I feel that, in recent years, Steam (or at least the indie scene) has seen the rise of two types of developer. There are the true visionaries, who bring us games like Amnesia, The Binding of Issac, and Hyper Light Drifter; and the imitators, who see the success of these true works of art and try to deconstruct and replicate them. Sure, this phenomenon has undoubtedly been going on since the beginning of recorded videogame history, but I can't help but feel like the ease of access Steam provides makes this more insidious than it’s ever been.
This brings us to Forced Showdown, a game that feels like it's trying to be a lot of things but getting none of them right. It’s a bit of a heroes game, that’s also trying to be a MOBA (only offline as far as I can tell), that’s also trying to be a Hearthstone. What little potential it has in its own story and game world is totally squandered as it becomes merely another vanilla attempt to capitalize on the success of better games.
Forced Showdown puts the player in an intergalactic game show where warriors are forced (get it) to fight for their freedom. To start with, players only have access to a single character, who looks like War from Darksiders, but is kind of a paladin. Later on they can also gain access to other options - a lava man with a big hammer, as well as two other characters I couldn’t be bothered to try and unlock. I imagine they’re great.
Players must then play through seven “arenas”, wiping out generic imps, steampunk robots, or human beings before facing off against a boss. By beating two of these gauntlets, players can attempt a third round in order to advance to the next level and be closer to freedom.
Both of the Forced Showdown characters I played had two special attacks and one shield ability, each with cooldowns that must be managed throughout the fight for a successful run. Characters also possess one basic attack that can be charged for extra damage. Before each round, players can play cards for bonus effects in each round, ranging from single use items to permanent buffs. This system is nigh identical to the one used in Hearthstone; at the start of each round, players draw four cards they can choose to use, each with its own crystal (or mana) cost. After each round, players are rewarded with additional crystals, which allows the cycle to continue. It’s a shameless rip-off.
But despite all the advantages the game gives the player, Forced Showdown never really feels balanced. Enemies can chop your health down in only a few hits, and arenas are bombarded by random dangers that appear with no rhyme or reason, such as fireballs that come in from from off-screen, proximity mines that just fall from the sky, or indestructible battle drones that fly in from nowhere. All of this does nothing except create faux difficulty, since there’s no real character growth. It just makes fights tedious.
When all is said and done, nothing about Forced Showdown is any fun. It even looks bland: all the enemies are identical, as are its “arenas”, which are all fairly small and broken up by load screens. Nothing about the “world” feels fluid or connected. It’s not stylish, nor does its pointless inclusion of over-the-top gore lend itself well to the intergalactic deathmatch TV show setting (a la Super Smash TV). The announcer never adds any actual commentary, the bosses repeat the same lines over and over, and the whole thing feels cheap.
I can’t tell which is more cynical: me, or Forced Showdown. Nothing about it feels genuine, nor is any of it engaging enough to sustain more than a few hours of interest. Like I said earlier, it’s a poor amalgamation of games that are all much better than it is.