I’ve always had a soft spot for shows like The Running Man. I was an 80s kid, so a bit too young to have caught the movie in theatres, but I liked the concept. I grew up in a time of cheesy gameshows and cheesier contestants, where every week brought Alex Trebek and Vanna White to our televisions. In terms of gaming, though, there was Smash TV – and who can forget the announcer’s voice cheerily telling you he’d buy that for a dollar?
But I digress. In any case, I’ve often thought that most TV shows could be improved with the addition of lasers and chainsaws (actually, most things could, but that is a story for another time) Showgunners takes that concept and runs with it, creating a game that while not extraordinary in any sense, is a surprisingly decent SRPG.
Setting-wise, it’s nothing special. Dystopian reality, check. Capitalism rules, check. Gameshow with lasers and chainsaws (oh my!) that pardons hardened criminals if they win, and is open to entry to almost anyone…check. The story gets the job done, but I can’t say that I was particularly enamored of any of the characters, nor did I find myself champing at the bit to know more. There are some plot twists that move the story along, and the main character’s motivation is solid, but nothing special.
Sound and music are standard fare. None of the music tracks particularly stood out to me, but I have to say that the sound effects had a chunky, grisly tone to them that fit the blood and guts aesthetic of the game well. I would have preferred that the devs embraced the hardcore nature of their offering and went full metal with the music, but I’m a metalhead myself, so that might be a purely subjective gripe of mine.
This brings us to the art. I do dig the general vibe of the game – dark, brooding visuals with just the right amount of over-the-top comic-bookishness to them. The world is further brought to life by cutscenes (not too bad, but nothing to write home about) and conversations with NPCs and audiologs scattered around your home base. I appreciate the lack of heavy exposition (which I dislike in games) and how the voice acting and character interactions flesh out the setting, rather than having lots of text dumps. Credit where credit is due – the voice acting is quite good, and the announcer’s vocal quips during combat (which had enough variety to not get TOO annoying) and delivery made me smile and chuckle more
than once. It all made the game come a little more alive for me – world-building isn’t just lore entries and cryptic intro movies, folks.
I see what you’re thinking at this point – if everything is just mediocre, why bother? I certainly wouldn’t. There are lots of games on the market, and the SRPG genre has become crowded as of late with titles like the Advance Wars Reboot, Redemption Reapers, and a few others that I could rattle off the tip of my tongue.
However, where the game excels is the gameplay. This isn’t a classic of the genre like Final Fantasy Tactics, but it does pretty well on its own merits. Think of a smaller-scale XCOM and you get the drift. The genre staples are all there – Action Points, an Overwatch system, use of cover…but the game blends them well enough that you have to think tactically and employ the PCs strengths and abilities to survive. You only ever get 2 APs for the entire game, which is a design choice that works surprisingly well, forcing you to
plan ahead and remember that any attack will end your turn prematurely. I found it constrictive at the start, but as the game progressed I got used to it, and I felt it overall worked well with the dark and gritty nature of the game.
Outside of combat, progression comes in the form of Cash, Fame and XP. Choosing perks for your characters is something that you’ll need to put a little more thought into because of the
lack of any kind of respec system, but I found that the choices added weight to the game and synced nicely with everything else that was going on. Get more movement speed or melee damage? That would also depend on what kind of Fame rewards you chose, and what kind of gear you brought into battle. The mark of a good combat system is having the progression be meaningfully tied to characters and gear, and Showgunners does this nicely.
The gameplay is broken up into chilling out at your home base (which I would have appreciated a little more content in) combat, and exploration segments in which Scarlett and her crew have to navigate between sections of the gameshow. I found these a welcome change from the standard SRPG fare – a mix of puzzles, avoiding traps and light NPC interactions. The loot boxes and autograph signings were the payoffs for getting through the dangers of these zones, and there was a good mix of optional dungeons for those who wanted more challenges, gear and XP.
One thing I could have done without was the Ambush encounters during the exploration segments. They were probably included to break up any possible monotony, but they just come off
as annoying – too easy to offer any real threat or excitement, but unskippable. Another downer would have to be the loading times – the game takes a LONG time to load its assets and
shaders, and that is irritating when going through multiple zone transitions in a short space of time – an event that is thankfully rare.
It’s worth noting that the combat AI in this game isn’t too shabby – the enemies will use cover and attack explosive barrels at any opportunity, so character placement is important. It sometimes spazzes out and has close combatants run far away and status-granting enemies create unnecessary shields, but it will still give you a run for your money. Full disclosure though – I am not a manly gamer man, so I played on Easy to have a relaxed experience. The game says that at Normal and higher you will probably need to pay closer attention to the game mechanics and while that is probably true, in my playthrough I just focused on a few strategies which proved more than sufficient for all the combat encounters.
Does this game do anything new? No. Is it worth your time if you’re looking for a decent to good SRPG? I’d have to say yes. While I didn’t actually beat the game, I didn’t feel that my 10+ hours into it were wasted, and it certainly scratched a grid-based itch in my heart that has gone unfulfilled ever since Into the Breach.
Overall Rating : 78