May 2, 2023
Good Shepherd Entertainment
ShowGunners could have easily been a big ol’ mess. Not many games that incorporate a number of genres and mechanics at once can make them work in harmony. The premise of the game as well, when put on paper, sounds too hectic to be successful. You play as Scarlett, a bounty hunter in a dystopian landscape who is also a contestant on a “kill-or-be-killed” reality TV show, Homicidal All-Stars. To be victorious, Scarlett must fight and dodge her way through eight deadly trails equipped with all sorts of hazardous obstacles and a bunch of ex-cons who have volunteered to play the game rather than be imprisoned.
Between these eight stages, Scarlett spends her time in the Homicidal All-Stars house, where she can sleep in her chamber, record confessionals, or get to know her teammates. Putting all these elements together you get a combination of Big Brother, Blade Runner, and the Japanese movie/book that started the genre, Battle Royale. Yeah, the game does put its fingers in a lot of pies.
One of the reasons why it manages to have so many plates spinning at once without dropping any is due to the atmosphere Showgunners creates. The trails are similar to fun houses, with eight different locations that have been hand-crafted by developer Artificer. Each set is filled with deadly elements, like traps, timed fire/blade gadgets and puzzles that sometime need to be worked through with your teammate. Your teammate usually follows alongside you and is only playable if you are launched into combat or need their assistance to complete a puzzle. The stages are covered in blood, fans of the show surround the perimeters cheering you on behind barbed wire, drones hover over you recording your every move and a bubbly announcer quips in regularly to narrate your journey.
Whilst you run through these sets, the game’s perspective is third-person, however, when combat kicks in it changes to the classic turn-based top-down view. Combat happens in two forms, one being the arenas that are scattered around the set and the other by being ambushed, which occurs at random moments throughout your runs. When this occurs, the announcer goes into high gear, narrating the actions not only of your team but also of the cons around you. The announcer’s voice, along with the gentle hum of the audience in the background, add to that fun, high-stakes, reality TV-style atmosphere that the game successfully achieves.
The enemies you will encounter during combat vary, with the most common being Scum, who have the lowest health and also no power-ups. Other enemies are introduced in a scattered fashion throughout the game. This include Ronins, who wield katanas that will literally slice your health in half, Drone Monks, that produce powerful Attack Drones and can put protectives shields on other enemies and Ogres, who are beefy machinegun toting tanks who can also slowly regenerate health. Your team and those opposing will all have two combat points to use, with the use of your weapon costing two points. Your teammates, who change throughout your playthrough, have special abilities that throw a spanner in the enemies’ defenses. One of my favourites is the shape-shifter Tybalt, who can not only sabotage enemies abilities and weapons, but can also swap appearances with them, leading the other team to attack their own.
The arenas offer different challenges and opportunities for further creative ways to kill your opponents. The latter comes in the way of explosive drums and train tracks that produce pre-warned trains that can run down your enemies. Challenges include making sure at least one out of twelve firework boxes aren’t exploded by the enemy and turning a switch on in the allocated amount of turns to disable deadly gases.
Though combat was mainly sleek, the controls can be a bit janky at times. Sometimes I’d be unable to shoot as my gun was “locked” and I was unsure why, other times I would shoot at the wrong person because I hadn’t realised the enemy I was hovering my controller over wasn’t the enemy that I had selected via the game’s targeting system. Also, I found that the difficulty could spike out of nowhere making some enemies a lot more powerful, leading to my team’s death becoming imminent. When either you or the enemy dies the game sometimes produces cut scenes of these deaths that can be quite bloody. Limbs will dangle, blood will ooze, bodies will lie limply with arms at odd angles. I found this addition satisfying and realistic, but some may find it a bit too graphic.
“The stages are covered in blood and a bubbly announcer quips in regularly to narrate your journey.”
The game is very generous in giving you many opportunities to level up and achieve powerups and extra kit that will assist you in not being blown to pieces by the motley crew of bad guys. Opportunities to gain XP are all around you, from dismantling bombs to completing puzzles. Once you have levelled up, ability points will let you add powerups and special abilities for each of your players via a small branching skills tree. You will also be rewarded special implants and weapons if you complete the optional objectives in the arenas, which will also give you a leg-up in combat.
Being a reality TV show, Showgunners also combines elements that let you learn more about Scarlett and her motivations for being on Homicidal All-Stars in the first place. Between completing the eight sets, Scarlett spends her time in the Homicidal All-Stars house which is equipped with recreational activities (which unfortunately cannot be used), a confessional booth and different player’s audio logs. You can also have a chat with your teammates and learn more about their background and why they are also on the show.
In the confessional booth you can listen to past contestant’s confessions gaining extra knowledge of the context of the world of Homicidal All-Stars. You will also be prompted by a member of the production crew with a question that aligns with something that has happened through your last run. The game gives you four answers to choose from that highlight different aspects of Scarlett’s personality – funny, cool, sarcastic and nice.
These personality elements connect with the game’s Fame System that relies on signing autographs for fans that surround the combat field which grants you points to up your Fame Level. You can decide which side of your personality you engage when deciding what message to include when you sign your autograph. The points obtained by the signing can then be used to secure different sponsors with different benefits, such as Gaining 1,000XP instantly, via the game’s hub.
One of my favourite components of the game is when Scarlett sleeps between trails and the game, in striking graphic novel style artwork, produces elements of Scarlett’s dreams. These offer further insights into the demons that plague her and slowly shed light on why Scarlett has signed up for and seems so pessimistic towards, the world of Homicidal All-Stars. It is these moments that make the game not just a blood and gore turn-based experience, but also a captivating narrative that offers the player extra motivation to kill everyone in Scarlett’s vicinity.
- Dystopian, handcrafted sets are colourful and exciting to fight through
- Characters are fully fledged and have opinions on the game's world
- The narrative explores the complexity of the world's moral compass
- Coordinates various different genres and elements successfully
- Combat controls can sometimes be a bit janky
- Some issues with spikes in difficulty
Showgunners creates a bombastic, colourful, chaotic world that incorporates elements of reality TV, turn-based combat, dystopian energy and characters that grow alongside a strong narrative. All of these elements combined could have made the game a messy experience, but the story kept me engaged, and I felt intrinsically motivated to conquer Homicidal All-Stars so that Scarlett can finally find peace. Showgunners is a successful mash-up, and Artificer’s inclusion of various intertwining gameplay features make the game an ever changing, fun ride that made me excited along each step of the way.