day. Stand still for more than a few seconds and somebody will kill you. Chances are they’ll kill you even if you’re speeding around the place, self-defenestrating and popping into the odd lift to confuse your pursuers, but to be stationary is to be the largest fish in the smallest barrel. You’re a tuna in a thimble and you better believe it’s tuna season.

Finding a balance between dodging, escaping and attacking is key to success, and it’s the speed and precision of the game that put me in mind of my deathmatch heyday, which occurred in the mid-nineties playing Quake on a LAN. I’d occasionally win a match and feel like a champion, which is more than I can say for anything that’s happened to me since. That’s the appeal of The Showdown Effect – it’s wearing a silly hat and a pair of nonsensical shades, but it’s also finely tuned and though hectic, it rewards a certain degree of patience. I can feel myself improving as I play and that will keep me coming back for a while.

I do wish there was more to go back to though. There are several game modes and they offer a good deal of variety – sometimes you’re in a team, sometimes you’re a solitary target that everybody else is hunting and sometimes the next death is your last – but there are only four maps. Graphically, they are complex and I find the stylised artwork throughout the game appealing, but the areas are small and easy to learn. It’s tempting to say the limited number doesn’t matter because combat is joined so quickly, meaning that only the screen’s worth of space around your character actually matters at any one time, but some of my favourite moments have involved chases back and forth across the entirety of a level’s architecture, waiting for the optimal moment to strike. There’s a great thrill when a pursuer misses a jump by a few inches, slowing them down ever so slightly, but leaving them open to a deadly blow. That’s the best of The Showdown Effect, moments of rapid reappraisal and revenge.

The customisation options are enjoyable, with unlockable hats and other clothing, as well as new weapons and characters. The characters are the most important choice because they all have a special ability, ranging from super healing (everyone has a basic bandaging ability) to grenades and the like. The rest is essentially cosmetic, as are the many weapons scattered about each level, although some do offer increased abilities, blocking bullets or swords with greater efficiency, or in the case of rocket launchers…well, they launch rockets.

I haven’t had any problems with lag, although I’ve seen reports of stuttering which is understandably irritating in such a speedy and tight game. While it hasn’t made me laugh or marvel anywhere near as much as Magicka initially did, this is a game I’ll gladly load up for a twenty minute session most evenings. How long that will last will depend, in part, on how swiftly new content arrives and in what form, but I’m pleased to have such an oddity, a throwback in more ways than one, nestled on my hard drive and I reckon I’ll actually stick with it until I win at least a few matches. That’ll be 2015 at this rate.

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38 Comments »

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  1. dE says:

    Curiously, the lag issues started happening with the release version. I was playing smoothly, no lag, enjoying myself and ever since release patch it’s teleporting all over for me. I’ll come back to it, once they figure this out. Funwise it is a really great game, quite enjoyable if currently a bit limited.

  2. SkittleDiddler says:

    Never fear, you’ll be able to get additional maps in the next dozen or so DLC packs that Paradox will be releasing in the near future.

  3. Obc says:

    So its SSB with contra like shooting with 80’s action movies flair and a gorgeous art design by the guys/gals who made magicka?
    WHATS NOT TO LIKE???????????????????

    question: how big/small are the maps compared to lets say hyrule castle in SSBM?

    also is it just me or is it really a bit too difficult to “read” the screen? the screenshots paint the maps a bit too dim. i cant properly asses where the players are and what is happening where as i would in many other more “bright” 2D games.

    • gwathdring says:

      Significantly bigger. Players a smaller compared to the map and there are more levels to it. The maps vary slightly in apparent size to my memory of the beta, but I haven’t measured them in paces so I’m not sure how valid an observation that is. I feel like they’re on par with Rainbow Cruise in size, except that you can move throughout a complex of platforms in the middle as well as the fixed, decaying path around the edges.

    • HothMonster says:

      The screenshots seem darker to me than the game. I never have any problem reading the screen and easily getting info.

      There is a line of sight/fog of war effect though that darkens everything outside of your characters field of view so you can only hear the people moving outside of that (also very faint signs of movement, tuffs of dust and the like)

      Maps are relatively big. All of the 4 maps have a different size and layout through, some more vertical or horizontal, more open or more layered. But all are pretty large, large enough that it can be hard to hunt down the last guy in a team match before his buddies respawn.

  4. Wut The Melon says:

    If I didn’t have exam week… I probably would’ve already bought this. As it is, I’ll wait a bit longer. I don’t think I’ll enjoy it quite as much as Magicka (especially since I’m not sure I’ll manage to convince my friends to play it, nor that I’ll actually be as good at killing them as I was in Magicka), but I owe Arrowhead : P.

    Do hope that they’ll add at least ~4 new and free maps soon-ish though.

  5. Mudlab says:

    Hunter/Hunted for the nostalgia generation…

    • Sidewinder says:

      Whoa- you mean I’m NOT the only one who played that game?

    • Jake says:

      I loved Hunter/Hunted but I am not sure how accurately I remember it. What I remember is playing it 1v1 – on the same computer – and it having incredible asymmetric deathmatch where one guy was a human that started out really vulnerable while the other player was a lethal minotaur (I really hope there was a minotaur in this game). Then the human would get a rocket launcher and turn the tables (which I guess is what the game title is about) until he ran out of ammo. Amazing fun. Is that right?

      I am not sure I could play this game without a minotaur.

      • Manburger says:

        Ooh shiiit, nostalgia explosion! Yes, that is how I remember the game as well — there are also co-op and singleplayer missions, but I only recall playing deathmatch.
        Minotaurs should always be a requirement
        I mean in general

  6. gwathdring says:

    It’s good, solid multi-player fun for the most part. I’m not sold on the melee-range balancing, though. I think it heavily favors melee fighting and the melee combat doesn’t feel especially rewarding to me since you don’t have to aim. That isn’t to say melee is *easy*, mind, as it requires good timing and an understanding of how much damage each weapon does/blocks and what it’s effective range is and so forth so you know who to charge and when. The trouble is, using ranged weapons effectively also requires that sort of understanding, and ranged weapons require you to aim, can be used while you’re bouncing and sliding around. Melee feels like a game of rock-paper-scissors where you’re playing best two-out-of-three but you have to play the same symbol again in the second and third round. That is, once you’re hit by a sword once, you’re probably dead … which makes sense with slow, one-shot weapons like the Halbred/Wrench/Sword-In-The-Stone environmental weapons and with the awkward but awesome rocket launcher. It’s significantly less excusable on a weapon that clearly isn’t designed to be a one-shot-kill, let alone a one-shot-kill dragged out over several agonizing seconds.

    On the bright side, that’s pretty much the sum total of my complaints with gameplay. I also despise having content in a pay-for game locked away from me by an unlock system, so damn whoever thought up that idea to an unseemly corner of hell. Beyond that, this is the sort of game where a few seconds feels like a lot of time. It has a beautiful active-reload system. It’s a ton of fun.

    • Premium User Badge

      Kelron says:

      I think you’ve got it the wrong way round. Limited ammo and the need to aim are the only things stopping guns from completely dominating against melee. The AR holds enough ammo to kill an entire enemy team at once, and unlike melee weapons it can be used while running and jumping at full speed. It’s very hard for a sword-wielder to get close to someone with a machine gun, I only ever use them as backup weapons and even then I usually find two guns to be better.

      • gwathdring says:

        This is just my personal experience. I player a large portion of the beta, but I’m by no means an expert. The closest I came to expertise was as Hailey with Shotgun and Pistol. I got really good at avoidance and whittled my enemies down gradually … unless they came close enough for the shotgun.

        The trouble is, you have to have perfect aim for the guns to hit. You don’t need perfect aim for the melee weapons. Add a little too much latency in the picture, and melee combat decays into the boring more readily than gun combat does.

        That’s my main issue here–which is better and which is worse is almost always going to come down to play style. I’m well aware there are players who would disagree with my balance analysis. But I’ve watched skilled players using melee weapons, I’ve watched people who are good at blocking, and I’ve experimented with the blocking and melee system. I don’t find it to be as rewarding, interesting, and balanced as the gun combat. I’ve found that in most cases, tackling someone and/or blocking against melee leaves the floor approximately even–there’s not enough of an advantage conferred to the aggressor/blocker such that sometimes I wonder if it’s purely my imagination that there’s one at all. The result is combat that for all it’s difficult timing, doesn’t feel particularly interesting.

        Perhaps the release candidate changed numbers around or perhaps I just never found a server with low enough latency (unlikely as I have a really good connection and found lots of low-ping servers) and the issues of timing during blocks and tackling opponents have rendered those actions useful for anything other than the psychological meta-game, but as far as I can tell melee vs. melee comes down to whoever clicks first. Before you call this an absurd reduction, understand exactly what I mean: melee attacks can only be made in the direction you’re facing (or upward) and only while moving along flat surfaces or (I think) once per jump (there was something odd about air-borne melee … maybe that wasn’t it). As such, pretty much all melee vs. melee takes place with both players on the same level surface, without much jumping. If you screw up the first block, you’re almost always dead. If you don’t screw up the first block, it’s basically a crap-shoot whether your hit or theirs goes through … unless they decide to block … and so forth until the first blocker has blocked three times in a row in which case they’re just fucked.

        There’s a lot more to it than that, I’ll agree–but nothing that isn’t also in the gun combat. Which happens at more varying ranges (including up close and personal), across vertical levels, and doesn’t have the pronounced lockout you experience when hit by a katana. All of this together means you can use dodging, jumping, map knowledge and special abilities to greater and more interesting effect. I don’t think melee weapons are overpowered to the point that it needs fixing–I’m open to the possibility they aren’t even over-powered. But I find that they still leave a lot to be desired mechanically. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an interesting fight between two skilled opponents. But two expert martial artists could have an interesting fight with handkerchiefs–that doesn’t mean by extension that handkerchiefs offer tactical complexity in combat.

    • HothMonster says:

      Watching two skilled players sword fight will show you how much more nuanced the system is then you think. Though a lot of matches with new players do just tend to turn into sword spam fests. Smart guys stand to the side of the screen and just shoot everyone while they blindly hack at each other.

      You’ll get a feel for getting away after that first sword hit eventually.

      • gwathdring says:

        I’ve gotten away some of the time. But I’m not especially bad at this sort of game and I played it quite a bit during beta. I’m not expecting to be better than other players without a lot of practice, but against static timing challenges (such as recovering perfectly after a block/tackle/sword hit), I’m surprised not to have seen better results. The game has very finicky timing on each of these–the active reloads are perfectly doable–and I’m not convinced the net code is good enough for that extreme precision to function properly in multi-palyer. In most games I’ve played, blocks and tackles are effectively a “reset the engagement” button with little advantage conferred and a katana combos more often than it doesn’t. I’m including attacks that I make against player who I believe to be more skilled than me, when I say these things. I remember very few instances where an opponent was able to escape my katana once I got the first hit. I also remember skilled melee players topping the servers more often than skilled gun players and knives doing a bit too much damage and/or having too little of an ammo limit, while I’m at it.

        Overall, I enjoyed the game immensely and highly recommend it. I’m not going to buy it just yet, because I spent my discretionary funds for the immediate future on board games, but it’s certainly high on my list of buys. I’m not convinced that my issues were purely related to inexperience with the game, though I thank you for the input. The more opinions floating around in the thread, the better. :)

        • HothMonster says:

          Lag is certainly a problem, and even considering myself a skilled player (I tend to score higher than 20 on ranked matches and tend to get kicked from private ones for spoiling peoples fun or being a haxor!) I will fail horribly at getting away from a sword from time to time.

          Certainly the most important thing is not letting them get close to you in the first place, shoot and roll away. Roll, roll roll never let them gain that ground on you. But after that first hit you can roll away, dive onto them or block the next shot. Though I know when I first started my instinct was to try to roll through them which is a bad idea. But really a ranged players best tactic is battlefield awareness and just never allowing swords to get close.

          Knives: jump, slide and most importantly close doors behind you. I really really use to hate them but now I giggle with happiness when I see someone rocking sword-knives.

          Certainly not trying to claim the game is perfect or invalidate your experience. Just wanted to say that a lot of the balance issues seem to fade away the more you play. Though again it certainly isn’t perfect there is a lot less melee spam in the higher rank matches and a lot of people who ranked up with melee spam having a bad day.

          Plus the beta was a constant stream of “X is OP” with X constantly changing. Not due to balance changes just because more people were using it at the time. I think one of the best signs of a well balanced game is hearing people complain about every weapon regularly.

          And as far as the better players all using swords; pistol-shotgun ftw.

          • gwathdring says:

            Pistol/Shotgun is certainly the combination I have the most fun with, balance discussions utterly aside. Pistol gets quick distance kills, but it’s also easy to reload when whittling people down during high-speed close and mid-range combat. The shotgun is just brutal if your timing is good–especially leading a pursuer through a closed door or up through a vent. :D

            Yeah, I know lots of people complain about various weapons and it could just be my skill-set/play-style is particularly vulnerable to swords. Mostly, I just don’t find melee weapons as robust because there are fewer variables in the melee combat. It’s not something I particularly fault Showdown Effect for, however, because it’s an issue I have with melee combat in most games that include it and certainly every game I’ve played that also has guns.

  7. Spacewalk says:

    This sounds like the Outfoxies sequel that Namco never gave me.

    • siegarettes says:

      Its such a shame that Outfoxies never got a sequel or even a port. Didn’t help that there were barely any of those machines in arcades either, from what Ive heard. Ive never had the pleasure to play it at an arcade.

    • KillahMate says:

      Oh good, I’m not the only one who remembers Outfoxies. Damn, it was a tragedy how that got forgotten. Way ahead of its time.

  8. TheThinkTanker says:

    I played the beta a few weeks ago. I love the concept, but my experience was really hampered by the intentionally awkward controls. I felt like no matter how much I played, I was constantly flailing and never improving.

    I get what they were trying to do with the “aim the cursor over the opponent to shoot” mechanic, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more, and probably bought it, if there had been controller support.

  9. TillEulenspiegel says:

    I’ve watched people playing this, and it looks like decent fun. But it’s going to suffer from the exact same problem as every other multiplayer-only (non-MMO / persistent world) indie game: unless it’s mindblowingly amazing, the servers will be empty in a few months.

    It does have private servers at least, so I guess it makes a decent party game. It’s an odd niche, though.

  10. Droopy The Dog says:

    “You’re a tuna in a thimble and you better believe it’s tuna season.”

    /salute

  11. TomA says:

    I’m confused, at the end of the trailer when the missile hits the falling guy why does it make a noise like a Tyrannosaurus / Metal Gear Ray…I’m easily confused.

    Edit: Ah I see now. Godzilla

  12. Premium User Badge

    Devenger says:

    This is a game where it is not only viable, but occasionally advisable, to finish off an opponent by throwing your gun/sword/axe/medieval shield at them.

    I approve.

    (Though I do wish I could pick up my rocket launcher after I’ve thrown it so hard at someone that they break into a shower of blood and body parts.)

  13. LionsPhil says:

    The demo is just the training ground?

    I appreciate that it’s a tight line to walk for a quick-round arena shooter to not make the demo so generous that it scratches the itch sufficiently thoroughly that people don’t bother with the full version, but it’s hardly giving much sense of the gameplay when the only targets are dummies that don’t even move, let alone fight back.

    • Premium User Badge

      Kelron says:

      Yeah, the demo is bad. Giving you 1 character and 1 map and letting you join proper multiplayer games would be fine, I think.

  14. Don Reba says:

    I picked (3) and still have no regrets.

    • gwathdring says:

      I was started on 2, but it turned out to be rather long and involved. In the meantime, can I help you with 3?

  15. Ureshi says:

    So… is like Soldat but with shiny new graphics???

  16. MeestaNob says:

    So, does this play anything like Shoot Many Robots? That’s a fun game.

  17. jimangi says:

    A number of us on the RPS Herosquad Mumble Server play the game regularly. Come along if you fancy some frenzied, non-competitive fun. My Steam name is ‘Jimangi’.

  18. sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

    Oh yeah… magicka… keep on meaning to get round to playing that…

  19. Lobotomist says:

    The game is extremely skill dependent.

    There is only a problem of no dedicated servers – meaning high pings all around. Coupled with growing pains ( for example you can not see your own ping )

    All this coupled with fact that its only multiplayer and even no bots – can create dwindling population.

    And its a shame, because the game super fun

    • HothMonster says:

      ” for example you can not see your own ping ”

      It’s relative. The ping you see for the other players is your ping to them, not their ping to the host. So it can’t show you your ping to yourself, or it could it just wouldn’t be helpful.

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