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Gladiator fights have always been a morbidly fascinating concept for modern humans and many dystopian visions of the future feature them enhanced with all the possibilities of modern tech – live from anywhere and in glorious 4K. Showgunners' Homicidal All-Stars, a TV show in which volunteer challengers go up against death-row inmates in a series of lethal battles, is very much following this line of thought.

This XCOM-like was developed by Artificer, who’ll be known to turn-based tactics fans for their work on Hard West, and casts you in the role of Scarlett, a bounty hunter and volunteer star on the show – she isn’t in it for fame and riches, though. Without spoiling too much of the narrative, Scarlett has it out for one of the criminals drafted into Homicidal All-Stars and decides to enter the fray to get to him. While she’s the star of the story, there are plenty of other characters you’ll interact with, so you’ll be able to piece their stories together as well.

Showgunners is using its setting and premise skilfully: The levels you explore are littered with traps, which are easy to disable and don’t cause too much damage aside from some that one-shot you, and some simple puzzles that sometimes require you to coordinate with another character. These elements aren’t challenging, but they help to keep things fresh between the combat encounters and allow you to pick up some additional items from reward containers. While exploring the hand-crafted maps, which in the fiction are of course artificial TV sets, you’ll also get the opportunity to give autographs to fans cheering from the sides from time to time.

Showgunners fire trap.

Some traps will merely hurt you, others are instant kills.

You can build Scarlett’s TV persona up through these and other interactions, such as recording short clips to be played during the show, gaining a nice, funny, cocky, or antagonistic image. It’s not just a role-playing aspect — it also feeds into the sponsor mechanic. Based on what kind of image you’re building, you’ll attract different sponsors that all have other kinds of rewards and bonuses for you in store.

While Scarlett remains your main character throughout, other protagonists of Homicidal All-Stars join her party at various points, each bringing something different to the table in terms of playstyle thanks to their unique abilities and weapons. Usable items, implants, and new weapons add to the customization options for each character. Which brings us the main dish Showgunners has to offer: the turn-based battles.

Showgunners character customization.

Skills, weapons, implants, and usable items make up your characters' kits.

Each character has two action points at their disposal during a turn to move, attack, use items, activate skills, or interact with the environment. You can freely switch between characters and aren’t bound by a specific turn order, which is nice for setting up your actions. A good variety of enemies keeps things fresh in the roundabout 20 hours it takes to play through Showgunners if you take things slow, and the hand-crafted combat maps do their part as well. Aside from cover, red barrels, and medical stations, many of the game’s maps have special features that have an impact on how you need to approach this particular battle – sometimes the building you’re in is rigged to explode, so you need to reach the control station in order to stop the countdown, at another time you’re fighting in a train station with high-speed vehicles rushing through every other turn, squashing anyone unfortunate enough to be on the tracks.

Showgunners train map.


Sometimes these changes come in suddenly, because the TV show’s director feels the need to spice things up. Showgunners also awards you additional Fame (which unlocks more sponsor slots) for completing optional objectives or generally doing cool stuff – group kills, melee kills, and so on. All these elements come together nicely, motivating you to not only win battles, but do so in the most stylish way possible, and consistently forcing you to adapt to changing circumstances and complications. The focus is less on planning your moves ahead of time and more on dealing with one crisis after the other – a different flow from many other genre representatives, but still interesting and fun.

Showgunners combat.

Showgunners' UI takes some time to get used to, for instance there's no movement order.

Showgunners doesn’t let a clutter of subsystems distract it from its main focus, which is to deliver a series of intense and varied turn-based battles in an atmosphere that neatly fits the genre – it’s not revolutionary and you won’t find yourself replaying the game again and again. Those looking for exactly that, however – a well-defined and very competent experience – will get their money’s worth.

Score: 7/10

  • Story and narrative: 6/10
  • Technical performance: 7/10
  • Art: 7/10
  • Audio and music: 7/10
  • Mechanics and systems: 8/10

Showgunners: technical breakdown

There are lots of loading screens in Showgunners, though thankfully loading times are on the shorter side. My playthrough did not suffer from any technical mishaps or glitches, though at times characters would aim the wrong way during the little cutscenes playing during combat, firing right into walls or away from their supposed target. Pretty hilarious, not game-breaking in any way, but not exactly intended or ideal.

Version tested: PC.