Have you noticed that most sci-fi games portray the future of humanity as bleak and utterly dystopian? If they turn out to be prophetic as (it seems) will be the case with their counterparts about the dangers of AI, we're screwed! Such a dark future is described in the new turn-based tactics game we present today and a society in absolute decay that has the horrific reality show Homicidal All-Stars as its main source of entertainment, a deadly game show for the contestants who face off against convicted criminals for fame and money! The campaign's protagonist, a woman with a mysterious past named "Scarlett", has her own personal reasons for making it to the finish line and facing the brutal killer Ulysses Derrick who dominates the competition with a long winning streak. Will she make it? That depends on your own skills in turn-based combat!
Showgunners offers a campaign of about twenty hours which follows Scarlett's journey through the reality show to the grand final. The action is divided into distinct levels that are essentially the different arenas in which you will be asked to fight for your life against hardened criminals. Exploring the levels is done in real-time and the action changes to turn-based when it's time for a battle, and once you emerge victorious from the level you'll have the opportunity for a short rest at the base offered free of charge by the reality show owners. The base essentially acts as a hub in which you have the chance to get to know the members of the team you form along the way, so imagine something closer to Mass Effect's Normandy than XCOM's upgradable base as there's no strategy layer in Showgunners beyond buying new equipment with the money you earn from the competition and upgrading your characters' skills.
Exploring the levels not only serves as a link between combat encounters but is interesting in its own right due to the various traps, ambushes, treasure chests and other events you'll encounter along the way. The difficulty of these challenges isn't particularly high but they serve a good purpose in adding variety to the gameplay between the turn-based battles, and the battles are mostly conducted on relatively small maps reminiscent quite a bit of XCOM: Chimera Squad. If you've played any modern tactics game then you won't need any time adjusting to Showgunners' combat system as the game uses the same style, interface and movement/cover system established by the XCOM games. Your team members naturally accumulate experience points and level up with battles, unlocking powerful new abilities. Standard stuff.
Beyond the conventional combat system, Showgunners takes advantage of its unique setting, that of a death reality show along the lines of the classic 80s action movie The Running Man, in several clever ways. We already mentioned the various traps you might find on your way but not yet the... interference of the showrunner/director in the proceedings! In search of bigger ratings, the director has the ability to intervene at any time in a battle and introduce new unforeseen factors into it, forcing you to adjust your tactics to the new situation. For example, in one battle the director saw fit to release poisonous gas into the arena so a normal battle against enemies turned into a race to get all the characters to a safe room before succumbing to the poison. These plot twists are fun but as far as I could tell they don't happen randomly, they are scripted and trigger at predetermined points in the mission. It would be nice and it would increase replayability if there was an invisible AI director along the lines of Left 4 Dead that would trigger different plot twists on each playthrough but I understand that such a system is not easy to implement by an indie studio with limited resources.
Sticking to the same theme of a reality show that is supposed to satisfy the bloodthirsty instincts of the viewers, the interaction with them is done in two ways: either through the interviews that follow the completion of a level or through the conversations with passionate fans who are in the arenas and want to get an autograph from the contestants. The conversation is done through short dialogue trees and depending on the style of answer the player chooses (nice, humorous, sarcastic or rude) they will accumulate the appropriate personality points to gain access to different sponsors and the perks/bonuses they provide. This is where perhaps the balancing could have been done a bit better because in my opinion some sponsors are clearly better than others.
Having covered all the key elements of Showgunners it's time to evaluate them. The overall impression I got from the game is positive as many of the individual features have been implemented to at least an adequate level, however the problem I identified is that few of them ultimately are better than adequate. The plot, the way it unfolds and the writing in the dialogues are enough to keep the player engaged until the end but lack the quality that would make them memorable. I quite enjoyed the exploration of the levels and the (simplistic but fun) puzzles and I consider the atmosphere and the way the setting is portrayed as a strong point of the game. It's also worth pointing out, given that we've seen several releases with stability and performance issues lately, that Showgunners is quite well optimized with beautiful graphics and sound and few bugs worthy of comment. The most serious of these were some instances where the game seemed to "stall" for a few seconds after a move, but never leading to an actual stall or crash. Finally, the combat system and encounter design is also on a good level, though I found the game relatively easy even on hard, and I noticed some signs of rushing on the part of the developers in the last 1-2 levels that are not as thoughtful in design as the previous ones.
In the end, the impression I got from Showgunners is that it is a decent game that had the potential to stand out but didn't take advantage of it. I don't have anything major to criticize about it but I wanted more of everything: a longer campaign with some branching, more twists and surprises, better writing, more replayability, more exciting battles. I hope the game is a commercial success because the developers clearly have talent and it seems like they would welcome more resources to create something even better. As it stands the game is an honest proposition that is unlikely to disappoint if you are a fan of the genre and setting.