I laid out a good chunk of my thoughts on The Showdown Effect two weeks back, but now the game is proper out. And yes, it’s still bloody great.

[quote]

I’m not usually one for multiplayer games (which is to say, I’m truly terrible at them), but you’d have to be a grizzled copyright attorney not to like this slice of ultra-violent pie and its over-the-top action. The competitive side-scrolling niche is one usually taken up by brawlers, but shooter mechanics translate perfectly into this environment. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the sort of games that held sway amid the 16-bit era.

The Showdown Effect comes with lashings of depth, courtesy of the sheer number of options made available by the weapons and moves you can bring to bear. Aside from the selection of unlockable guns, each stage presents a number of close-range toys, from fast but light knives to unwieldy double-handed swords that can kill with a single hit. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the marketing blurb’s claim of “dozens of weapons, hundreds of moves” is a tad on the exaggerative side.

Still, there is enough here to get to grips with that I wish the game’s training mode were a little more than nominal. Training involves a timed spree through a handful of straw dummies, and it isn’t even possible to pick which stage or character to use. It works as a way to introduce the most basic controls and mechanics, but could have been so much more.

Most of your learning, then, will happen in the field. There are only four stages to blast through as yet; this feels a little thin, but on the other hand the levels on offer are exceptionally well designed, catering to a variety of play styles. Six characters round out the roster (eight for those who pre-ordered the deluxe edition), though they all play identically except for a unique special ability. Most of the differentiation comes from the loadout selected before a match, and the weapons picked up during play.

There are worries around balance issues, with many custom matches banning the use of throwing knives and Dutch McClone’s shielding ability, both of which are felt to be overpowered. Whether this is actually the case has yet to be seen: in games such as this, many apparently overpowered tactics are soon found to have antidotes, and indeed it can take years to feel out the limits of balance.

Either way, Paradox Interactive seem keen to have The Showdown Effect become a tournament game; during beta, the publisher teamed up with the Electronic Sports League to hold a contest with a €5,000 prize pool, and now that the game has been released, there is healthy player interest in pushing the pro agenda.

I’d be interested to see how this works out, because this little patch of vintage violence really seems to have what it takes to offer competitive play at high levels. The mark of a good competitive game is its capacity to offer layer upon layer of strategic depth, and so far this holds true: The Showdown Effect offers a vast, interlocking landscape of strategies and counterstrategies. It’s quite enlightening to join a match as a spectator and watch the top players work their mind games.

If this is starting to sound a bit overwhelming, no fear: while you’ll be punished by top-notch players, ranked matches give preference to players of your relative skill, and even total beginners will be able to pick up enough early on to have great fun.

If you’re still wondering whether this is the game for you, ask yourself: how many other games allow you to block automatic gunfire with a pillow, then beat your hapless assailant to the ground with it?

I thought as much.

More stuff like this: