Showgunners Review – Warbling love letter to the 1990s

Anyone who actively experienced the ’90s will find themselves in a warm bath with Showgunners. The setting of The Running Man really splashes off, and the pumping synthwave music and intense neon lighting leaves little doubt: if you’re under 25, you have no business here.

Developer Artificer has a clear goal in mind with Showgunners: short, powerful and over the top. It’s a tactical turn-based shooter like XCOM or Wasteland, but at the same time it’s a classic revenge story pulled straight out of a movie. Playing as Scarlett, you make your way through yet another season of a lurid show called Homicidal All-Stars, literally a copy of the aforementioned movie The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger. While leaving carnage left and right and deftly dodging deadly traps, your sights are set on only one man due to his horrific actions in the past.

You don’t have to expect more story than that from Showgunners. At least, the game does pretend to through far too quick cutscenes when you encounter a companion in the show or audio recordings you encounter in the sparsely dressed home base between battles, but from the first few missions it is immediately clear that this is all about bullets and blood. Of the ten hours this game takes, about three-quarters are reserved for turn-based gameplay.

Turn-based bloodletting

OK, let me not pretend that this strong focus on explosions is a problem. Showgunners you play to fire machine guns and watch your enemies disintegrate into bloody pieces, over and over again. Screen battles are therefore short but powerful. Each character starts the turn with two action points that they use to move and shoot. Special abilities make each character unique: Scarlett can run across the battlefield at lightning speed and still shoot, while Zoe never has to reload and can do bizarre amounts of damage with her minigun.

As in similar turn-based shooters, your characters as well as the enemies keep themselves safe by taking cover. Flanking moves are therefore absolutely recommended, although in Showgunners they are not particularly spectacular; you “merely” get a better chance to hit. Usually the 80 percent chance of hitting is enough to take the gamble, and by having the best weapons at your disposal all the time, most enemies can be killed in one shot.

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That fact bothered me. One-shotting an enemy feels good, but not when it happens every battle. Especially once you’ve recruited Shadow, you saw through enemies with her sniper rifle and there’s little in the way of challenge. It isn’t until the very last level of the game that you are truly challenged in an hour-long skirmish. The remaining levels – some thirty in all – unfortunately vary greatly in quality.

Perilous death around every corner

You’re not standing in deafening music à la Katana Zero shooting ex-criminals in the head, you’re running through an apocalyptic downtown filled with witty billboards, hordes of fans asking for autographs and drones tracking your every move. It is in these third-person gameplay interludes where the setting really comes alive: you are the main character in a show, let there be no doubt about it.

Yet now I make it sound nicer than it is. In these segments where you can walk around freely, it feels grimly dead. This is partly because of the lack of background music, but mostly because every action you perform is assisted by lame jokes from the commentator. Comments about using a health station or opening yet another loot box are so superfluous that the commentator annoyed me rather than made me laugh.

More fun, on the other hand, are the traps you have to dodge. While they usually require little more of you than running around a hazard, each of the eight episodes has unique and dangerous puzzles to solve. Most are optional and reward you with powerful weapons or combat items, but in each puzzle you die horribly if you choose the wrong answer. A favorite was a locked machine in which you had to turn on gas valves based on numbers. End up on the wrong gas pressure, and you get burned alive.

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Blood for your sponsor

While Showgunners’ gameplay is absolutely entertaining, it ultimately has little to it. Battles earn you money for new weapons and XP to level up, with only a limited skill system to choose from. More melee damage seems to be a favorite of the developer: of the 10 or so choices in each character’s skill tree, about four are reserved for just a plus on your melee damage.

That lack of variety (you unlock every skill, so there is no real choice) is unfortunately also reflected in the Fame mechanic. Everything you do in Showgunners earns you Fame points, which you then use to claim sponsorships. Sounds incredibly cool, but it is disappointing: a sponsorship gives only a passive bonus, such as a permanent 5 percent higher chance of hitting. The first sponsorship deals are especially lame: three grenades or two medkits, really? Suppose you had gotten money every time you used a grenade, then you could have pursued cool deals that encourage you to play a certain way. Definitely a missed opportunity.

Does not utilize its potential

Showgunners tries to eat from both sides and, as a result, falls short on both counts. On one hand, it wants to go pure combat, with short and powerful skirmishes that force you to take risks, but on the other hand, it wants to present a setting and story full of 80s and 90s nostalgia. Had Artificer made a clearer choice or even simply allowed players to continue playing after the story, as Gears Tactics did with the Veteran Missions, Showgunners could have been so much more. As it stands, the gameplay offers nothing new compared to similar games. Too bad, because the nostalgic setting has immense potential in the form of recurring seasons within the bloodthirsty game show.

Showgunners is simply a playable version of 1987’s The Running Man. This is as cool and nostalgic as you think it is, with gory gunfights, bright neon lighting and cutting synthwave in the background. This makes for cool and visually powerful levels, but the gameplay doesn’t manage to differentiate itself enough from games like XCOM or Wasteland 3, so the unique gameplay setting soon feels like an empty shell. For now, Showgunners is mostly a short and entertaining effort that hopefully serves as a breeding ground for more.

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