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Platform(s):Xbox 360, PC (Vista only)
Developer: Fasa Studio
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Don’t let the cheesy 80s style box art fool you, Fasa’s Shadowrun will own your soul. But not before it slices open your jugular, beats you to a bloody pulp, and then teabags what’s left of your dignity. The pen and paper Shadowrun days are over, behold the bloodletting that is the newest iteration of the world. There’s a lot of good to be found throughout Fasa’s creation, but threads of mediocrity abound almost makes this look as if Microsoft may have bit off more than they can chew. While the boys at Fasa are interested in what you’ll do when the game gets into your system, Microsoft has put the hopes and dreams of Games for Windows Live on the line in the hopes that Shadowrun can deliver. Given time, and a few allowances, the game can shine. But the sorry state of Games for Windows Live leaves much to be desired.
For a game that relies completely on getting into online play there are some problems. First of all you never know where you stand against the competition. For all you know your first battle will be against die-hard veterans who are capable of switching between four different magic spells in the time you’re able to fire the pistol. There is a TrueSkill system that keeps track of your status and is supposed to match you up with comparable players, but it’s not exactly clear how this is all calculated. One of the biggest problems is as you acclimate to the play style you learn that team communication is your number one weapon. The private party system would be a perfect companion to this, except it’s horrible. When you get a good team going and join a private party to go into games you’re never guaranteed to be on the same team as your compatriots. Less tactical games like Halo 2 don’t suffer nearly as much from this fault, but in Shadowrun it can severely hamper your abilities.
Some games train you in easy missions at the beginning of the single player component, some let you skip training. There is no campaign for Shadowrun, so a “Start Here” option is provided for the player. No matter how many world gaming championships you have won there is no doubt you should follow Fasa’s advice and go through the training. It’ll take over an hour of your time, and at the end you’ll be no closer to competency. The most important thing you’ll learn is how magic and tech are purchased and mapped to the controller. Running into Shadowrun without this basic knowledge removes the very essence that makes the gameplay so enjoyable.
At least those character options are where Shadowrun shines. Taking the Counter Strike model, Shadowrun lets you purchase items before each round of a match. Magic, tech, and weapons are available for your use. The balance between all of the items is tighter than just about any FPS on the market today. Magic and tech are yours to keep until the end of the match, but weapons are dropped if you die and must be repurchased at the start of the next round. Further upping the strategy – and keeping players from becoming too godlike – is the limitation of only having one item mapped to each trigger (or bumper button) at a time, for a total of 3 magic/tech items and 1 weapon. A good player will earn the cash between rounds to buy all the sexy goodies, but will have to be swift enough to go through the assignment menu to move items around as needed. This is a skill that only the dedicated will master, and within the first few hours of gameplay the reality of the system truly sinks in.
There are four races to choose from, and making the decision sets in motion the route you’ll be taking in the match. Humans are your basic starting point race, as is often the case in RPG’s. They are middle of the road in speed, essence, and health. But what they offer is the ability to use more tech than other races with little nerfing of magic abilities. Dwarves are small in size, but big in mustache. These diminutive characters appear laughable, but in the hands of a skilled player can be absolutely devastating. Dwarves drain essence from friend, foe, or even some traps. This ability lets the dwarf player run in and keep the enemy at a magical disadvantage. Elves are quick and weak. But with their extra essence Elves can heal themselves if not in the heat of battle. Self-healing is a tactic that should not go overlooked. Your final option is the Troll. These big lumbering brutes can take a hell of a beating – as in they actually get stronger defensively as bullets rain on their hide – before being put down. Their strength allows them to carry heavy weapons like the mini-gun with ease, essentially making them a walking tank.
While gameplay options are limited beyond reason, what’s available is a blast when playing online. The aesthetic behind tech and magic is to allow the player to experience modded gameplay as a normal occurrence. Out of everything, the teleport feature is the most fun to use during a game. You are able to travel through walls, floors, ceilings, obstacles and enemies at the press of a button. Smoke makes you invincible to everything but Gust magic. Bullets will go right through you, and you’ll take no damage during a fall. Gust is basically like "force push" from Star Wars games; it keeps pesky opponents from reaching their goal and damages players using Smoke. Resurrection adds more to gameplay than just bringing teammates back from the dead. You have to remember that an enemy body can be brought back to life, so it’s in your best interest to vaporize corpses whenever the opportunity arises. The Tree of Life heals anyone, including enemies. It’s also a great way to put an obstacle between you and an opponent in an open area. Summon brings forth a Minion to do your bidding either protecting an area or attacking enemies. Strangle is the most effective defensive measure in the Raid gametype (capture the flag). Stangle puts up a wall of crystals that ensnare anyone who goes near them, cutting off escape routes and protecting your team’s artifact (the flag).
Unfortunately the maps and weapons don’t work quite as well. Hit detection is spotty at best and you’ll find yourself frustrated with the ridiculous inaccuracy of all the weapons, except maybe the sniper rifle. With Smartlink attached, this problem is only slightly alleviated, but getting headshots seems more the whim of fate than skill. In order to level the playing field between console and PC gamers the reticule does not move with pinpoint accuracy. There are a bunch of aim assists turned on that make you stick and move at the most inopportune moments. It’s better than the average console shooter, but still leaves the question of whether PC or console players are better at first person shooters for a future time. Of the nine maps in the game only one sticks out, and that’s Dig Site. Its open rooms make use of Glider and Teleport abilities quite well, and the flow of traffic increases the chance of epic battles. There are maybe three or four other maps that are nearly as good, but overall the map selection is disappointing.
There’s a reason so much of this review is spent on the races and abilities. This is the core of Shadowrun, and despite all of its numerous faults there is no doubt a superior game lies under the muck. Unfortunately there are some glaring faults with the boxed version of the game. Download packs have changed the way we perceive games, but there’s no way to excuse such limitations to the online component of a multiplayer only game. Promise of future upgrades can’t be a guarantee of quality when the initial game is so limited. Shadowrun is in a Catch-22 due to its limits. What’s included in the game is barely passable for a multiplayer component for a major single player game, but the mechanics are fine tuned and easily enjoyed when using the game as intended online. The problem lies in the fact that the solid core game is surrounded by poor design, questionable server support, and partial multiplayer options. Shadowrun only becomes a great game if it sells well, and there may not be enough here to achieve that goal.