A Melting Pot of Mixed Results
I knew next to nothing about Forced Showdown when I was handed the review code recently, and spent some time reading up on the history behind BetaDwarf Games as well as the game itself. The developers posted an Imgur gallery chronicling their journey here, I highly recommend checking it out. When it came time to actually start the game, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was it going to be a MOBA? A Gauntlet Clone? Smash TV? Hearthstone? It’s hard to pinpoint where this game gets its inspirations from, but what it certainly is, is quite fun, and I was pleasantly surprised by what this game had to offer. Forced Showdown is quite an interesting little creature in many regards. While none of its ideas are anything revolutionary on their own, when you take the arena combat, monster horde slaying, and deck building concepts and blend them all together, you get a very unique experience that yields a lot of strategy and enjoyment into a neat, vibrant package.
The premise behind Forced Showdown is simple. You’re a contestant taking part in an intergalactic game show. The only problem is, there are no questions to answer. Instead, it’s kill or be killed as you slaughter your way through multiple arenas to reach the top and take out each areas champion. The narrative really isn’t much of anything and serves as more of a backdrop to the gameplay itself, which is fine. While things seem very standardized and you begin the game under the assumption that you’re playing a simple twin-stick combat game (WASD controls avatar movement while mouse movement and left/right click controls fire), shortly after the meat and potatoes of the game gets introduced in the form of randomly drawn cards used to buff your avatar. This is an interesting mechanic that adds layers of strategy to the game. Each round of an arena that you play you earn an additional “Mana” to spend on cards. Each card has a varying Mana cost, so you have to choose carefully when it comes to playing them. Do you spend the Mana before the round starts to get a little boost now, or do you save and wait to play your more powerful cards? Also littered about are special random cards that give you even more benefits, such as an additional Mana to use for the round. The amount of strategy the card playing mechanic adds to the game is simple, but can add a lot of depth and difficulty to what appears to be an easy, straightforward game.
Speaking of difficulty, Forced Showdown can be fairly brutal. There are no checkpoints in each arena. You have to make it through all of the areas and take out the champion lying in wait at the end in order to save the boons that they reward (for example, additional health). Upon death you lose previously earned boons and also have to start the arena from the very beginning. All that is kept are avatars and cards you unlocked, and coins earned. This is made even more difficult through your avatar defaulting to a standard 100 health, and enemies being capable of doing a lot of damage to you very fast. Shields are possible for you to utilize in battle, but they are only available in the form of cards which of course cost Mana. There are usually not too many enemies lurking in the notably small arenas, but they can gang up on you fairly quickly which can lead to things getting hectic in a not-so-good way. Helpers are also available to you, but their health and usefulness is also somewhat limited. Maximizing on your deck’s potential as well as your overall skill is tantamount to coming out on top and avoiding a swift death.
Deck building is accomplished by taking the coins you earn and spending them on a “Wheel of Fortune” (I can feel Pat Sajak grimacing at his computer screen already) in between matches to earn additional cards for your avatar to utilize. While the potential to improving your deck and characters are nice, this portion feels somewhat limited in its overall execution. Whereas in most Collectible Card Games you’ll get a “Blind Pack” of cards usually containing multiple commons and between one and a few rares, Forced Showdown awards you one card at a time with each spin of the wheel. This really slows down the process of building your deck up. In addition to cards being slow to unlock, avatar unlocks are also limited and surprisingly obtuse. Instead of being granted an additional avatar upon completing an arena or two, they are tied to completion of achievements. This is perhaps the strangest method of unlocking characters I have ever seen, and the variety simply isn’t there. At present, there are only 4 avatars available to choose from.
Perhaps the biggest letdown of all though, is the lack of multiplayer. The premise of the game is ripe for competitive or cooperative multiplayer, however the furthest this game delves into this is through integrated Twitch streaming, which obviously is far from anything related to multiplayer. The focus on single player is nice for players looking to slay some critters on their own, but players looking to join up with a friend will unfortunately be out of luck. The game is still fresh from its release, so hopefully this will be remedied with future updates. Still, it is a fairly big mark against an otherwise good game.
While there are some points that hold the game back, the presentation of the game is bright and vibrant and one of the high points from my experience. Akin to an amalgamation of early Blizzard titles, the graphics have simple models and shaders, and shouldn’t be a problem for most modern systems to run. My admittedly outdated rig with an Intel i7 3770K and Radeon 7870HD had no problems chugging along with this game, suffering zero hiccups. Avatars are easy to spot on the screen, and you don’t really seem to get lost too often in the firefights. While the avatars and enemies themselves aren’t too unique, the humor does add a bit of additional energy to the game. Admittedly, I didn’t find some of the tongue-in-cheek humor to my liking (I definitely rolled my eyes at many of “Ratbo’s” lines and general voicework), but what is there is for the most part well utilized. The controls are also tightly mapped and work fluidly. The game is set up perfectly for keyboard aficionados, and with the difficulty being as it is, I am certainly thankful for that.
Forced Showdown is a game that has a solid foundation for being something great. While it’s not quite where it needs to be yet, BetaDwarf games has a clear passion for their craft and is showing a genuine interest in player feedback in order to improve their product. All I know is from what I’ve experienced from my time with this game so far was a pretty good start. I hope BetaDwarf takes what they’ve made here and continue to improve on it, as this could quickly become a solid favorite on many a Steam User’s lists, mine included.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: BetaDwarf ; Developer: BetaDwarf ; Players: 1; Released: March 29, 2016 ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by the publisher.