Homicidal All-Stars is the Running Man strategy game of our dreams

XCOM meets Running Man in Homicidal All-Stars, a forthcoming turn-based strategy game with dystopian game show antics, permadeath, and buckets of gore

Homicidal All-Stars is a Running Man strategy game: two heroes flanked by minibosses on an '80s-isnpired piece of key art

Running Man strategy game Homicidal All-Stars wasn’t something I expected to rank among my top Gamescom 2022 picks, but developer Artificer’s cheesy delivery and robust turn-based tactics gameplay won me over from the first gratuitous blood spatter.

You play as a contestant on the titular bloody reality game show, trying to work your way up the ranks and get signed by big-spending sponsors. Each mission takes part in a labyrinthine death pit built on the decaying bones of an old city district. There’s a clear sense of staging in the stacks of tyres that have been thoughtfully placed around each open area to form banks of cover, and pristine metal platforms and bridges have been made to look more Mad Max-y with massive spiky welds and copious razor wire. This doesn’t look like a ‘real’ dystopian battleground, but it’s as close to one as the game show’s prop team could hack together – you get the feeling that you could lean on a wall, and it’d slowly creak backwards before bringing the whole set down.

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That sense of artifice vanishes when you come up against your first wave of nondescript thugs, and it all gets very real. Shifting your team around the arena and isolating one of them leads to a gruesome cinematic finisher in which body parts are severed and slop to the floor under a hail of bullets – think XCOM but with far, far more blood.

Combat follows the turn-based tactics mould. You arrange your troops around the battlefield using action points to move and either shoot or use an ability. When you’ve queued up all of your characters’ moves you get to watch them play out before the enemy team takes their turn. There’s full and partial cover, percentage chances for most actions, a wide range of enemy archetypes, and permadeath to make you feel obsessively attached to your squad.

And while the aesthetic is cartoonish and stylised, this is game for hardcore strategists. The screen is covered in UI, tooltips, and icons, under which you’ll find details on hit percentages, crit chances, bonus multipliers, damage ranges, effects, and pretty much anything else you could possibly want to know before committing to your turn. It’s a ton of information, but somehow it’s presented in a way that’s just about parsable, with key details in bold and additional considerations sensibly nested beneath.

Homicidal All-Stars is a Running Man strategy game: a top-down view of a dystopian game show set, with UI showing available options for the player to steer their troops

The team at Artificer, which previously made Hard West and Phantom Doctrine, is also aiming to fix a couple of the genre’s biggest problems: RNG frustration and the long wait for an inevitable result to come to fruition.

That first problem will be instantly recognisable to XCOM fans who are used to seeing their hero place the barrel of their gun down an alien throat and still miss. Homicidal All-Stars still has percentage hit chances, but melee attacks and abilities will never miss, which should shave some frustration off the experience.

Similarly, pacing has been a big focus for the studio, and it leans on the game show setting to ensure you can never get ahead of yourself. New enemies enter just as you’re picking off the last remaining scumbags from the current tranche, and if you’re making really good progress then the slimy Homicidal All-Stars host will start dropping in minibosses and environmental hazards to create a bit more chaos. And there’s still plenty of space for immaculately choreographed attacks in which you wipe the slate clean in a single turn – multi-kills and other stylish feats will reward you with heaps of fame, which you can cash between missions for better sponsors and upgrades.

Homicidal All-Stars is a Running Man strategy game: ordering a troop to take cover in a dystopian game show setting

This being a dystopian game show setting, minibosses are steroidal monstrosities with unique quirks that you need to get the better of. It’s not quite as theatrical as a lycra-clad Arnie skating circles around Subzero, but expect Bane-like beefcakes and toxin-spewing ninjas to drop from the ceiling as soon as you hit your stride.

Thankfully, your squad is also composed of unique characters, each with a set of distinct abilities that promise to make team selection a real head-scratcher. My favourite is Tybalt, a stylish technician who can clone and swap places with a selected enemy, allowing you to ambush minibosses or receive health from enemy medics so long as he remains disguised – best of all, the goon you swapped bodies with will find themselves under fire from their own teammates.

As a fan of both dystopian bloodsports and turn-based strategy games, Homicidal All-Stars has me very excited. The setting has been brilliantly harnessed to bring in absurd new threats, outlandish abilities, and rewards for players who like to over-engineer their turns, but it’s the attention to detail that’ll make the difference between me sinking a few hours into this game, or a few dozen hours. Less frustrating actions, more information, more consistent pressure – they’re features I didn’t know I wanted, but now I want them in every tactics game.

There’s no firm release date for Homicidal All-Stars, so why not check out our roundups of the best turn-based RPGs and apocalypse games on PC for more like this.