Showgunners review – turn-based Smash T.V.

Showgunners – I’d buy that for a dollar, but maybe not much more (pic: Good Shepherd Entertainment)

From the makers of Hard West comes the strategy game equivalent of an arcade shooter, with a love for 80s Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.

It breaks our heart to know that Marvel’s Midnight Suns was a flop. It was one of the best games of last year, and one of the best turn-based strategies we’ve ever played, and yet even with the Marvel licence and a major marketing push no one bought it. That’s going to put off every publisher from ever greenlighting another big budget strategy game, once more leaving everything in the hands of indie developers.

Apart from being turn-based, and having a faintly similar art style, Showgunners doesn’t have anything in common with Midnight Suns. Its setting is that of a Running Man style, hyper violent gameshow, with the game riffing heavily on the old Arnie movie and revelling in its particular style of 80s dystopian grunginess.

But mostly it’s about fighting a bunch of irredeemable psychopaths in a series of linear stages that makes the game seem like a cross between XCOM and Smash T.V. And considering those are two of our favourite games ever that immediately got us interested.

Those would be the two obvious comparisons to make whether the game was any good or not, although Showgunners is more interested in being a revenge tale, compared to The Running Man’s more heroic message. Main character Scarlett is out to get a serial killer that murdered her family and it just so happens that they went on to win game show Homicidal All-Stars, which she feels compelled to enter too.

It’s a shame more care isn’t taken over the storytelling, as nobody in the game is very charismatic or sympathetic and the sections where you wander around as Scarlett in a third person view (again, faintly like Midnight Suns) are a chore and not at all the palette cleanser they should have been.

To a fault, this is a very focused game, with the turn-based action lacking any kind of research and development angle or wider strategy element. The comparison to Smash T.V. is not merely in terms of the setting but the game’s dedication to non-stop violence.

Some may think that description to be at odds with this being a strategy game, but fans of the genre will know that needn’t be the case at all. The basics of Showgunners works very similarly to other turn-based games, especially XCOM, as you start a turn with two action points, which you can spend on moving, shooting, reloading, and using other equipment such as grenades.

It’s very easy to pick up and if you’ve played any similar game you’ll have got to grips with it within minutes. You don’t just control Scarlett, though, as she picks up allies along the way and each of them has their own skill tree full of unique abilities, organised via a small number of different classes.

They quickly begin to make Scarlett’s vanilla combat seem rather dull, with one character able to use hologram decoys (developer Artificer must really like Arnie films) and another having a machinegun she never needs to reload.

Although the objective of each stage is usually nothing more than complicated than killing everyone, things are kept interesting by the lights suddenly being turned off or doors locking shut in your face. Since these are portrayed as ‘plot twists’ within the show itself they make perfect sense in context, although once you’ve seen each trick the element of surprise is lost, as there’s no randomisation at all, to any of the missions.

Showgunners – turn-based doesn’t mean slow-paced (pic: Good Shepherd Entertainment)

As well as simply surviving, your other concern is pleasing the show’s viewers, including those you can meet and greet physically. Depending on your play style you’ll attract one of multiple different sponsors, each offering their own line in different buffs. This is the closest the game comes to having an original idea of its own, as things like combo kills and melee finishers get the crowd pumping and add to your fame level.

Everything in Showgunners is perfectly competent, and we appreciate the attempt to prove that strategy games can be just as much about fast action and ultraviolence as any other genre, but the problem here is an almost complete lack of originality in terms of the gameplay. That and a playing experience so streamlined there really isn’t anything else to it but constant, repetitive fighting.

Since it is so straightforward it’s tempting to say that Showgunners is perfect for newcomers to strategy games, but while that may be true in the sense of learning the controls, and the gist of the gameplay, the overall experience is so lacking in nuance and variation it’s more likely to put you off than encourage you to seek out other, more refined examples of the genre.

It’s relatively cheap but you probably won’t have much trouble finding Marvel’s Midnight Suns for around the same price, and we guarantee you that’s a far more entertaining prospect.

Showgunners review summary

In Short: A pared back turn-based strategy that successfully replicates the action of XCOM but is so lacking in originality and variety it feels like half the game it could have been.

Pros: Fast, brutal combat does a great job of illustrating just how exciting turn-based combat can be. Plot twists can be fun and the different skill trees and fame buffs are all useful.

Cons: In gameplay terms there’s barely an ounce of originality or anything of interest to do outside of combat. Banal storytelling and obnoxious characters.

Score: 6/10

Formats: PC
Price: £24.99
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Developer: Artificer
Release Date: 2nd May 2023
Age Rating: N/A

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