Everyone who knows me knows that I love cheesy action movies more than a bloodthirsty mouse. Whether it be Arnie flinging doors from the side of cars, Jackie Chan running over villains in a hovercraft or Van Damme holding a be-rollerbladed foot in someone’s face, I will be there cheering them on. I know they can’t hear me. Deep in my heart though, I wish they could.
However, the 80′s action movie hasn’t had as much of an effect on the gaming scene as it should have. We could have had wildly over-the-top shooters complete with cheesy one-liners and hilariously low-production-value set-pieces instead of staid man-shoots, with po-faced military professionals firing at a series of foreign targets. Somewhere between the need for antagonists with sentimental back-stories and the rush to be the most inwardly sceptical about the violence proffered, games forgot that action should be fun. We need less Red Dawn, more Last Action Hero.
Thank god then for The Showdown Effect, the 80s-em-up from Arrowhead Games. To use the reductive short-hand of the internet, think of Smash Bros meets Rumble in the Bronx. It’s a high-octane, gun-flinging deathmatch with the environment just another weapon to be used in the flash of battle. Many characters may enter, but only one shall leave alive although sometimes that isn’t the winner because scoring can be a funny thing.
The essence of the game is that you murder. You murder fast, you murder often and you murder indiscriminately. Bouncing around gorgeous arenas (the neon-infused cityscape of Neo-Tokyo is particularly stunning, before it becomes a charnel house), the clashes between the player-customised characters are highly mobile affairs; players can leap, clamber up ledges, dive through windows to tackle those fools waiting outside and, my personal favourite, slide along the floor while waving a katana at genital height. The levels lend themselves to this sort of choreographed combat, with each level crammed full of vents and ledges and rooftops to fight in/hanging off of/standing upon.
The environment also plays an active role in combat, providing a variety of weapons unique to the level. In the medieval themed level there are a large amount of thematically appropriate items to play around with, from shields ripped off the walls to halberds and sledge-hammers. The Neo-Tokyo level, on the other hand, will let players Jackie Chan their way through fights through thrown dustbin lids and kitchen knives. It allows each battle to be a terrifying and unpredictable affair: there’s no guarantee that the enemy you’re up against is rocking the gun/sword combo they began with and against a thrown knife, all the best-laid tactical considerations will gang aft agley (as Robert Burns almost said).
For beginners, the combat can feel flustered and inaccurate. Counter-intuitively, guns don’t simply fire forward, but in the interests of balance will only hit their target if the cursor lines up precisely on the leaping somersaulting target. Melee combat is a matter of hammering the attack button until the nuances of timing are learned and these niggling issues will be off-putting to many attempting to grasp the rudiments of the game. When you understand the flow of combat and can use the environment to ambush your foes, the game opens tactically and becomes, well, fun. The personal grudges with online opponents, and you will develop a good half-dozen of these, are emphasised through the scoring system that marks each opponent and monitors your personal score. Being slaughtered with a thrown shield smarts a little less when you can see that baconbreath845 is still two down over the course of the match.
Character customisation really helps you decipher the oft-busy battles, with each character (currently, five are available) having a myriad of costume choices to help differentiate their looks. Weapons can also be purchased with the in-game gold (no micro-transactions here), with shotguns, pistols and the usual gun selections available, augmented with a choice of melee weapons. These small differences can be vital when in the fray, where four or five otherwise identical Dutch McClones are fighting for superiority.
It’s the sort of game that PC owners should really be looking forward to, with our titles fluctuating between pretentious indie releases and unimaginative AAA releases; my time in the beta gave me the same sort of visceral enjoyment that my long years of playing Smash Bros did and it’s good to see the PC getting to play around with genres that are typically console-only.