Speakeasy Review

The boring Twenties.

Speakeasy is a fighting game based on a cross-country underground fisticuffs tournament in the time of Prohibition, populated entirely by Al Hirschfeld caricatures of actual notable figures from the era, where the winner gets access to the last barrels of legitimate hooch in America to do with what they will.

I am so, so sorry that I had to tell you that. I'm sorry because that is the only accurate description that one can give to the game, and because the description probably put a beautiful picture in your head of a wild, cel-shaded fracas, scored by the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin, of super moves involving Tommy guns, of the typically meaningless fighting game timer counting down to government raids, of flapper girls milling about in backgrounds, of final bosses living in Great Gatsby opulence, and of being able to replay great matches in the style of silent pictures. I apologize because I am going to have to sweep all those wonderful ideas away and tell you what Speakeasy actually is: a glorified game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

I apologize because Speakeasy is, quite simply, a waste.

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The core of Speakeasy's gameplay is that you pick your character, each character stands on opposite sides of the stage, and upon the word “Fight!” you can either attack using X, block using Square, or fake out your opponent using Circle. Matches are one-hit kills, and in the main gameplay mode, you can only press each button once. If your attack connects, your opponent's head pops off and you win. If you both try to attack at the same time, there's an Injustice-style quick-time minigame when the fighters meet in the middle that determines the winner.

These mechanics might have found a reasonable home on mobile platforms, but having it be PS4 exclusive is like using an orbital laser to heat up a Hot Pocket. It's a game prime for bite-sized bursts of fun while waiting to do something else. There's the thin trappings of strategy here, where split-second timing to beat your opponent to the punch is key, and having the ability to fake out opponents is a nifty twist, though that's as far as the game's strategy really goes, and all it really does is raise the game, in fleeting moments, from being just Rock, Paper, Scissors to Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.

There's no meat on Speakeasy's bones. There is no single-player mode and no online matchmaking, so unless you can find another person to play with, it's useless as even a fleeting diversion. There are a few different modes allowing you to press each button two or three times instead, a three-person tag mode, and options for tournaments, but this isn't the kind of game that lends itself to that level of obsession and competition, especially when actual Rock, Paper, Scissors is free, and you can probably reward each other with real-world snacks instead of a pathetic selection of fancy hats for your 100th win.

Poor woman. Bringing an axe to a lightning fight.
Poor woman. Bringing an axe to a lightning fight.

Speakeasy being just a simple, ignorable bad game could be accepted, but the fact that it had to drag a fantastic premise down with it is criminal. Every time the character selection screen pops up is a tragedy in motion: The cast of playable characters includes easily recognizable caricatures of Nicolas Tesla, Amelia Earhart, and Charlie Chaplin, but it also aims for appropriate historical deep cuts, like a stern, hatchet-wielding effigy of Carrie Nation. The cast is rounded out by a brickhouse giant, old-style mustachioed boxer and a black jazz trumpeter. It's a cast of characters that you never see in any fighting game, and the likelihood of it ever happening again is slim. Each character only has about five animations apiece, with no voice acting, each controls identically, and virtually none of the personality you'd assume from seeing these characters on sight is present. It's basically no different from when old-school gamers had to lay cellophane over TVs to pretend that the bounding lights on their screens were something else. It was silly in the 70s. It’s unthinkable now.

Ultimately, everything about Speakeasy comes down to a leitmotif of “____ is too good for this game.” The PS4 is more powerful than the game deserves. The premise is more than the game needs. The characters are too perfect just to be squandered on punching characters' heads off. The game was better when it was just Rock, Paper, Scissors. The price is more than the game is worth. And your time is better spent doing something else.

The Good
Wonderful, unique setting and aesthetic
Good choice of era-appropriate characters
The Bad
Laughably simple gameplay
Takes no advantage of setting or characters
Too much work for paltry unlockable rewards
Woefully overpriced for what you get
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Justin Clark was able to see all Speakeasy has to offer in an hour, though that hour ultimately stretched into several more.

Speakeasy More Info

  • First Released Nov 25, 2014
    • PlayStation 4
    Speakeasy is an engaging, local-multiplayer party game that blends rock-paper-scissors with the styles and sounds of 1920?s Roarin’ America.
    Average Rating1 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Super Soul
    Published by:
    Gun Media
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Alcohol Reference, Violence