"Yippee kay yay." "I'll be back." "Make my day." Those oft-quoted lines were obviously an inspiration for The Showdown Effect's tagline: "Fight to the death or die trying." It's perfect for a game that pits action movie clichés against each other in a vicious 2D battleground. In its multiplayer matches the action is quick and lethal as you switch between shooting across the map and getting in close for a good melee thwacking. Sitting down to play The Showdown Effect at Paradox's event last week, I jumped off a balcony in a Tokyo apartment as the whiz-kid computer chick and decapitated the hard-boiled cop who's getting too old for this. The next moment, a kung fu master shot an exploding arrow from his "Ram-bow" and blew me to kingdom come. And as soon as I died, I wanted to get in and play some more.
Most games published by Paradox Interactive are strategy games, steeped in historical detail, like Europa Universalis or last year's Crusader Kings II. Two years ago though, the company scored a minor hit with the hilarious Magicka from Arrowhead Studio. The coop campaign with an innovative magic system and a healthy dose of friendly-fire was Paradox's first million-seller, hitting as high as 2 million copies sold and breaking its own record for concurrent players on Steam just last weekend. Paradox hopes Arrowhead can hit its target again with The Showdown Effect.
I can tell you one thing: the action works. Lead designer Johan Pilestedt likened the gameplay to Smash Bros. meets Goldeneye on the PC, and he's not wrong. There's something visceral and satisfying about landing that killing blow, complete with the cartoony splash of blood.
"It's in the vicinity of Tarantino," Pilestedt said. "His movies are so violent, but it's exaggerated. All the blood is not a true blood corollary, it's just red water. Those kind of exploitation movies are a big influence on the violence of Showdown." Pilestedt also mentions the animation style of Ghost in the Shell and Team Fortress 2 as inspiration.
One thing that's odd for an action game is the dedication to the PC control system of mouse and keyboard. Pilestedt does not plan to add any gamepad support, even though the game cries out for it at first glance, but he assured me there's a very good reason for leaving it out. "When we were developing Showdown, we tried a lot of controller mechanics," he said, and the guns were difficult to balance without an aiming mechanic. "If you have high damage and you hit with every bullet, the game is just about who pulls the trigger first, and we didn't want that," he explained.
So instead, the team implemented an aiming reticule with the mouse that must be over your target in order to hit. Otherwise, your bullets just wildly hit the background. Unfortunately, a reticule wouldn't have worked with a gamepad because movement is just too dang slow to properly move about. It really only works with a mouse, and add that to Paradox's PC pedigree, and it makes sense to stick with what you know. Even though, I must admit, The Showdown Effect would work perfectly in Steam's Big Picture mode.
The game comes out on March 5th for $9.99, along with a $19.99 version that includes a lot of unlockables and a copy of Magicka, for good measure. The goal is to release Showdown now, but continue adding to it with new characters, new weapons and new wearables - the cosmetic stuff you unlock to give your character funky sunglasses, or mech-like legs.
"Showdown is a bit weird in that I always want more wearables," Pilestadt said. "I want to build Arnold from Commando. There's so many we want to add that we have to prioritize the list. We have an internal document with the wearables we want to add and people in the office get a vote." That's why the team is going to add the Jason hockey mask, and the machete is quickly climbing the ranks of that internal list. There must be more than a few horror fans in the office at Arrowhead.
But it's not just the developers who'll get to choose now; they want to open it up to the community once Showdown is released. "If the community is vocal about what they want, we can provide it for them," Pilestadt said. He knows players like to specialize how they look using the visuals and he's happy to give them the chance to express themselves.
Before that can happen there needs to be a community at all, but Paradox has an ace up its sleeve in that respect. Support for Twitch.tv's streaming service is built right into Showdown's code so you'll be able to send your matches to the interwebs with the click of a button. Paradox is betting that a community will grow around sharing videos and watching skilled players jump around the environments, decapitating foes."It's not really e-sporty, but it's a really spectator friendly," he said. "It's really fun to watch."
You know what, Johan? It's also really fun to play. That more than anything else should get players excited about The Showdown Effect. It's certainly not its other tagline, voiced by the gravelly voice actor familiar form many a cheesy trailer: "Multiplayer just got multiplayer-er."