Hands On with The Showdown Effect «

The Showdown Effect looks like some ridiculous fun. “The whole idea is to make you feel like you’re an action hero,” said Arrowhead’s Design Director Emil Englund as I got my hands on an early version of his team’s late 2012 PC (and Mac) exclusive. Inspired by the 1996 classic Abuse, TSE is a player-vs-player, 2D side-scroller homage to ’80s and ’90s action films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Commando, and more. Not everything is in yet, but it’s already a fantastic collection of smoothly animated stunts that call to mind the signature movie moves of Chow Yun Fat, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and even a little Keanu Reeves.

Running and Gunning

I played a deadly game of heavily armed cat versus equally deadly mouse through a Neo-Tokyo level inspired by the likes of Blade Runner and Akira and lit like a noir graphic novel. Blasting away with pistols, shotguns, uzis, machine guns and rocket launchers, my single-minded effort was to kill the other man. This particular level consists of a couple of multi-story buildings, complete with elevators to quickly transport you to the roof. I’m into doing things the badass way, so I wall-ran my way up on the outside, ninja-style. Once at the top, it’s inevitable that someone will do a running leap off the edge (firing backwards at the other guy with dual pistols, of course) and plunge all the way to the ground. Once I even (totally on purpose) crashed straight down into the subway and kept fighting. (There was no fall damage in this particular version, though that may change by the time it comes out.)

I’m a big fan of the graphical style — TSE’s low-detail, high-contrast look let me easily spot the other guy as we sparred, with beautiful animations. Holding the right mouse button makes a character dodge anything thrown at him Neo-style, but at the cost of his precious and finite supply of blue dodge energy. I tested how long that lasted by opening up on my enemy with a belt-fed machine gun and chasing him around the map as he back-flipped away from me — in the bloody end, my clip outlasted his dodge bar.

If it Bleeds…

However, he’d gotten in one good shot, and a single bullet is all it takes to start a player bleeding. My life was oozing out all over the place, and I had to pause for a moment to bandage up before he respawned. If this had been a fully populated game, with eight players all out for blood, I’d have had a hell of a time staying alive. The trick to successful healing, it seems, is staying hidden by using the true line-of-sight vision to your advantage.

“We really feel that what kind of lacks in a side-scroller is that you don’t feel like you’re there,” said Englund. “It’s too easy to see stuff you shouldn’t be able to see. So the whole line-of-sight thing works out really well here. It makes it harder to see things, so you have to listen for footsteps.” That means obstacles around the map are much more important than in a typical 2D game — if your character can’t see through something (like a wall, for example) neither can you. It leads to all kinds of cat-and-mouse gameplay, which is a little slow with just two players, but in a fully populated round I expect it’ll get really interesting very quickly.


If there happens to be a window near by, you’ll be able to leap into another player and shove him out of it.

So what if my ammo had run out before the other guy’s dodge meter? “You have to throw your gun in your opponents’ face to stun him, and pick up a bar stool,” Englund suggests. “Or a pool cue — it’s ideal for beating someone with. A broken bottle is sharp and makes them bleed.” Englund says his number-one thing to add to TSE next is the ability to dive-tackle an enemy, knocking the gun from his hand and sending both players into a mad scramble to pick it up. If there happens to be a window near by, you’ll be able to leap into another player and shove him out of it.

This match was purely homicide-based, but Englund says there will likely be more to TSE by the time Arrowhead puts it up on Steam later this year. “Different game modes might not just entail beating each other over the heads with sticks, or shooting each other. We might have game modes like you have to break into this complex and hack this computer, and the other players are security guards,” he said.

Where the Action is

Not that I’m complaining, but I wondered why this type of game would be not only on the PC, but PC (and Mac) exclusive. Englund’s response was music to my ears: “It allows us to do so much more than on console. Developing for console entails a lot of stuff that slows down game development. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to make console games at all, but it just means that we think this game fits the PC market better. This will be a better game if we make it PC and Mac only.”

Yeah, the dudes are tiny and it’s kinda hard to see. Click to embiggen!

That platform focus will mean easy spectator modes, instant replays, and of course modding, Englund said. “We want to encourage modding as much as possible. It takes time to make editors and stuff like that, but above everything, we encourage modding. Our roots are in modding. Our CEO is a modder. It would be kind of weird for us to not support that.”

It’s great to hear that the mod community won’t be shut out, given that Arrowhead plans to produce a ton of extra DLC stuff in addition to the cheap ($10-$15) price of The Showdown Effect itself, similar to what it’s done with Magicka. Those goodies will include new hero types (which will be cosmetic, Englund says) and new weapon sets. New maps, he promises, will be free for all to avoid fragmenting the community between the haves and have-nots. Those will be in addition to the two planned for release: Neo Tokyo and a medieval castle, and they could include anything from a carnival to outer space… “or whatever.” I’m looking forward to seeing where wherever takes us.


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