As the elderly, yet oddly toned kung-fu monk decapitated my time-traveling, identity-losing hero-with-nothing-to-lose for the fifth time in as many minutes, I couldn't really be blamed for impotently throwing my mouse at the television that I can ill-afford, cracking its screen in cathartic rage.
But I didn't do that. Instead, I switched to my lightsaber -- yes, my lightsaber -- and leaped back into the fray. I hunted that bastard like Quatermain hunting a lion, cautiously. He was below me now, but he hadn't noticed me lingering atop the grate which would become my point of entry. I slipped through those metal bars like some oiled contortionist and landed right next to him just as he was bandaging his many wounds.
That's when I struck, carving up his back like a cowardly man who has been killed one too many times. Within seconds he was nothing more than gibs, chunks of meat and bone strewn across the floor. It was a cheap kill, but damn did it feel grand.
The Showdown Effect is a multiplayer deathmatch extravaganza where players measure their lives in seconds and handfuls of minutes. It's an absurd parody of '80s action movie tropes, but underneath the hood it's a precise, fast, skill-based title that harkens back to the heady days when Quake and GoldenEye took up so much of my time.
The Showdown Effect (PC)
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release: March 5, 2013
Arrowhead's last game was the arcane-inclined Magicka, a co-op hate-fest that led to the dissolution of many a friendship, and you could be forgiven for assuming that The Showdown Effect couldn't be further from that earlier title. Forgiven, but ultimately incorrect. Both games are parodies, respectively of the fantasy and action genres; both have the appearance of being quite straightforward but quickly reveal hidden depths; and both often end up in the death of your teammates at your own blood-covered, guilty hands.
So Arrowhead is sticking to its wheelhouse, but that doesn't mean The Showdown Effect is Magicka in a ripped, bloody wife-beater, no. Despite the 2.5D side-on perspective, The Showdown Effect is undoubtedly channeling classic multiplayer deathmatch games, most notably from the '90s. The intricate maps, varied game modes, and huge amount of ruleset customization are like time-travel devices, shooting players back to that era.
While the modes and rules provide no small amount of diversity, the action primarily boils down to traversing the multi-leveled maps, killing foes with your two weapon loadout. There are all manner of guns, as well as swords and projectiles like throwing knives. Every weapon type is different, but the individual weapons within any given category are identical aside from their appearance. A lightsaber is exactly the same as a katana, and a gatling gun is just like an assault rifle.
Guns are, to put it lightly, tricky. One cannot just aim in the direction of a foe and watch as bullets bore holes in their body. The cursor actually has to be directly on top of an enemy for a shot to succeed, which is no simple task when combatants have so much momentum. Trying to get a bead on someone when they are bouncing off walls, sliding along the floor, or leaping into the air can be challenging, to say the least.
However, this does avoid issues like guns mowing people down with ease, and it inspires attackers to be just as light on their feet, or to be more cautious in their murderous approach. Holding down on the mouse button while wielding a firearm expands your field of view, though it does make you less mobile. With the increased range, it's possible to spot an enemy and get a few rounds off before they even notice you stalking them. It's a significant advantage, and balances out the normally hectic nature of the firefights.
Melee weapons are simpler to use, requiring no real precision, but you have to get close to your quarry first. While using such a weapon, the right mouse button is used to block, deflecting bullets and causing other swords to bounce off harmlessly, though only temporarily (unless the customizable rules state otherwise). Melee duels often become intense stand-offs, with each swordsman trying to break the other's block, waiting for the right time to take a risk and leap over their foe for a backstab.
Additional weapons are scattered throughout the maps and can be picked up by anyone. There are no extra guns, but you can find crucifixes, spears, hammers, and items, such as chairs, that do less damage but make great shields. My shield of choice? A bag full of money. It might not buy happiness, but it did buy me a few seconds of life on more than one occasion.
I recall one particular match that ended in a showdown between two well-matched players. Both opted to ditch their weapons in favor of discarded pizza boxes. The next minute saw the pair wailing on each other with their cardboard shields, occasionally flinging them at each other and then running back to grab another one. Italian cuisine has never been so deadly.
Modes run the gamut from multiplayer mainstays like team deathmatch affairs and free-for-alls, to modes that are consistent with Arrowhead's parody of the '80s action genre. A personal favorite pits a team of heroes against a group of devious henchmen. The heroes have their chosen loadouts and plenty of health, while the henchmen are all clones -- identical robed cultists, mafia footsoldiers -- with one randomized weapon.
Much like their cinematic counterparts, these henchmen fall easily, but they just keep coming, so fast is the respawn timer. So these minions must swarm the players, chipping away at their health, sacrificing themselves so that the next pawn can finally end the hero's life.
The maps are, sadly, not as varied. They are substantial and certainly well-designed, but there are simply not that many. Perhaps my attention span has become crippled in this era of instant gratification and endless variety, and it's probably better to have a small number of fantastic maps than ten mediocre ones, but I still hope to see more added in updates. Though I fear such things may be restricted to premium DLC, as is the norm, nowadays.
Of course, one game in, say, the Neo-Tokyo map -- with its gaudy neon signs and silhouette of Godzilla battling one of his gargantuan chums -- can be an entirely different experience from any other. Not only can new weapons, characters (all with their own unique ability), and aesthetic touches like clothes and weapon skins be unlocked through spending points earned in matches, new rules can be, too.
How about a kung-fu, one-hit kill match with no special powers? Just a lot of people punching the absolute crap out of each other. What about a match where everyone just has rocket launchers, leaving nothing but gibs flying through the air? The Showdown Effect's greatest strength lies in it freely giving players the ability to craft their own experience, play by their own rules. Server hosts decide how they want to play the game, and other like-minded folk can join them in their grand experiment.
The Showdown Effect's success will ultimately be dictated by the number of players that stick around. They need to host the games, and they need to provide the challenge for other players. Unlike Magicka, it's a multiplayer, online-only experience, and that's something of a risky endeavor for a small studio.
It's a game that deserves to be played, however, and it's one that's a hilarious spectacle to watch too -- something that Arrowhead clearly realizes and is keen to exploit with its Twitch.tv integration. Maybe I should make one of those video thingymabobs? Nah, I don't need any more people laughing at how awful I am.