by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Not the sequel you were expecting
It’s not often that a game sequel takes a complete left turn in terms of style and genre. The original Forced came out in 2013 and was a kind of puzzle / action hybrid. It had you and up to three friends team up to take on levels in which you fought off enemies, performed tactical maneuvers and solved puzzles all at the same time. Forced Showdown is a single player experience trying to blend a deck building game with an RPG Rogue-like. Developer Betadwarf certainly deserves points for originality and innovation going from game to game.
Much like its predecessor, Forced Showdown is a unique blend of styles that actually go well together, despite first impressions. The main gameplay consists of a top-down action-RPG that can be played with either keyboard and mouse, or as a twin-stick shooter. You move one of four characters around, direct their abilities, and fire them off to defeat fantastical enemies. Each character has three special abilities, as well as one passive bonus. You can also choose one of three companions which are weaker but still help you out. Once you clear each small level of all major enemies, you move onto the next one. It’s fast paced, and the levels are short, often lasting less than a minute, so you’re always moving forward.
Death is permanent
That is, unless you die. Lose all your hit points and you’re not just going back to the start of the level, you’re doing everything all over again. The game is presented in a game show style, albeit a highly gory and dangerous one. Contestants battle through a series of gauntlets, each with their own mini-boss, to reach the final boss and win the prize. You’ll have to progress through four gauntlets to reach the final boss, and although the individual levels are fairly easy, a couple of small mistakes throughout each gauntlet can add up to become a big problem. Your health persists through each level, so if you only just manage to scrape through one, you’ll be starting the next one in need of a serious pick-me-up.
There are four gauntlets to choose from, each with their own random modifier. This is nice - the game doesn’t slap you with one you don’t really want, or one that doesn’t really cater to the character you’re playing. For example, one gauntlet might have fireballs shooting across the map. This sounds bad, but they’ll hit enemies too, and the amount of enemies in each level will be reduced to make it more balanced. Another modifier might change the way some of the consumable cards work.
Character, and deck-building
This brings us to the secondary part of the game: deck building. For each character you’re able to build decks of 30 cards that enhance your abilities, heal your combatant in between rounds, or give you extra tools to defeat your opponents. You start each gauntlet with a hand of four cards, and draw one extra for each level that you complete. Before each level you’re able to play as many cards as you can as long as you have enough mana to do so. You start out with one mana, so you’re only able to play cheap cards that lack power, if any. You get one extra mana per level, so by the time you reach that gauntlet’s boss, you should be able to play your most powerful cards, provided you’ve drawn them.
This means you’ll have to create a balanced deck. It’s not enough to simply pile all of the best cards in there because you probably won’t have enough mana to play them all. I found the upgrade cards to be most useful, as they grant you permanent upgrades to your abilities, or rather for the duration of that gauntlet. Spell cards are handy too, especially if you need healing. The consumable cards give you an extra ability to worry about, and I found that dodging and managing your three abilities gave me enough to worry about already, so I tended to avoid those.
New cards are unlocked by spinning the fortune wheel, which is Forced Showdown’s take on card “pack openings.” The better you do in each run of Forced Showdown, the more coins you’ll get, and you’ll use these coins to try your luck on the wheel. There are three tiers of card on there, green, blue and purple, as well as extra coin unlocks. The wheel spins round, and you can see that random purple card coming up… but it falls just short, or just overshoots onto the common green card.
It all works and fits together well, but it’s on the variety of gameplay that Forced Showdown falls down a bit. There are essentially three “shows” you can progress through in the campaign mode, but they all consist of the same thing. Each gauntlet has its own visual style that brings certain types of enemies with it, but they’ll get repetitive pretty fast, especially as the game is quite tricky in the early stages. For example, it took me several hours to get past the first main boss. The levels come thick and fast, which helps, but you’ll be doing the same thing, and hearing the same audio effects for most of the game, fortunately they are good. The cards keep things fresh for a while, but eventually you’ll become used to those too. There are some other minor issues such as severe framerate drops when you complete a level, but these are excusable as it doesn’t affect gameplay.
Forced Showdown is a good game that has a cool style and blends genres really well. It just lacks variety. The combat is fairly basic, but moves along at a strong pace. Even after unlocking all the characters I went back to the first one time and again because it seemed like the most well rounded. However this meant things got repetitive quickly.
The game has taken an interesting departure from its predecessor and I found myself slightly preferring the first game. That’s probably just down to my own personal preference in genres so if a deck-building / action-RPG / Rogue-like hybrid appeals to you, Forced Showdown is worth your time and money.
Interesting blend of styles that works well. Action comes thick and fast.
Lacks variety in gameplay, a handful of technical issues.