The Magicka makers are back with another genre-bending multiplayer mash-up: The Showdown Effect. It's nonstop action-movie-inspired one-liners as we side-scroll our way to fast paced kills and thrills, but does The Showdown Effect work as something more than parody?
The gibs are pretty ludicrous - expect lots of blood and disembodiment that you can't turn off. Minor language may be an issue too as a few characters channel their inner Bruce Willis. Arrowhead also has a caution to copyright holders--that "any likeness to persons fictional or real is purely coincidental." We're not buying it, but parody is always fair game. And, as one of these characters might say, so are you.
The Showdown Effect takes me back--way back--in my gaming history. To the eighties, in fact, where games like Contra, Rush 'n Attack, and Spy vs. Spy defined the sidescrolling combat game for me. I don't know if Spy vs. Spy's traps, bombs, and map warping elevators served as inspiration for the same sorts of mechanics in The Showdown Effect, but these sorts of capers evoke the same sort of mischievous fun, albeit at a breakneck pace.
In addition to elevator movement, players can slip through grates by jumping downward, double tap the A or D keys to quickly tumble toward or away from an opponent, jump and hold the A or D keys to slowly slide down a wall while aiming. Shift throws the weapon in your hand, right mouse blocks, and Crtl triggers your special ability. But, most importantly, hit B to bandage at any time. Forget to bandage and the best you'll do is trade kills with your enemies.
It's a lot to take in, especially when you just want to go in guns blazing, But controls mastery is a must, as are the fast firing neurons and reflexes to use them if you're going to compete. Unfortunately, the cartoon strip tutorial is marginally better than simply studying the key bindings, but you'll do most of your learning in the heat of PvP battle.
So, that's the tactical side. On the mayhem mashup side, you'll wield everything from claymores to crossbows to bolt-action rifles, SMGs, shotguns, short-delay RPGs, and more. Or go weaponless to work your fists of fury, since kung fu is the fastest weapon of all. In addition to weapons, each of the game's 8 unique characters comes with a baked in plot, an assortment of adapted one-liners to trot out constantly, and a unique special ability. For example, Dutch McClone is a kindergarten teacher trying to regain his identity and has a suspiciously outrageous Austrian accent. Just when we thought we had him nailed as Arnold, McClone's special ability is a short duration shield, which hints at a certain unbreakable character that dies with great difficulty, if you catch my drift.
As Magicka introduced a novel skill-based mechanic for comboing elements into powerful spellcasts, The Showdown Effect offers a simple yet powerful mechanic for making sure ranged weapons aren't completely overpowered: you have to aim not just in the general direction of your target, but at your target. Click ahead or behind your target and you'll miss. It takes some getting used to, especially if you're thinking in 2D, but you'll know you're hitting by the spatter on the walls and ceiling.
The exception to the aim or die rule are (of course) melee weapons and thrown weapons (and anything you pick up or carry can be a thrown weapon, from fire extinguishers to wrenches to your fully loaded AR-15 - oops!) Thrown weapons hit anything in their path, and it's a useful tactic to carry one around just to short-circuit an opponent's charge or quick attack. Thrown and melee weapons / kung fu works so well, in fact, that they seem a touch overpowered compared to slow firing, hard to aim ranged weaponry.
The title "The Showdown Effect" isn't just a nod to over-the-top action movie nomenclature. Every standard "Showdown" free-for-all deathmatch mode has a timer, and when that timer expires, a Last Man Standing event kicks off. The event comes complete with some visual mayhem: on the Neo Tokyo map, Mothra and Godzilla battle in the skyline as structures shift and fires break out. The last man standing gets a major points boost which is usually enough to secure victory.
As entertaining and fun as The Showdown Effect is, the netcode allows for the occasional headscratcher of a death, such as when an opponent appears to wave a sword 10 feet away and your head goes tumbling off. Or, even more disconcertingly, when two of the same opponent appears and you kill the wrong one. At the time of review, Arrowhead and Paradox are attempting to rectify this and other lag related problems by clustering pings, but the practice has resulted in short custom game lists and long ranked game lobby times. Here's hoping Arrowhead hasn't created a game that's simply too fast for their framework.
For a $10 game, you wouldn't expect stunning graphics, but still, The Showdown Effect impresses. From the beveled CRT patterning on the title card to the misspelled Torture sign in the dungeons or the Mona Lisa you can tear down and use as a bullet shield, the attention to tongue-in-cheek detail in The Showdown is fantastic. The animations and effects are just as exaggerated as they are fluid, making for a relatively hiccup free play experience.
Two environments comprise the setting--Neo Tokyo and Medieval Madness--and two variations for each environment raise the map count to four. Neo Tokyo is about what you'd expect from a futuristic Japanese megacity, complete with giant welding robots, elevated advertising platforms, neon signs above and subways beneath. Medieval Madness and the Bandit Fortress offer players an anachronous tour de force through castles, monasteries, and markets, with plenty of throwable bladed weapons along the way.
The character graphics hold up well when zoomed in for the map intro and outro, where you're introduced to (or absolved of) throwaway plot line like recovering your identity, rescuing your daughter from kidnappers, surviving your last day on the force, and the cliched plots roll on. Costumes and weapon skins in concept from seeing your doppelganger, but with choices scanty and preorder goods plentiful, chances are you'll be killed by a guy in a red Magicka conjurer's robe at some point.
The voice acting is a definite highlight of the game, parodying Liam Neeson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Mel Gibson, the list goes on... with brilliance. In the audio direction department, audio cues such as reload clicks and gunfire provide valuable information about the location of your enemies, and ambient sound effects such as a monk chorus in the chapel or a subway express train roaring past offer nice flavor.
Some of the more repetitive sound effects become grating after a while, such as Dutch McClone's painfully extended grunts as he jumps. Mixing these sound effects up a bit or turning down the volume a few notches would have helped. Equally withering is the game's hair metal soundtrack which, while it fits the mood of the game, has me reaching for the speaker volume knob after a minute or two browsing the menus.