Commando and the film originally intended as its sequel, Die Hard, share three qualities that make them the standouts of the ’80s action movie zeitgeist: personality, pace and explosive thrills. The Showdown Effect, a 2.5D multiplayer brawler from Magicka developer Arrowhead, claims to take its inspiration from such macho classics, but only occasionally manages to deliver. It fails to charm the crowd with its bland cast of amalgamations and clones of ’80s action heroes (with names like Dutch McClone) and, worst of all, it lacks a consistent rhythm to its matches.
Two fatal design flaws prevent the game’s ranked deathmatches from flowing steadily. Firstly, if a rival is in an adjacent room on-screen but outside of your character’s field of view, they won’t be visible to you. It’s a bizarre, realistic mechanic in an otherwise cartoonish game, one that hampers the ability to strategise and think ahead. Second, to successfully shoot a rival you have to position your cursor directly over them.
It means you can’t fire in the general direction of a foe to fend them off or score a kill, as is traditional – and logical – in the world of 2.5D action games. When you combine these two elements together the result is erratic, impulsive action that feels random and scrappy. The brief tutorial offers little help to disoriented newcomers, leaving you to scan loading screens between matches for key nuggets of information on how to succeed and survive. Custom matches, though offering fewer rewards with which to purchase new items, prove more appealing. You can set parameters – melee-only, perhaps, or one-hit-kills – to shake up the experience, if not entirely fix it.
These gameplay issues are a particular shame because the multi-tiered maps are well designed, offering up plenty of platforms and pick-ups as you slide, roll-dive and leap about in search of your next victim. Maps are the perfect size for both the minimum of two and maximum of eight players, layered with meticulous mise en scene that expresses Arrowhead’s enthusiasm for films like Black Rain and Hard Boiled in a bright, bubbly aesthetic that evokes Bionic Commando: Rearmed and one of 2.5D’s progenitors, Johnny Bazookatone.
While the stages are inviting, the characters lack the same spark, feeling like B-movie wannabes rather than charismatic homages to their inspiration. The cast are near-identical in terms of skill (each has one unique special ability) so battles hinge on the most well-balanced armoury. The speed and damage of melee weapons is an appropriate counter for the long-range, weaker firepower of machine guns, and there’s a pleasing sense of feedback and fine detail to each tool of destruction (the single-shot rifle is the exception with its painfully slow reload and flat sound).
There’s a satisfying Shadow Complex-meets-Smash-Bros. style romp somewhere in The Showdown Effect, but it’s buried beneath gameplay mechanics that interfere with the joys its premise suggests, and there are currently stability issues with the servers that demand some urgent attention. Arrowhead may be made up of ’80s action-flick obsessives, but it’s failed to take onboard that era of entertainment’s key lesson: keep it simple.
The Showdown Effect is available on Steam for £7.99 / $9.99.