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Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: FASA Studio


Xbox 360 Review - 'Shadowrun'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 8, 2007 @ 3:18 a.m. PDT

Shadowrun is a team-based FPS set in a world where ancient magic blends with modern weapons and advanced technology to form a revolution in multiplayer FPS gaming, allowing PC and Xbox 360 gamers to play against each other. Purchase new weapons and abilities each round in an extraordinary arms race to increase your options and open up new tactics for your team. Gather your team from four different magical races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. And fight for control of a magical artifact that can shape the course of the world.

Genre : Online FPS
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: FASA Studios
Release Date: May 29, 2007

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: Shadowrun is not a single-player game. There is no story mode and no plot. The only single-player content is a series of tutorials and the ability to face computer-controlled "bots" in fights. If you're one of those Xbox 360 owners who doesn't play online, this isn't a game you should even consider purchasing unless you have a number of friends over to play often. While the AI bots are fairly effective opponents, they just don't match up to playing against with real people and, quite frankly, grow tiresome very quickly.

If you've ever played a game of Counter-Strike, then everything you see in Shadowrun is going to be shockingly familiar. Players are put onto one of two teams, the RNA Corporation or the Legacy, who map fairly well to the Counter-Terrorists and Terrorists in Counter-Strike. At the start of every round, players buy weapons and magic and go to battle against each other. If you're killed, you lose your weapons, and if your team succeeds, you get extra money to spend on new tools and magic. If it weren't for the word "magic" in the above sentence, you'd be exactly describing a game of Counter-Strike. While this isn't a bad thing, per se, it is going to be a real disappointment to those Shadowrun fans who were looking for something a bit more accurate to the source material instead of "Counter-Strike with Elves."

Even the weapons are standard fare. You have a machine gun, rifle, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and shotgun. Each functions exactly as you've seen in every other game in which these same weapons have appeared. The only thing close to a unique weapon is the katana. When equipping the katana, your character view changes from first-person to third-person, not unlike the Jedi Knight franchise. Once in that view, you can slash people or block enemy katanas by looking toward them and not attacking. One upgrade even allows you to do the same with bullets. Sadly, using the katana like that is more an exercise in frustration than a valid tactic. Blocking and attacking is frustrating and difficult, and you're more likely to get blown away by someone with a shotgun. Instead, the most effective way to use a katana is to sneak up behind a foe and slash them, which is an instant kill, not unlike the knife in Counter-Strike. It's a perfectly valid weapon, but it feels like an interesting opportunity was missed.

However, there are a few wrinkles in the overall gameplay that spice things up from a usual game of Counter-Strike. The first and most obvious is the fact that your characters can learn magic. In Shadowrun, magic is powered by Essence, which is basically the magic potential that a character has, and it is shown by "pips" or small dots on the lower-left hand corner of your head's-up display. Each bit of magic takes a specific amount of pips to cast, and some require you to "hold" a few pips, preventing you from using them until the magic has worn off. Besides being very powerful, magic is not lost if you die, unlike weapons. This means that as the game drags on, more and more magic abilities will come into play, and by the end, you'll see people teleporting, dropping Trees of Life and returning from the dead all the time.

Magic comes in a number of varieties, and it brings a lot to Shadowrun. Teleport is my personal favorite, and one I imagine most people will grab as soon as possible. Teleport allows your character to, at the press of a button, move eight meters forward in whatever direction they are moving — even through walls and floors. Other abilities include Smoke, which renders your character incorporeal and immune to normal weaponry; Gust, which shoots a powerful burst of air to knock enemies back (or off cliffs), and can also be used to damage enemies who are in Smoke form; and Tree of Life, which creates a giant tree that heals anything around it. Using these different kinds of magic in conjunction with one another allows you to perform many different tricks, such as teleporting behind someone up on a cliff and then pushing them off with Gust, or using the Strangle ability to block an enemy's path and then Summon to use a giant monster to attack then while they're distracted. When used well, magic is incredibly fun and the absolute best part of the game. Sadly, it alone isn't enough to make up for the lackluster elements that comprise the rest of the gameplay.

The other major element is Tech, which functions very similarly to magic in that you buy it, place it in an inventory slot and go to work. Rather than using Essence as a resource, Tech lowers the amount of Essence you can access, so using a lot of Tech limits the amount of magic you'll be able to use. Tech abilities include Glider, which functions as a super-jump as well as slowing your falls; the Smartlink, which increases your weapon's accuracy and prevents friendly fire; and Wired Reflexes, which make you faster, stronger, and give you the ability to block bullets with melee weapons. However, while these Tech abilities are neat, you'll rarely use most of them. I found that I used a maximum of one or two Tech abilities, and that was hardly enough to impact my magic in any meaningful way.

When you first join a game in Shadowrun, you're given a choice of one of four races. Humans are the default race; they start with a bit of extra money but are functionally average in most other ways. The biggest advantage is that they can use Tech accessories without the Essence hit that the magical species take. Elves are, by and far, the most popular race online. Although they are weakest race in terms of taking damage, that is about their only weakness. They are fast, have a strong Essence pool, and perhaps most importantly, are the only race capable of healing without a Tree of Life, as they slowly regenerate HP when not in combat.

Trolls are the toughest physical race by far. They have a massive HP pool, don't suffer from slow movement when carrying heavy weapons, and when they take damage, their skin grows extra armor at the cost of Essence, further reducing the damage they take. Trolls pay for this by being the slowest race normally, and when they grow extra armor, they become even slower. Finally, you get the Dwarves, a species that has untold potential for online griefing. Dwarves are the "magic-using" race so by default, they have an insanely large Essence pool. However, their Essence regenerates far slower than the other races. They make up for this by having the vampiric ability to drain Essence from anything magical, including living beings. Simply standing near something causes the Dwarf to suck its energy, although one must be closer to friends than foes.

On the surface, each of the four races seems to have its own advantages and disadvantages, but that doesn't really seem to work out in gameplay. The Humans are left far in the dust without any special innate abilities. Elves are fast, powerful and have the ability to regenerate damage on their own without waiting for a Tree of Life, which is such a powerful ability that most of the gamers I saw online were using this race. Trolls are also powerful, but their slow speed makes them lag too much for anything but defense.

Dwarves are the race with which I had the biggest problem. In theory, they are a very interesting idea for a race, but their implementation is incredibly poor. Draining Essence tends to get you shot pretty often, although skilled players can work around this. No, the problem I had was with the griefing; a Dwarf (or Dwarves) who are being controlled by a player who is looking to cause mischief can ruin the game for someone. As an example, I was playing as a Troll and had been knifed in the back and left to bleed out. Luckily, I threw up a Tree of Life and was regenerating, hoping for someone to cast a Resurrect spell on me before I died. However, a Dwarf came up to my tree, sucked all the energy out of it, and left me to die before I could toss up another one. It's frustrating, to say the least.

If all of the above were put into a more complete game, it would be fun, if completely average, with a few shining moments of excellence. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Shadowrun is a title that just feels unfinished. It is made up of less than 10 different playable maps, and these maps are incredibly boring to explore. There is little to differentiate one map from the other, and one quickly grows bored of the incredibly small variety in gameplay.

To make matters worse, there are only three types of online matches: Attrition, which is just your classic Team Deathmatch; Raid, in which one team attempts to collect the artifact that another team is guarding and bring it back to its base; and Extraction, which is just Raid, only both players are try to get a neutral artifact. While these matches are fun for a bit, they quickly grow tiresome since they're so similar. While downloadable content could be used to add more maps and game types later on, the possibility of that alone is not enough to justify shelling out $60. Even more frustrating is the length of time it takes to get into an online match. It would often take me well over a minute to simply connect to a match, and even more often, just in time for the game to end! For a game built almost entirely for online play, this feels unforgivable.

Even the visuals in Shadowrun don't make up for this, as they range from mediocre to just plain bad. The levels are boring and lack any interesting elements, both in level design and graphic design. There are only eight characters models in the game — one for each race on the two different sides — which means you're going to see countless identical Elves fighting countless identical Elves over and over on the same identical maps.

To make matters worse, a lot of detail was skipped on basic animations. Perhaps the most noticeable comes when your character is climbing a ladder. Rather than resembling any sort of climbing animation, they just sort of slide up the ladder. Other animations suffer from similar quality, and the fairly nice character models only further accentuate the feeling that you're playing nothing more than a glorified Counter-Strike mod.

Even the audio feels half-done. While all of the weapons sound fairly good, they are basically the only sound you'll ever hear. There's almost no ambient sound to give the dull levels any sort of feeling of soul or heart, although this does keep the speakers free to allow you to hear your teammates speaking, so it is a minor complaint. For those without an Xbox Live headset, the game offers pre-created voice commands to allow you quick and easy speaking, done via the game's d-Pad. However, bizarrely, these voices are all done in the same electronic female voice, which is strange coming from a Human, but downright bizarre coming from a Troll. Again, it is a minor issue, but even a different generic voice for each species could have alleviated this.

Shadowrun is a prime example of potential wasted. Even getting past the terrible use of the Shadowrun license, the game itself just feels half-finished. The lack of variety and polish that shows in every stage and every character model just accentuates this every time you put the disc into your 360. A few months from now, if Microsoft sees fit to release a number of new maps and game types, then maybe Shadowrun will be worth the money. Until then, a rental is more than enough time to experience everything the title has to offer.

Score: 6.5/10

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