6/16/2007 1:01:21 PM
Shadowrun Xbox 360 Review
By Rich Dixon
You either know "Shadowrun" or you don't. If you know "Shadowrun," you're probably thinking about the fantasy/cyberpunk desktop role-playing game, or possibly one of the pulp novels written in that universe. You know all about an intricate backstory that involves magic returning unexpectedly to the world by way of a mysterious ziggurat in Brazil, and how two forces -- the international conglomerate known as RNA Global and the hereditary mystical society known as the Lineage -- fight for supremacy in a world in which humans have been joined by elves, trolls, dwarves, and other creatures from legend, with both magic and technology serving as weapons in the struggle.
That was the old "Shadowrun." Now, thanks to the Microsoft-owned studio FASA, there is a new "Shadowrun," and this one is a shooter. When word began to spread that Microsoft would develop a "Shadowrun" game that was not an RPG, the fanboys nearly slit their wrists in anguish. Internet petitions were signed, prostest haikus were composed, but to no avail. The project went forward, and now the FPS "Shadowrun" has hit the market. In the process a lot has changed. For instance, the story: this game has none to speak of. "Shadowrun" is a multiplayer-only game, so there are no single-player missions to play and no characters to level up as you immerse yourself in the "Shadowrun" universe and take sides in its struggles. You can still play as human, troll, elf, or dwarf, but you're not so much fighting for something as you are just fighting, over and over again.
To understand this version of "Shadowrun," empty your mind and call up memories of "Counter-Strike." As with that classic shooter, you play a limited range of game types (basically capture the flag and body count) on a certain number of maps, buying your weapons (both magical and technological) at the start of every round with your purchase power based on how well you did in the previous round. Now, instead of terrorists and counter-terrorists, populate that world with "Shadowrun" races: elves that are fast and good at quick-strike attacks (particularly at close range with the katana) but can't take much damage, trolls that are massive and slow and best when they're giving and taking massive amounts of damage (perhaps with the minigun), dwarves that have a knack for draining off magic (from friend or foe) and are very dangerous when armed with a shotgun and a spell named Smoke that makes them very hard to hit, and humans that are not great at anything but pretty good at everything.
The game initially might seem to play very much like "Counter-Strike" -- it even looks quite a bit like the Xbox version of CS -- but tactically it's very different due to magical options that, for instance, allow you to teleport through walls, fly through the air, plant a magical tree that heals wounds, raise your companions from the dead, or summon a demon that will attack any enemy within a given radius. Take all those strategies you've developed in other shooters and throw them out the window, because the "Shadowrun" experience throws several wrenches into those gears. In addition to the magic, there are technical enhancements that are likewise bought during the pregame period; the more tech you have, the less capacity you have for doing magic, and vice versa.
In short, "Shadowrun" is likely to appeal most to seasoned CS gamers who are looking for something a little different. And when I say "seasoned," I mean experienced players -- those who already have a lot of experience with CS will have an easy time with the pre-game ritual of buying and assigning magic and tech, a system that seems to have been deliberately designed to intimidate first-time players. And, in fact, the early returns from the hardcore gaming press are quite favorable about the version of the game they saw in beta-testing. However, what's really garnering headlines is the fact that "Shadowrun" is the world's first cross-platform shooter: you can play the console version against PC players running the Windows Vista version, and vice versa. Now obviously there are a ton of balancing issues when you try to get console and PC gamers playing on an equal footing, especially with something like a shooter where precise control is the difference between winning and losing. And, most likely, it will take weeks or months before the definitive verdict is in on whether "Shadowrun" plays equally well on both platforms. I've only played the console version, so I'm not one to judge, but people who have played both report that there are reasons to like the game on both platforms. No doubt this will be a hotly-debated topic in the game's first months of life, and if nothing else you can look forward to hopping on the forums and joining the debate.
"Shadowrun" tries to be good at one thing -- online multiplayer -- and it largely succeeds, but unfortunately a lot of stuff was left on the cutting room floor. It's hard to fathom that a property with such a rich back-story would be developed into a game that lacks a single-player mode or anything resembling a storyline. If you want to get an in-depth taste of the "Shadowrun" universe you have to look for it online, which is a poor substitute for experiencing it first-hand within the game itself. As good as the game is as an FPS, there remains the lingering sense that it might have been better as an RPG, or even an MMO. But who knows; maybe the next game in the Shadowrun universe will be built by Bioware. What you see here is what you get: a frenetically-paced multiplayer shooter that takes CS conventions and turns them on their head. And in the end, that's not so bad.
Graphics: 7. Some of the characters could have used a little more detail, but the maps are often gorgeous.
Sound: 6. Just the basics.
Gameplay: 7. Extremely fast, with some innovative details.
Story: 0. Story? Hah! We don't need no stinkin' story (even though there was an extremely rich source to draw from).
Replayability: 7. The various permutations of magic make this a shooter that keeps on giving.
Overall: 7. "Shadowrun" is a good shooter that might have been a great RPG.
Shadowrun Xbox 360 Review