Shadowrun has been a constant source of debate in the gaming community since last year’s E3, and for good reason. Many question the input device parity inherent in a cross-platform shooter, while even more have taken exception to the idea that their beloved pen and paper RPG franchise has been turned into a first-person shooter. More than a lot of games, most of the chatter has been largely abstract, highly divorced from the actual experience of playing the game.
Since the NDA on the beta has been lifted a few weeks back however, more and more people are starting to pay attention to the complex beast that Shadowrun really is. Make no mistake; this is no Gears of War we’re talking about here. It might look like a simple fantasy game with guns, but the depth that underlies its gameplay is deceptive, almost to a fault. It takes a couple hours to really even begin to understand the tactical possibilities that underlie the game, though the experience of figuring it out is refreshingly cerebral.
The setup for the game is heavily reminiscent of Counter-Strike. Before each match, you pick one of four races, which function more or less as a class, with their own specific quirks and powers. Dwarves are very magic heavy for instance, while Trolls tend to be the hardier gluttons for punishment. Matches are composed of six individual rounds, and at the beginning of each round, you have the option to purchase weapons, magic, and tech upgrades. There are no respawns in the middle of rounds, so victory hinges on either completing the objective or eliminating all of the enemy team members. Having the ability to resurrect fallen teammates adds to the dynamic somewhat, but matches more or less play like a round a CS.
As the match goes on, your magic and tech upgrades will stay with you, but you only retain your weapons if you survived the preceding round. Finding a play-style that you are comfortable with and which complements the abilities of your teammates is vital to having a positive experience with the game. While it’s often tempting to pick a speedy elf and go after the opposition with the katana, you can’t do everything, and the proper balance of heavy weapons, magic, and tech is what’s going to win rounds for your team. Since most players to the game in the beta are still new, victory is heavily dependent on how familiar your team is with this notion of balance.
It remains to be seen what sort of dynamic the game will assume once players on both sides are well-versed in the game’s intricacies and the roles of their race. There are so many possibilities in terms of magic and equipment layouts that your success relies almost as much on the composition of the other team as it does player skill. Make no mistake, being quick on the draw here will still give you a great edge over your opponent, but it’s not the deciding factor. I’m not sure at this point whether this is something that’s going to hurt the game in the long run. You’re constantly rethinking your strategy as somebody pulls out some new trick against you, and it’s difficult to really become comfortable with a specific role.
In my brief time with the Shadowrun beta, I never really found a sense of comfort. While the game appeals to me on an intellectual level, I’m just unsure of the staying power they’re promising in the final package. The gameplay modes are relatively limited, and the number of maps isn’t particularly impressive – I’m just wondering how they’re going to go about selling this thing as a retail package. It seems aimed only really at the hardcore, not bothering to include a true single-player mode, and the multiplayer that is the game’s main and only selling point has yet to prove its long-term viability. At $40, the game might garner a certain appeal, but they’re charging full price for Shadowrun. I’d wait until the reviews start coming out on the final version before I plunked down any coin for this one.