FORCED Showdown is the result of a team of people who surely played a lot of CCGs and MOBAs and decided “We can do all of this in one compelling single player package”. Not quite the two genres I would pick to stand next to each in any way. In this new marriage, both elements work in absolute harmony. Bringing out the best of both worlds into one hard-to-put-down game. The only problems have been explaining what I’m playing to friends:
“Oh hey cool.. is that like a new PC card game?”
“No not exactly. Well this part is I’m building a deck for my hero to use in his game show arenas.”
“Huh? Let me see… oh ok it’s like a MOBA looks like Heart of the Swarm.”
“Yeah.. well.. no not exactly, this is single player, like a .. SOBA.”
“It’s a card SOBA, top down shooter, like… look it’s awesome okay?”
“Let me play?”
There may not be a snazzy acronym to categorize FORCED Showdown at the moment, but I’d like to go with: PFA (pretty freakin’ awesome). You commence undergoing a little on the job training via a well handled tutorial that explains all aspects of the game with brevity. Movement and combat is twin stick based. The tutorial hands you a few cards to choose from. Like with some card games mana is increased per round, allowing you to select more powerful cards as the game progresses. Rounds are actually played, meaning you will take control of your character and eliminate all enemies within the arena. At the end of the round, you will draw a new card, and play any combination you are able, and attempt to clear the next stage.
On the surface the card aspect may seem an overblown buff system for a top down shooter, but it isn’t. Thought has to be put into the creation of your own custom deck. Accumulating a suitable numerical curve of cards that can assist you through each round of combat. As with card strategy games, you don’t want a deck of high value high power cards that are useless until the end game. Utilizing a deck of that type in Showdown is not wise, as your character will be too damaged by the end game to be of any use. Also tossing out cards in random fashion will fail to utilize the particular nuances of each hero.
If you’ve already acquired a taste for slapping an opponent down with well timed card placements, then this will be familiar. If not, get ready to jump on the bandwagon. One of the game’s contestants, the Ravager, is a close ranged melee combatant. Moving in close to enemies leaves him exposed to ranged damage, especially from exploding enemies. To really make use of this hero, you will need to layer attack speed, and damage stacking cards that work with his abilities. In addition to cards, as you acquire points through your playthroughs you can purchase boons; a one time purchase that enhances aspects such as attack speed, healing drops, and damage reduction. By selecting the right cards and boons, my Ravager was one lightning fast juggernaut and slicing early bosses with ease.
Each contestant has unique abilities. They each have their own subset of specialized cards that only they can use. Meaning each hero needs to have their own constructed deck of cards. Acquiring cards is handled by earning coins. The further you progress through a campaign the more coins you will acquire. There’s a gnome pulling a cart of coins that randomly appears through your arenas. Attack him to draw out more coins, in addition to defeating each mini boss. These coins can be used to spin for cards. There are common, rare, and supreme quality cards. As their title suggest the better the card the more extreme the bonuses it will grant. Some cards allow for stacked bonuses if played more than once.
In addition to card decks, add to it arena and boss nuances, and together these aspects form a roulette of challenges. The Captain is one of the bosses in “The Crucible” campaign. Each boss has their own dialog tone and style and they taunt the contestant both in dialog and action. This particular boss will randomly toss damaging mines into the arena. Prior to dropping into the seven round journey to the boss, there is a handicap attached. One such is the “Slippery Cards” battle rule, which tosses out the left most card in your hand and replaces it with another after each round. This means that healing card at the left will have to be used now, or it’s gone.
I have faced The Captain many times. Sometimes I’ll blow through each round and destroy him. Other times I will die before I get to him. Or arrive at the final stage with 30 health and chanting “hummina hummina hummina” as I attempt to slow things down enough to beat his missile and laser barrages. The difference? Cards and battle rules. They make all the difference in the world. You can never quite predict which order your cards will play out, and you may never be dealt that highly valuable Heal spell or Shield consumable. Death means you start over, but with coins (to buy new cards, reform your deck and try again). It can be disheartening to run the gamut of seven bosses all over again. If it wasn’t for the random and strategic element the card system provides it would be too disheartening.
Wait there’s more.
There are four heroes in total, and three different companions. These companions are AI beasts that assist you in combat. They may provide ranged support, or bull rush enemies taking the brunt of the damage while you get in position. These companions have their own buffs which assist their survival. Companions are not invulnerable but they are handy, as they never cease seeking out the next closest threat.
Wait there’s more.
There are quests that you can attempt to complete. Such as completing an entire boss run without taking a health drop (your companion is allowed to pick them up for you), or killing 6 enemies in 10 seconds. Completing these quests can unlock heroes, gold, or other beneficial rewards. There is also an emblem system, which allows players to manually increase the difficulty and challenge for further rewards and bonus.
But wait, there’s more…
Once you beat first campaign, players can compete in daily challenges and attempt to take the lead on a global leaderboard. These challenges change with each season. FORCED Showdown also has built in Twitch integration so you can publish your best runs online.
Yes, there is plenty of card playing strategies atop solid top down action, which is handled with natural controls on either keyboard and mouse, Steam controller, or the trusty 360 style gamepad. Abilities are set to cooldowns, so there is a noted lack of attack spamming you would expect with a twin stick game. As I mentioned, FORCED Showdown is more about strategic use of buffs and ability not brute damage. Thus, regardless of your preferred control device, it is doubtful you’ll tax your reflexes more than your gaming instincts.
Showdown is presented as a game show, each hero you select is a “contestant”. Not sure why this is handled in this fashion it adds very little to an excellent game. Art design is otherwise very well done. Arenas have distinct and vibrant themes. There are picaresque Athenian locals, with detailed statues and topiary bordered paths. Desert combat zones with multicolored pottery, and dusty whirlwinds. Down to the gloomy, toxic, and smoke filled labyrinths of an unknown underworld. Abilities, weapons, bombs, and more light up the screen with dazzling glows and particles that really get their point across. Enemies are distinct and details and move according to their attack patterns. AI is very intuitive, ranged enemies will move away from you get a bead on you — while melee attackers will charge or box you in. Just when you think fighting single player enemies is too easy, you’re sucking wind in the final round praying to scoot by.
The drawback to all this is that it can find itself in a repetitive rut. There is no multiplayer option, where you can perhaps in true MOBA fashion combat contestant vs contestant and minions with companions. While each campaign is very well done, in essence, it will always boil down to picking cards, hoping for the right ones to come, and blowing everything. Not bad per se, but will lack the unpredictability factor many will crave. There is also a steep grind to acquire all of the cards, no doubt added to increase playability, but with extended exposure maybe taxing leading some to lose interest. And as a minor nitpick, there are one or two cards that even after hours of game testing, could not make heads or tails of as to what they do in combat.
As I write this however, FORCED Showdown is up to update number 42. That’s a lot of updating. That’s also a lot of game balancing, content additions, and more. That’s a lot of developer love. If this game caught your eye, it’s an absolute safe purchase. There are hours of action and strategy to be had in this game. It’s a polished and solid title in almost every area. It’s hard not to appreciate the high levels of “outside the box” ideas that went into this title, and the ease and fluidity it is all played out. However, since it IS only a single player experience, don’t let anyone get a hold of your controller.