Genre : Online FPS
Developer: FASA Studios
Release Date: June 20, 2007
Shadowrun is a study of contrasts. Fans of tabletop roleplaying games know it as the infamously complex cyberpunk/fantasy game that’s been around for quite a while now, blending modern fantasy with near-future dystopia. Plus, there are elves.
Serious gamers know Shadowrun from the cult-classic roleplaying games on the SNES and Genesis, and odds are good that those same gamers have been talking on forums about wanting a current-gen sequel for a very long time. (Yeah, in a way Deus Ex is that sequel, but it didn’t have nearly enough elves.)
Naturally, when Microsoft announced they were making a new Shadowrun video game, it got a lot of attention. Equally naturally, when Microsoft showed the first trailer last year and it turned out that the game was a first-person shooter, half of the Internet descended into a frenzy of nerd rage the likes of which has seldom been seen.
I know just enough about Shadowrun to know that the game doesn’t have a lot to do with the RPG. It is, however, a FPS designed for fast-paced multiplayer gameplay by the studio that made games like Mechassault and Crimson Skies, so it deserves a look based on that if nothing else.
The game is set a few decades before the “present day” of the tabletop setting, just after the events that have returned the forces of magic to the world. The RNA Corporation has dispatched a force of mercenary troubleshooters into several contested zones in order to claim various mystical artifacts. Their goal is to figure out how best to exploit and manage this new force.
The Lineage, on the other hand, is a cult of magicians and metahumans that wishes to protect magic from people more or less exactly like the RNA Corp. They also want to claim the artifacts.
Violence, perhaps inevitably, ensues. The artifacts are basically the flags in a full-tilt game of PvP shooter madness, with customizable characters, open areas, and both cyberware and magic sweetening the pot. Shadowrun is made for online multiplayer, with the singleplayer mode basically just a multiplayer game with an assortment of bots.
At the start of a game of Shadowrun, you can select one of four races. Humans, as per usual, are balanced, with no glaring weak points or strengths. Elves are incredibly fast but also somewhat weak; while they fall down quickly, an elf with a katana and the Wired Reflexes cyberware is basically an angry, periodically bulletproof food processor. Trolls are huge and slow, but they don’t take a speed penalty from heavy weapons like the rocket launcher, and their skin hardens as they take damage, making them increasingly harder to kill as their life begins to run out. Finally, dwarves make ideal magicians, but their mana pool, or “essence,” recharges very slowly; a dwarf will have to drain essence from persistent spell effects or other players’ special moves in order to regain essence with any speed at all. For example, a dwarf can run up to a troll and essence drain it to prevent its skin from hardening.
You begin the game with a set amount of cash, which goes up as you score kills, collect artifacts, resurrect other players with magic, and so on. You can use this cash to buy spells, cyberware, and weapons from a special menu that appears whenever you begin a new round or respawn. The weapons aren’t anything special; you’ve got a katana, an SMG, a minigun, a rocket launcher, and a shotgun, among others. The guns have a real sense of impact and velocity to them, so they’re done well, but they’re nothing special.
Cyberware and magic are what give Shadowrun all of its notable characteristics. The magic system got most of the attention in the demo I played at GDC, naturally, as it’s definitely the more spectacular of the two. Cyberware gives you speed boosts and the like, but magic lets you teleport, sending your character a short distance in the direction you were already heading in; summon elementals to guard an area or attack an enemy; resurrect other players (at the cost of permanently tying up a notable portion of your essence supply); erecting a tree of life that heals characters within its area of effect; glide tremendous distances; and more. It’s like somebody from a fantasy game like Hexen abruptly wandered into some low-realism next-gen shooter, and it gives Shadowrun a lot of replayability and strategy that it’d otherwise completely lack. I seriously was thinking of it as Yet Another Online FPS until the first time I saw an elemental smack the taste out of somebody’s mouth.
Shadowrun is also notable for being one of the first games that’ll be available on Live Anywhere, which will allow PC and 360 gamers to battle each other online. Depending on how the release dates shake out, it’ll be either the first or second game (after Halo 2 on Vista) to be available for Live, with the accompanying Achievements and other Live benefits. At the time of this writing, though, what a Gold Live member gets that a Silver Live member doesn’t is still very much up in the air.
Shadowrun is currently in beta, and we’ll probably have more in-depth previews for you eventually as a result of this. For now, though, it’s safe to say that Shadowrun is fast-paced, surprisingly strategic, and while it aggravates tabletop gamers, it should be a pretty solid bet for anyone who doesn’t know what the word “chummer” means.
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