Showgunners Review - Dystopian Gameshow Fun For All
Let’s get this out of the way right now so there are no arguments. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1987 film, The Running Man is a stone-cold classic. I will not hear any talk to the contrary. For its time it featured great setpieces and set design, a cracking story (liberally altered from Richard Bachman/Stephen King’s original novella) and the Terminator himself sprouting some of the best one-liners heard in 80s action cinema. So when I heard about a game that was taking that concept and marrying it with Xcom, I just had to get on board. That game is Showgunners and honestly, it is just what a Running Man fan like myself needs.
Showgunners gives you exactly what you would expect from that description. It is a brash, neon-filled crumbling city that plays host to this gameshow of death. You take the role of Scarlet, a bounty hunter with a buried past that joins the gameshow for reasons other than the prizemoney. You also have the single most amazing red mullet in gaming history. Seriously, it is a thing of beauty. But enough about Scarlet’s glorious hair and onto the game itself. Showgunners is a turn-based tactical game very much in the vein of Xcom with some light real-time exploration and puzzling to break things up. It is actually closer to the Xcom Chimera Squad spin-off because it is also hero based, with your characters all sporting unique skills on the battlefield.
The game is broken up into 12 tv episodes. Each gets progressively harder, introducing new combatants, teammates and traps. Each episode starts with the player exploring the level in realtime, solving puzzles, disarming traps, interacting with the fans watching on and finding loot. Some great little puzzles pop up in these sections of the game and while none are exactly brain-breaking, they are fun to solve and provide a good interlude between combat. All that stops once an enemy shows up and the game switches to the turn-based combat system. This is a system that should be familiar to anyone that has played this sort of game in the past, all the beats you would expect are there. Overwatch, melee strikes, full and half cover. It is all so familiar that most players will feel right at home instantly. Where this combat mixes things up is both environmental interactions and the special abilities that the player-controlled characters have. There are some fantastic special abilities on offer here, all of which have ideal targets and tactics.
My favourite of the abilities was one sported by the team’s hacker, Tybalt. He could cast a hologram of himself on an enemy, causing other enemies to attack. This simple idea opens up a world of tactical opportunities and is a great way to whittle down the health of the tougher opponents. Other abilities include cool things like AOE attacks, mechanical unit hacks and bonus strikes. All of the abilities have ideal situations to be used and thanks to the game informing the player of the types of enemies the player will face before the battle, the team (of three characters) can be adjusted accordingly. It is a lot of fun to get all of these abilities rolling and clean out a host of baddies in quick succession. It is also worth noting that all of the abilities are on timers so they can’t be spammed relentlessly.
The environment also presents some interesting challenges during combat. There are a host of different win and bonus conditions that pop up in most battles. Players need to disarm explosives, block doors or protect equipment to succeed which offers a nice change of pace from the traditional “kill everything that moves” win condition. Some levels also include environmental hazards that can be used to great effect. That old video game staple, the exploding barrel is there but there are also levels with trains running through them, electrical traps and fire that can all be used against the enemies in fun ways. It adds an extra level of strategy and it certainly pays to be aware of your surroundings because the enemies won’t hesitate to use them against you.
Performance wise, the game runs as smooth as butter. I mean it isn’t exactly melting any graphics cards with its looks, but it does have a nice sense of style, clearly based on the aesthetic presented by The Running Man all those years ago. There is nary a hiccup in the framerate and I didn’t encounter any glitches or bugs in my journey. It also works exceptionally well with a controller so even though there isn’t an announced console release, I wouldn’t be surprised if one was down the track. The fact that the controller works so well is also a boon for all you Steam Deck owners out there because this is the perfect game for that system. It even has a built-in “Steam Deck” graphics setting in the menu, which is good to see. I didn’t need to scroll forums to sort out the best settings for my portable system.
There are some issues that are worth touching on. The first is the commentator. My god is he annoying. Overbearing and repetitive, I couldn’t wait to silence him. I mean it makes sense in context but the devs should have dialed him back a touch. Secondly, there are some balance issues, notably when the TV show director introduces “twists” mid-battle. These change up objectives but because players don’t know they are coming it is easy to find yourself so far out of position that achieving them is impossible and restarting the level is the only option. Of course, then you know the twist is coming and can plan accordingly, but it is a little frustrating that you have to take an L in the first place. Finally the combat, while fun, never quite reaches the level of the games it imitates. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of it, but it wasn’t as satisfying as Xcom, Hard West 2 or even Mario + Rabbids. I think it has a lot to do with the enemy AI being a little predictable and therefore easy to take down.
In all, it took me about 11 hours to finish the game on normal difficulty and there really isn’t too much incentive to go back and start again. That said, I absolutely enjoyed my time with Showgunners and the minor issues I came across did little to dampen my enthusiasm for either the game or Scarlet’s magnificent mullet. Fun abilities, cool levels and some great encounters make for a fun time if strategy gaming is your thing. If you are looking for a tight turn-based game that pays homage to one of the greatest action movies of the 80s, then look no further and even if you haven’t seen the Running Man, you will probably like it too.
Showgunners was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by the publisher.