Shadowrun, as many of you will know, started life as an excellent paper and dice role playing game. Over the years, it has remained in relative obscurity (a few exceptions to this rule exist, most notably the excellent Super Nintendo game and a more hardcore Megadrive title); now the license has been dusted off and used by Fasa Studio.
The Xbox 360 is a platform crying out for a decent RPG, so naturally Fasa have made a team-based first person shooter. Let's get this out of the way straight off: Shadowrun, the 360 game, bears only a passing resemblance to anything Shadowrun-related; even the art style is some way off what fans would really expect. The storyline is vaguely the same in that an ancient magic has reawakened and humans start mutating into and giving birth to magical creatures (remember we did say vaguely).
Another thing to be aware of is that this review comes at quite a lengthy period after the initial release and as such we are in essence reviewing Shadowrun V 1.2. Due to the two very good patches that have been made available, the game is a very different place from that of a few months ago.The title itself is designed to be a completely multiplayer affair and, apart from bot matches, there is no single player mode available - something that never seemed to bother Quake 3 Arena too much. The result is a highly focused and highly skillful team-based combat game.
There are two main game types available: 'Attrition' has your team simply trying to wipe out the other team while 'Extraction' is the Shadowrun version of capture the flag, only this time with a magical artefact. A slight variation on Extraction is 'Raid', which has one side trying to remove the artefact while the other team defends the position. Each team has a choice of four different races to choose from: humans are good all-round characters with the added advantage of suffering no penalty to magic when they have tech equipped; trolls have high health and can take huge amounts of damage but little magic power; elves are quick but weak with a lot of magic power; and dwarves have the most magic, need two head shots to kill, are almost impossible to 'bleed out' (thanks to the patch) but are the second weakest race in terms of health.
Each race, when used properly, can be highly effective; on the other side of the coin, in the wrong hands, any race can die within about three seconds of a game starting. As well as the choice of race, players can equip their characters with both magic and tech items which must be bought between rounds. This is where the team responsibility comes into effect; if no one buys a tree of life to heal allies, or resurrection to bring people back to life, chances are you will not last long.The magic and tech can be combined in near limitless ways and can really help to customise a character that suits your playing style.
Already, people online have worked out combinations that may seem a little odd but, when used correctly, are nearly unstoppable. Magic ranges from summoning huge demons to attack your enemies to the very subtle 'Gust' magic used to push your enemy away from you. Tech is equally wide-ranging, spanning devices that let you see through walls, put laser sights on your weapons or use a glider to leap out of harm's way. All require mastery and any can be the difference between life and death.Weapons available are fairly standard items such as shotguns, SMGs, sniper rifles and rocket launchers. The most interesting are the katana which can be used to sneak behind opponents and, if caught unaware, 'bleed' them out. This causes their health to rapidly drain away unless they are resurrected by an ally.
The battle rifle is also worth a mention as not too many games have a highly effective mid-to-long range steady fire rifle. Shadowrun has a fairly small collection of maps, one of which is randomly selected each time a new match begins. It is lucky, then, that all of the maps are of a decent to excellent standard. Even now, ledges and hiding places in the multi-tiered maps are still being discovered. The need to select different weapons, magic and tech depending on the map also remains crucial.
Shadowrun has set aside its heritage and aimed to be a highly flexible, highly skilled team-based online shooter, and it achieves that very well. After the patches, servers are much more stable (though lag does occur a touch too often) and the races have really been levelled out against each other which makes a huge difference to the experience. The biggest problem with a game of this type is that, although the tools may be excellent, there are always going to be some absolute morons online spoiling it for everyone. Thankfully, there seem to be more decent players than annoying ones, but it only takes one idiot to ruin the fun.
The title may seem somewhat limited in terms of options and a general finesse, but what is there works almost perfectly and, in our mind, is one of the finest online multiplayer experiences available. If you look past the tenuous link to the license and the admittedly dodgy art design, you may just find a game that is quite unlike any other, and is excellent to boot.