Shadowrun Review
Shadowrun box art
System: X360, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: FASA Interactive / Microsoft Game Studios 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Microsoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: May 29, 2007 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-16 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Well enough was left alone

by Jonathan Marx

June 5, 2007 - When I first heard that one of my favorite pen and paper RPGs was coming out for the Xbox 360, I got giddy. When I learned that it was going to be a shooter, I was apprehensive. When I finally got my hands on the title, I was disappointed. The game plays well and looks nice, but it's very shallow. FASA Studios and Havoc squandered the opportunity to make a truly great gaming experience out of a one-of-a-kind concept. In theory, the game was supposed to revolutionize the shooter and do away with convention. In practice, it feels run-of-the-mill rather than ground-breaking. Shadowrun has solid graphics, gameplay, and features, but the lack of a single player mode and, subsequently, a story make for very little depth overall.

Shadowrun screenshot

The Shadowrun role playing world is a rich one, full of political intrigue and adventure. It is a dangerous world set in the near future. The Earth is wholly connected through incredible technological advance, while at the same time it is fractured by political, corporate, and magical forces. It is a world whose sentient population has been wiped out by disease and mutated into a multitude of races called metahumans. Dwarves, orks, trolls, gnomes, giants, and elves (to name a few) live side by side with their human ancestors. Even dragon lords have awoken from their long slumbers, deep under the earth, to quickly take the reigns and dominate international politics. It is a vibrant fantasy world that combines bio, computer, and nanotechnologies with ancient magic, races, and weapons. Certainly it is a world ripe for video game exploit. Unfortunately, none of this rich story is told, and the game suffers mightily.

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The developers did incorporate some neat features that make the game unique. Powers such as teleportation, smoke magic, and resurrection abilities make for interesting gameplay. For example, you could be shooting at a seemingly easy mark, only to have them vanish through a wall. If you are lucky enough to kill your target, be sure and riddle the corpse with bullets or the downed enemy may come back for revenge after being resurrected by a cohort. These magical abilities are governed by the amount of essence your character has. The casting of spells will drain your essence meter, but you will recover that essence over time. There are a host of other technology granted powers that make the game interesting as well. The player can purchase techs before the beginning of the round that will, for example, enhance their vision so they can see enemies through walls, or that will make their guns friendly-fire proof, or that will have them boost in the air and glide back down softly. There are many other magic powers and techs to choose from, but on the whole they don't seem to amount to much. Online fraggers are playing Shadowrun as they would Halo 2 or Call of Duty 3. It's pretty much a chaotic run and gun through levels that are less than great. People simply are not comfortable with the finer points of gameplay. Players seem to be using the Tree of Life often to heal themselves and their teammates, and minions are easily summoned so you find them on the battlefield quite often. Some of the more indirect powers are just not used yet. This game is familiar and easy to play, but will be much better once players use the game's options more readily. This is not really the player's fault though. It's really much easier to fill a retreating enemy full of lead rather than cast a minion to finish the job. Concomitantly, seeing through walls is great and all, but it doesn't prove to be particularly useful in a high-paced battle. Many of the unique options meant to revolutionize the battlefield just fall by the wayside. It's unfortunate, but true.

Shadowrun screenshot

As a player, you are only allowed to choose between four different races: humans, elves, trolls, and dwarves. These races are nicely recreated, each having certain advantages and disadvantages. This makes the game play slightly different depending on which race you choose. Humans are baseline characters. They have average strength, speed, and essence. Elves are slight in stature, but bring a lot of speed, and have the ability to heal if they run away and find a safe corner in which to recuperate. Trolls are big, brawny tanks. They have tremendous strength, so they can tote heavy weapons with ease. They are brutally slow, but can absorb massive amounts of damage by hardening their skin. Finally, dwarves are very strong with lots of essence. Dwarves are very useful due to their innate ability to absorb essence from other players and magical constructs. Dwarves can't take a whole lot of damage, but they can take a single headshot without dying. The races play distinctly, though all races can purchase and use all of the magic, weapons and techs that are available. However, specific skills and techs work much better with certain races. For example, my favorite character is a dwarf medic, for lack of a better term. I give him a shotgun, a glider, summon minion, and tree of life or resurrect depending on my teammates skill or my mood. This combo of attributes allows me to play along the periphery of a big battle, guard fallen comrades with a big bad demon, resurrect or heal them at my leisure, and blast any enemies that get too close. If I find myself in a sticky spot I just activate my glider and float out of harm's way. As you can see, the game will customize itself to your gaming style if you find the proper ability combinations and actually use them. There is sufficient variety and customization, but the addition of a couple more races and many more useful powers and techs would have been much better. Regrettably, I'm sure Microsoft wanted the developers to hold off on the release of more characters and abilities so that they could sell them to us later in the form of downloadable content or an expansion. If that's the case, it is very unfortunate indeed. I'm not sure the game will sell well enough to merit additional content.

Shadowrun screenshot

Gameplay, for the most part, revolves around two capture-the-flag scenarios between opposed forces. Instead of a flag, Shadowrun uses an ancient artifact of mystical power, but because of the lack of story and drama in the title, I'll call it a flag. The two squads are Lineage and RNA security forces; essentially it's Red Vs. Blue. "Extraction" engagements pit Lineage versus RNA forces in an attempt to secure the artifact, and bring it back to a team specific extraction point. "Raid" engagements have Lineage trying to secure the flag and bring it back to their extraction point, while RNA simply needs to eliminate the invading threat. The final engagement type is called "Attrition." This is the simplest mode, as each team tries to completely eliminate the other. If someone on your team is holding the flag then you will have knowledge of the exact locations of all enemies. These game types are fine, and I have had fun playing them, but the developers needed to give the players many more options. Additionally, these game types don't lend themselves to the use of snipers or the ability to set up a fortified headquarters. There is one level called Favela that is full of rooftops, but the main zones of battle are constantly moving, and a sniper never really has a chance to be a lethal factor, especially because it takes at least two hits to bring someone down, unless you make the perfect headshot. Even then, dwarves are given a pass. I would love to be able to head into the slums with RNA forces and root out the Lineage threat. Instead of controlling the artifact, there could have been turf battles over zones of control. Alas, there is very little to do here. Variety of gameplay is at a minimum.

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