|March 29, 2016
As a huge fan of FORCED, my first look at FORCED Showdown looked like blasphemy. How could this game, this single-player game, with card mechanics and procedural Arenas, possibly be anything like the FORCED I know? Those brilliantly designed levels, full of puzzles and combat that carefully take into account the number of players, were still fresh in my mind. Plus, I’m always a little suspicious of card-based games. FORCED Showdown had a lot to answer for before I even started it up.
At first, the only character you can play as is the Squire of Light, whose main attack is a medium-range beam that you can fire continuously. He quickly gains two secondary abilities: a blast that knocks back and damages every enemy nearby, and a shield that makes you invincible for two seconds. The secondary abilities both have a cooldown, but it’s short enough to make them worth using a lot. Although I soon unlocked three other characters, including the hammer and bow users straight from the original FORCED and a sort of monstrous mutant that fights with claws, none of them had the defensive power of the Squire of Light, so I stuck with him.
Like FORCED, each Arena is filled with hordes of enemies that will come at you with different behaviors, and you’ll have to act quickly to kill them all without taking too much damage. Unlike its predecessor, however, FORCED Showdown strings eight of these Arenas together in a row to create a Battle, which ends in a tough boss fight. The bosses not only have their own unique abilities and behaviors while fighting them, but will also place extra traps in the Arenas leading up to them. These traps show up on a set timer and are unique to each boss. You might have to deal with mines, flamethrowers, laser cages, or just extra enemies.
Luckily, you have the aid of your deck of cards. Each card has a mana cost, and you’ll be able to spend one mana point at the beginning of the Battle, two for the next Arena, and so on. Cards can increase stats like your attack power, upgrade specific abilities, create little familiars to help you out, or give you a consumable item that you can use at any time during the battle. The latter are usually different ways to protect or heal yourself, though there are definitely some nukes thrown in as well.
Unfortunately, card effects disappear at the end of the Battle. This can be tough because Battles are, in turn, part of a bigger event called a Show. (If the difference between an Arena, Battle and Show confuses you, you’re not alone.) The first Show in the game consists of four normal Battles and two particularly tough ones against bigger bosses. The normal Battles let you pick and choose between different special effects that occur on the field, some good and some bad. Once you finish a Battle, the game will tally up the points you earned for defeating enemies, and you can use these to get special boosts that last the whole Show.
This probably sounds like a lot of levels of gameplay that range from very specific to very general, and it is. But it doesn’t end there! While playing, you can also accomplish quests. Defeating a certain number of enemies, winning without healing, or just clearing a certain point in a Show can be a quest. The great thing about quests is that the bonuses you unlock are permanent, no matter how many times you play or even if you switch characters. In addition, playing will give you access to new cards, and you can build several custom decks for each character. Although most cards are fairly balanced with their mana cost, it’s definitely not hard to build for a play style and allow it to inform your other decisions as you play.
The visual and sound direction are pretty different from the original FORCED. Instead of the sort of fantastical yet grimy underbelly of the world we explored back then, FORCED Showdown shows us the public face of the gladiator system. Sure, some of the familiar and kind of gross-looking monsters are still around, and death is still just as spectacularly gory as ever. But it turns out that technology is way more advanced than we thought, and a computerized announcer will keep you updated in a voice normally reserved for wrestling and monster trucks. After each arena, you might notice a couple of drones that fly by your character snapping photos. These details, as well as the cyberspace-like design of the lobby between Battles, really gives you a sense that this is a massive TV production being broadcast to many planets. Throughout each Battle, you can also hear the boss that’s coming up taunt you in its own unique manner, though some of the voices start to sound somewhat the same. Overall, though, the blend of familiar assets with new ones makes FORCED Showdown wonderful to see and hear.
In the end, it turned out that I was wrong about FORCED Showdown. I really didn’t want to like it, because it was so different from FORCED… but I had too much fun playing it to let that keep holding me back. I did still miss the multiplayer aspect a lot, and the puzzle mechanics a little, but the cards turned out to be a really good thing. Even as I type this, BetaDwarf is developing and adding new features, so there might be something new and cool that I don’t even know about yet. If you ask me, that can only make it better.
As with many roguelike games, especially of this type, I can’t put an hours counter on the game. I’d love to tell you how long you’ll keep having fun with it, but it depends on how good you are and what kind of challenges you want to take on. If you’re still wondering about whether you want this game or not, check it out on Twitch–BetaDwarf has done some incredible things with the Twitch community, in keeping with the game’s TV broadcast theme. If you are ready to play it, you can grab it on Steam for the current price of $19.99 USD.
Review copy supplied by the publisher.