Ridiculous action movies were just about the only good thing to have emerged from that stinking mire of an era people call “the ’80s”. You may accuse me of making a sweeping generalisation here, but in response I lay down the following gauntlet: Roxette. Seriously, will humanity ever recover?
Somehow the action movie reached its apotheosis in those trying times, and finally, finally, it has been given a fitting tribute in game form: everybody, calmly look The Showdown Effect square in the eyes.
What we have here is a sticky reduction of action movie stereotypes, bullet-hell blasting and blade-swinging carnage; the game is still in beta, so while I can’t deliver the bleeding edge of my final verdict, I’ll admit openly to having had a jolly good time and then some.
It’s a nostalgic laugh picking from the roster of action-movie faithfuls, and good to see that varying play styles are catered to in that each character has its own rechargeable special ability. Want to be a walking tank? Take Dutch McClone and his shield belt. Want the option of a quick getaway? Choose Hailey Skye and her jetpack. The final game promises to set you loose with a choice of six characters in a number of sets pulled straight from every Hollywood showdown ever – from the classic dodgy harbour to your average fictional Chinatown casino.
The Showdown Effect’s deceptively simple side-scrolling format belies serious depth and variety. Combat is a tense, twitchy affair involving lots of running, sliding, and yelling at the screen. The context-sensitive controls supply a huge number of options, almost all of which will be to no damn avail until you get better – but when you do get better, you feel like a dirty badass and a credit to society.
When you want a breather from the mania, you can still join a match as a spectator, and the game integrates seamlessly with Twitch.tv; I found this tremendously helpful, and seldom failed to learn something useful from shadowing a good player – because, as with any good game, there’s a lot to learn.
A typical match goes like this: freshly spawned, you run from room to room, using your gun’s sights to peer ahead. It’s quiet around you, though the exchange of distant fire and steaming one-liners is audible.
Swinging down into a sewer, you catch sight of some total bastard holding a rocket launcher. He takes aim, the weapon’s laser flashing out at you; in desperation you charge and dive, knocking him to the ground. While he’s stunned you aim a shotgun blast at his head, only to miss because a cop has bust a katana on you from behind.
Running wounded now, the cop in hot pursuit or whatever it is that cops call it these days, you snag a wrench of biblical proportions from a toolbox, slip into a room and close the door, waiting, waiting. The door opens, you swing the wrench… and bask in visceral satisfaction as you connect. What a mercenary.
Safe for the moment, you take some time to bandage your wounds – and respawn five seconds later, having had a meaningful but one-sided conversation with the barrel of a blazing semiautomatic.
There are four team-based and lone-ranger game modes to get your gold-capped teeth into. I wouldn’t call any of them revolutionary, but whatever: one doesn’t just go around messing with the action movie formula, now does one?
There are sticky points, of course. It was often hard to find a match (unsurprising, playing a beta in South Africa), and lag was a near-constant companion, but the game wasn’t doing a bad job considering I was in the company of people from as far off as Russia and the US. I was nonetheless cursed to the depths of my soggy soul when my own dismal latency worked in my favour and left my opponents standing around, decoupled from the mouse and keyboard halfway across the world.
I have no doubt developers Arrowhead Game Studios will deliver a product as smooth and shiny as Steven Seagal’s hair oil by the time their release date of 5 March arrives. The Showdown Effect is already a shotgun wedding of kickass and cold sweat, and with the sort of long-term DLC attention Arrowhead gave their previous game (the devilishly fun Magicka), it’ll only get better.
It’s available for pre-order on Steam at US$9.99; laying down the deniros gets you into the beta, as well as a unique character and weapon skin. There is also a “deluxe” edition for US$19.99 that comes with a free copy of Magicka and even more extras, if that sort of thing makes you feel all special and fuzzy.