Being a publisher that is best known for Magicka, an action-adventure title for the PC with an emphasis on a single player and cooperative campaign, it seemed a little odd to see Paradox Interactive peddling two titles at PAX that had their focus on the competitive, online scene. War of the Roses, developed by Fatshark, and The Showdown Effect, developed by Arrowhead Game Studios, are two very different games with a very similar aim: to provide the most enjoyable outlet for users to wreak virtual havoc on their friends and random individuals from across the globe. To that effect, both games succeed at varying levels with one, The Showdown Effect, holding particular leverage over its counterpart.
War of the Roses
The landscape of competitive video games tends to be fairly homogeneous in its layout; there are first-person shooters set on the battleground of a war belonging to the early 1900’s or modern times, fighting games that sport two melee specialists squaring off, and, beyond that, there is little else that has staked a claim within the genre. War of the Roses is, in this way, an innovative endeavor undertaken by Fatshark as it places players within the confines of 15th Century England, a time and place that was ravaged by internal conflict. As such, users must align themselves with either the House of Lancaster or the House of York and, from there, they begin to wage war with the opposition using a set of weapons that would make any Lord of the Rings fan giddy.
Battle takes place across of a variety of Medieval settings, but, for the purposes of this demo, I was only allowed to trek the well-trodden paths of a rather ordinary village environment. Maps in War of the Roses are built to host as many as 64 players at a time and, in this case, as few as four. Obviously, having such a small sample size of available players made for an experience that was a tad bit harder to get into than a large-scale conflict. Accordingly, my time with the game felt a bit more plodding than it did rewarding; I would wander for minutes at a time only for my wait to be rewarded with a small, anti-climactic battle between the one player on the other team that seemed genuinely interested in the game and I.
Combat itself felt a little bit off in War of the Roses. Instead of simply clicking or pressing a button on a controller, players are required to click in a certain direction, holding their attack until they can ultimately release it for the most possible damage. Representatives at the Paradox Interactive booth seemed to use this as their biggest selling point but, for me, it seemed like one of the game’s most unseemly design decisions. It seems as if the developers were going for a more methodical approach to combat that would make sense in a Medieval setting, a direction that I would agree with had the command felt a little more intuitive and reliable than it did on the show floor; more often than not, I’d find the swings of my sword swiping across a vertical plane when what I actually wanted to perform was a sweeping, horizontal blow that would have a better chance of striking multiple targets.
Though all of my time with the game was spent swinging (and missing with) a sword, there is much more to War of the Roses than I saw at PAX East. The representative on hand informed me of the game’s many different classes that would allow players to use such essential tools as the bow and arrow that seems to be such a popular choice among developers today. It will be interesting to see how the unique controls of the game extend into the ranged category, and, on a similar note, it will be interesting to see how the unique controls evolve as the game approaches its prospective 2012 release.
Clearly, I left War of the Roses mixed emotions. On one hand, the game does an excellent job of depicting its unique setting and staying true to its constraints, but, on the other hand, it feels as if the combat has a long way to go before the game is made a welcome addition to the vast library of competitive-multiplayer titles. In the interest of fairness, it’s hard to demo a product of this nature in an environment such as this one in which I was only allowed to play against and with a couple of players. The point remains, though, that some serious polish will need to go into War of the Roses before it becomes available later this year.
The Showdown Effect
Once again, this title places players within a setting sure to delight them while, at the same time, delivering unto them an experience not quite like anything that they have seen before. The Showdown Effect is meant as an homage to the action movies of the 1980’s and 90’s and the heroes that made them so memorable. As such, the competitive battles play out across a variety of sets common to the medium with characters that serve as the spitting image of John McClain, Rambo, and many more just like them. This, I feel, is the appeal that will have this game lasting well beyond its release date.
What really makes The Showdown Effect work is its strict adherence to the genre it is meant to be honoring. As was said above, the maps and characters reek of familiarity, but the game takes it a few steps further than that even. Throughout the environment, you will be presented several opportunities to engage in a style of combat that will tickle the fancy of anyone that has spent a few too many hours watching Die Hard; in the demo, for example, I was both shocked and impressed that, upon pressing a button that typically only has a character perform a slight hop, users are able to fling themselves through a window and shoot back at their opponent on the way down. From that point forward, I was sold.
The game itself is, like the movies it is paying tribute to, simple; players move across a side-scrolling pane and are provided with the typical arsenal that is controlled through maneuvering the mouse up and down and then clicking to unleash its effects. These simple mechanics seemed designed to keep the games coming fast and furious as opposed to allowing for the more long, drawn-out affairs seen in War of the Roses. Along those same lines, The Showdown Effect allows for only eight players to compete at once, another move that would seem to lend credence to the earlier theory of keeping things brief. Keeping with that running theme of simplicity, the game’s visuals proved to be vibrant and colorful without being the powerhouse that so many modern games are and, to that extent, they helped the game stick to its 1980’s aesthetic with a wide swath of implemented colors.
Again, the problem arose while demoing The Showdown Effect that it is difficult to properly assess a multiplayer game when given so few peers to play it with. In the case of my session, I was playing against only one other person, a player that had been sitting at the booth for well over an hour and had become so familiar with the gameplay that he often made quick work of me. In short, it wasn’t an ideal setting to experience the game in. That said, though, I enjoyed this title much more than War of the Roses and have found myself eagerly anticipating more news as it approaches release. After all, with a release that is over a year away, there wasn’t much to see or hear about at PAX East outside of what I saw in the limited showcase.
It’s always interesting to see a studio expand beyond its typical means and dip into another genre, but it’s not always successful. In the case of War of the Roses and The Showdown Effect, I could see both games panning out well, but, then again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them, War of the Roses, landing with a dull thud later this year when it is expected to launch. While unique, its ambitions seem dissonant with the fun that its developers expect it to produce, a fact that could very well lead to poor product. Meanwhile, The Showdown Effect shows promise in that it is more secure in its place: it’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s straight out of the 1980’s.
Going into these two launches, one taking place this year and one in the coming year, it could very well be the tale of two titles; it could be the best of times and it could be the worst of times.