As a contestant on a high stakes reality game show of the future, you must survive a dangerous urban environment packed with traps, confounding puzzles, and heavily armed psychopaths. Turn-based combat in hand crafted levels, built for entertainment.

Reviewed on: PC (Intel i5-9400F, @2.90GHZ, RTX 2060, 16GB RAM)
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Developer: Artificer
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment

Showgunner is a game that shows you exactly what it is from the start. An 80s action movie-inspired turn-based tactics game set within the world of a TV Deathsport gameshow (Homicidal All Stars), with a story and motivations driven by revenge. It might not surprise you as you work through the season of bloody carnage, but Showgunner will deliver it in a concise fashion that never bogs you down too long in gameplay systems or gunfights.

You start as Scarlett, and her motivation for putting her life on the line and joining the game is not immediately made clear. Showgunners instead opts to throw you in the deep end halfway through the first episode of the season. Scarlett is not doing as well as she would have hoped but is soon saved by a former Champion, Marty. He takes you under his wing and shows you the ropes and how to survive the deathtraps, ambushes and deadly arenas that the mysterious Mr Ford, the showrunner, throws in your way. Scarlett and 99 other contestants have joined in this game with the hope of winning glory and riches by surviving the whole season, a feat not managed since Marty managed it nine years prior.

Thankfully contestants aren’t put through the gauntlet of Homicidal All Stars 24/7, and after clearing the first episode, you get to see behind the show’s production. A small hub area that offers the ability to do some small tasks, mainly in the form of finding audio logs and completing interviews for the show. These interviews give you a chance to show some personality, and the choices can affect what kind of sponsorships you can get, resulting in different bonuses and perks in combat. Audio logs of previous contestants offer insight into their characters and why others have put themselves through the hell of the show. Scarlett’s motivations become clear in this hub, and while it is a tried and true backstory, who doesn’t love a good revenge story?

Before long, you have settled into the rhythm of Showgunners, composed of episodes, which are levels for all intents and purposes. Each level is broken down into several larger combat arenas, which you walk between either being ambushed and facing a smaller combat challenge or encountering some environmental puzzles. I feel environmental puzzles can sometimes get a bit of a bad rap, but I enjoyed how these settled the pace of Showgunners and their deathtrap nature added to the theming of the show. They were always easy enough for you to bang your head onto one of the many spikes in the set decoration and were often optional, solutions offering you guns and grenades to make the fights more manageable.

The episodes and the larger battle arenas within them are handcrafted and often have their own flavour or personality. An early episode is through an abandoned metro station and has you dodging trains along with the bullets. Showgunners does an excellent job of introducing new aspects to its battle arenas, often through plot twists sent down by Mr Ford to up the ante on the contestants. This freshness was felt throughout my nearly 12 hours with the game, as Showgunners always felt like it was moving forward and progressing. Rarely would turns of combat go by without dealing a killing blow or making progress on the alternate objective.

The moment-to-moment tactics within these arenas drew heavily from the tried and true turn-based tactics genre. Showgunners might not have offered anything particularly new in this space, but the tactics and decisions were always interesting and resulted in satisfying shots being fired and punches being thrown. Showgunners generally enabled me to play pretty aggressively, and I was rarely out-flanked or punished for playing in this manner. Overwatch is a feature in Showgunners, but I rarely utilised it and found it relatively easy to dodge or avoid the enemies’ attempts to catch me moving. I played on normal difficulty, and the AI was a touch easy and occasionally made some baffling decisions, such as moving onto the train tracks when a train would run them over at the end of their turn.

Throughout the season, Scarlett does enlist the help of other combatants, expanding the party initially slowly but picking up more quickly in the later half of the season. Each combatant’s use in combat is immediately apparent, and all have unique weapons and skill sets. This means that you can customise your squad later in the season to suit your own play style. All combatants also come with their own skill tree, with a light gear game constituting the bulk of the progression system. Like its other aspects, Showgunners’ progression systems are relatively simple and won’t have you pour over options; instead, upgrade the gun, choose your preferred skill, and continue through the season. I comfortably finished all combatants’ skill trees by the end of the season, and each was a destructive force in their own right.

There is no particular standout feature of Showgunners, though. Despite this, it still comes away as a game I immensely enjoyed. The zippy speed, 80s-style death sports game show aesthetic and sound tactical decisions all coalesce into an experience suited to both tactics veterans looking for a shorter sugar hit or novices wanting an easy way into the genre.