Paul Broussard
, posted 3 hours ago / 269 Views

2024 has been a relatively quiet year so far, which I consider to be a good thing. Partially because it lets me catch up on my backlog, but also because it gives indie titles more of a chance to stand out. This month’s indie darling has been in Early Access for a while now (because what indie game isn’t these days?), and finally just released: Buckshot Roulette. Normally, I try to stick to non-lethal versions of gambling, but this one came so highly recommended that I had to give the whole murderous nightclub a try.

The premise of Buckshot Roulette is a surprisingly simple one, all things considered. The player character and a dealer, who kind of looks like a creepypasta version of Jack Skellington, sit across from each other at a table which has a shotgun in the middle. The shotgun is then loaded with a mixture of blanks and live rounds, and while the game shows you how many of each are in the gun at the start of the round, it doesn’t tell you the order. Each side then takes turns firing the shotgun; either at their opponent, or at themselves. The catch is that shooting a blank at your opponent ends your turn, while shooting one at yourself keeps your turn going, so you ideally want to shoot the blanks at yourself and the live rounds at your opponent. Each time you or the dealer get shot, you’re revived by a defibrillator (apparently now effective at undoing gunshot wounds), but there’s a limited number of charges. Deplete the number of charges you have available and you die. Conversely, deplete the dealer’s charges three times and you can win the game.

Later on, items get thrown into the mixture that you can choose to use whenever you like during your turn. Handcuffs allow you to skip the dealer’s turn regardless of the outcome of your current one, a magnifying glass lets you inspect the current round, and for some ungodly reason cigarettes allow you to heal some of the health you’ve lost from getting shot in the face. Other elements are less exclusively positive: a saw allows you to saw off the shotgun and make any live round fired that turn deal double damage, while a beer can ejects the current round regardless of what it is.

All of these effects are very temporary, however. Any effect that isn’t a one-off (like inspecting a bullet or healing) lasts a single round. While this can add an additional layer of strategy to proceedings in some instances (specifically knowing when to play certain cards since they revert after one round), I feel like the very temporary nature of everything ultimately holds the risk/reward back overall. Using a saw, for instance, would be a huge risk knowing that the dealer would get to use the doubly powerful shotgun the next turn if you pick wrong, making playing it an incredibly important choice with real, lasting consequences. As it stands, there’s very little reason to not play it at any point when there are more live rounds than blanks remaining.

The “game” that immediately comes to mind as a first comparison for Buckshot Roulette is the blackjack minigame found in Resident Evil 7’s second wave of DLC, which, outside of the obvious comparison of people gambling in a dark room and getting their heads horribly mutilated, also featured a variety of consumable items to tilt the odds in your favor. But there were a couple of key differences there: effects generally lasted for a whole round (so opting to double damage output, for instance, could backfire on you), and your opponent was always allowed a chance to respond to an item you played, meaning that you could be foiled by something unexpected and have to suddenly readjust your entire game plan. Playing an item was a risk, not just because of what you had, but because of what your opponent might have.

Of course, it’s unreasonable to expect Resident Evil levels of production value from a $3 indie title. And the incredibly cheap price tag means that it’s tough to ask for much more without coming off as unfairly demanding. There’s quite a lot to like here: the setting is great; the atmosphere is perfect; and the art style is fantastic, with a back alley, grungy vibe that I’m sad we don’t get to see more of. Plus, in fairness, the gameplay does get a little more interesting in the post-game “Double or Nothing” mode, where more items are added to the fray and another element of strategy is introduced in terms of asking when should you tap out? Sure, the odds might be in your favor for any given round, but sooner or later you’ll get three blanks in a row off of a 50/50 distribution and the best laid plans will go to waste.

Ultimately, Buckshot Roulette is a fun little distraction that the former stats teacher in me wishes had been fleshed out just a touch more. There’s enough content here to entertain for an hour or so, and while it won’t be the best hour of gameplay you experience this year, it’ll probably be one of the more memorable. Give it a try, and support the developer (Mike Klubnika), so that he can make a sequel where you play Poker against a horrifically toothy version of Clifford the Big Red Dog.

This review is based on a digital copy of Buckshot Roulette for the PC

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