Review: Shadowrun


Shadowrun
Developer FASA Interactive
Publisher Microsoft
System – Xbox 360 (also on Windows Vista)
Players 2-16

Shadowrun. The name sends chills up the spines of many older gamers. Not me though. I managed to miss it. But I understand the fear that comes from seeing a game you love translated into another genre for no apparent reason. I myself have encountered it with another FASA/Microsoft property, Battletech. But even that re-imagining wasn’t as drastic as the genre shift that Shadowrun has just undergone. To go from Action RPG to First Person Shooter is quite the shift. So is it Shadowrun or Shadowruin?


Story

A magical artifact has been awakened, and as a result magic has been reintroduced to the world of Man. The population of Santos, Brazil, where the artifact was found, has been transformed. No longer do humans walk alone. Now giant Trolls, lithe Elves and stout Dwarves have emerged from myths and legends to take their place in the world. And they all, along with humans, have discovered that magic is a reality. Not everyone likes this, and as a result a group of insurgents calling themselves Lineage have begun attacking the company in possession of the Magic artifacts. That company, RNA, is actively trying to protect their resources. All of this is the setup for the game. What follows afterward is you and your team against them and theirs. Simple and clear cut. And you better like it because that’s all the story you get. Shadowrun is multiplayer only, meaning don’t buy it for the single player.


Graphics

The visuals of Shadowrun. Well, the game moves smoothly and the presentation is relatively nice looking. But the visuals have issues which affect the way you play the game. There are four character classes, as I stated above. All four have 2 skins, one for RNA and one for Lineage. RNA are decked out in blue uniforms while Lineage are red”┬Žish. This would be great if the characters were easily distinguished thanks to the color choices, but that is not to be. More than a few times I have shot my own team member because I couldn’t make out their team in the fast and frantic moments of trying not to die. The game seems to make every effort to make it difficult to determine if the person in your sights is friend or foe. Leave the sight on a target long enough and his or her name will appear above it. But instead of marking RNA as blue names and Lineage as red, they are all the same color. Yes the reticule itself changes color, but it’s sending the player mixed messages which cause frustration, especially when friendly fire of any sort, not just kills, costs you money.

What FASA should have done was either make the colors stand out more, or use different character models for one of the teams. Goblins and whatever for Lineage perhaps. Instead the player is forced to either wait until he’s positive that’s an enemy or use a tech slot on an item which makes it impossible for you to fire on your own team.

Another thing which I feel should be mentioned is the character sizes. Not the character you play, the characters you read on screen. Much like Dead Rising many of the characters on screen are far too small to be read unless you are physically 2 inches away from the monitor. Now, the amount of reading in Shadowrun isn’t nearly as bad as it was in Dead Rising, but when there is something to be read, good luck.


Audio

The soundtrack for Shadowrun consists of one song which you will become quite familiar with while waiting for the levels to load. It’s an eerie mood setting number that is very similar to something you’d hear in Blade Runner. After a while it gets kind of annoying to be honest, but at least there is no music during gameplay.

Sound effects on the other hand are pretty good. Gunfire is crisp and clear, the various magic spells sound nice, and characters can be heard when they get wounded or killed. Still, nothing earth shattering, but at least it’s solid.


Controls/Gameplay

As this is a cross platform game released on both the 360 and Vista, I’m going to point out here that I played the 360 version of the game. I’m told you can use the 360 controller with Vista, and that it’s actually recommended, but I don’t have first hand experience with that myself.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to it. The game allows you to purchase any spell, tech or weapon you want, so long as you can afford it. You start off the match with a certain amount of money based on what class character you chose, and then earn money based on how well you play in the game. You also lose money if you team kill, and this affects you every round. So avoid shooting your team. You are given 3 slots on the HUD, each corresponding with either the left trigger or both bumper buttons to assign your tech and spells to. You may reassign spells on the fly, so if you start the round with Smoke but feel you need Teleport, you can just go into your menu and assign it, so long as you own the spell and you don’t die while assigning it. Your weapon is always the right trigger, and you may carry two weapons at a time. This doesn’t have to be a pistol either. If you wish to carry the rocket launcher and a mini-gun, you may.

Your character has a magic meter which will refill at different rates depending on what class you are. Dwarves have the most magic but it takes them longer to recharge, etc. When you equip a technology you give up a certain amount of your magic meter to power the technology, and this will vary depending on what you purchase. As well, certain spells when cast will remain a drag on your magic meter until the spell is broken. An example of this would be Resurrect. When you revive somebody he is tied to you, so when you die he’s dead unless someone else gets to him before he bleeds out. This also means that so long as he is alive the magic it took to revive him stays unavailable to you.

Movement is pretty good on the console side of things. There is a slider for the sensitivity of your aiming, and it does a nice job. It’s not a mouse and keyboard though, so if you have a phobia of controllers, buyer beware.

There are some unique ways of moving around in the game. You may purchase a glider or you can buy the teleport spell. You can also use the smoke spell to survive huge jumps (such as off a tall building say). Of the three I would have to say I enjoyed the glider the most, especially when I was using the class I wound up using the most in the game, the dwarf. Something about airborne dwarves raining fire and destruction was just too fun. Plus it’s easier to determine where you are going to wind up with the glider than you can with teleporting.


Replayability

As Shadowrun is built solely as a multiplayer game, the replayability is quite high, so long as you find the basic ideas and elements of the game to your liking. Oh and I suppose you are required to be subscribed to Live if you want the full portion of multiplayer goodness. There are a small number of gameplay types that do serve to limit the amount of time you’ll spend playing the game. The match types available consist of Extraction, Raid and Attrition. One of these involves both teams trying for the artifact, one involves RNA defending the artifact while Lineage tries to grab it, and the last is just a knockdown drag out kill everything on the other team match. Personally I found Attrition to be preferable to anything involving the artifact, as the games took longer and there was more time to feel like you were contributing somehow. It takes very little time on some of the maps to grab the artifact. This does not make for entertaining matches, even when your team abandons trying to capture the thing and instead attempts to stop the carrier before he reaches the extraction point.

Another comment that I have to make is the amount of maps that FASA supplied to play on. Bluntly, there aren’t enough. Including smaller versions of certain maps there are 12 maps that can be fought over. Some of them can be quite intricate with many floors and passageways, while others are fairly tiny. Either way, for the money we are being asked to pay, when there is no single player campaign, 12 maps isn’t nearly enough.

Despite the limited number of games and maps available the game is very good at keeping your attention. When the game is evenly matched and you have people playing on both sides who are there to have fun and not just be teamkilling pests, the game can be very enjoyable.


Balance

Each of the characters has their own unique pros and cons. Elves for example can’t take a lot of damage, but they can heal themselves should they get away from enemy fire. Dwarf magic regenerates slowly but they can steal magic from other characters, both friendly and enemy. Trolls move slowly but can take more damage. Humans start off with the most money, enabling them to buy a spell and a weapon right away. And since the units are the same on both sides, it’s balanced that way too.

If the balance falls apart, it’s because of human error, not the game. If your team all decide to forgo buying Resurrect in favor of anti magic mines, and the enemy all decide to buy sniper rifles and wipe you out from afar, well, whose fault is that? There is no restriction on what you or your team can buy, nor is there a requirement for the team to have any amount of any one type of character, meaning you can have 8 elves on your team, 8 humans, 8 trolls or 8 dwarves, though to be fair I never really ran into anymore than 4 of a type in any game I played. Essentially if you don’t play the game as part of your team, if you just go off trying to slay the hordes and show off your skills, you’re not going to get the full value of the game.


Originality

Not many games try to combine Magic and Technology. I suppose you could claim the Star Wars franchise does when it gives you command of the force, but aside from that the only franchise I can think of is Shadowrun. And since this is the first time I’ve seen all the familiar fantasy elements brought into the real world, it certainly unique in terms of the games I’ve ever played. It just makes me laugh thinking about how ready many of today’s youth would be if this were to happen in real life, compared to past generations.


Addictiveness

A lot of people online have taken the time to point out how much this game reminds them of a few games. Tribes and Counter-Strike to be precise. While I see the reasoning behind their points of view, allow me to rebut. Shadowrun is no Tribes. It might be a second rate Counter-Strike, but is nowhere close to Tribes. Tribes had huge maps and a variety of weapons and armor classes, along with vehicles. Shadowrun has small to midsized maps, controls that make things like sniper rifles next to useless, and a purchasing system that doesn’t allow for standard customizable loadouts, which Tribes also had. While Shadowrun may have some unique play styles, and it can certainly be fun to take an elf and teleport your way to victory, it’s not addictive enough to hide all of its warts.


Appeal

It’s got the Shadowrun name, so it will have at least some appeal for its old fanbase, if they are willing to stomach the genre change. It’s also an online multiplayer game that isn’t Gears of War, and so is therefore something else to play while everyone waits for Halo 3.

If you seek a single player campaign, or if you want a larger variety of maps to play on, this is not the game for you. Yet. Who knows, downloadable content isn’t impossible.


Miscellaneous

I’ve held off talking about the time it takes to connect until now because frankly there’s really nowhere else for me to talk about it. Shadowrun uses the Halo 2 method of connecting gamers of similar skill in matches. You can also form parties and move from game to game that way. But you won’t be doing that, as it can take ages to find and connect to a game, and once you are in you’ll want to stay there no matter how bad the douche-baggery gets. There are reports online of people waiting half an hour to connect to a match. Personally I never experienced anything longer than a 10 minute wait, but really, when it gets bad enough that you look at the clock when starting to join a match just to see how long this one is going to take, it’s not a good sign. What is even worse is the failure of the developers to allow for the game to change hosts should the original leave for one reason or another. Waiting 7 minutes to join a game, then playing for 3 minutes before having the host take off is just irritating.

Lastly, developers have taken some strange approaches to trying to find ways to appease Microsoft when it comes to creating Achievements. I feel it is incumbent on me to say that I do not approve of making Tea Bagging an achievement. Very poor taste FASA. I don’t care if it’s your way of getting back at Microsoft for making you do so many Vista – 360 cross platform achievements or whatever the excuse was, sneaking the Tea bagging in there as Shadowrun Fever is not cool. There are enough idiotic little boys out there who are willing to do that of their own accord, they don’t need encouragement.

And one last thing. Why is it when I go to mute some moron I have to do it twice, once in Shadowrun and then again on the 360 desktop menu? Ass backwards I swear.


Story: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 5/10
Control/Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 9/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10

Short Attention Span Summary
While not a horrible game, it could probably have used some better design and marketing decisions and more time working on the network code. Give it a rent, or download the demo and give it a whirl. There is enough game here for some to fall in love. Just maybe not at $60.