July 17, 2007

Shadowrun has gone through a veritable roller-coaster of opinions and hype since the day it was announced with most of gamers’ issues focused around what the game was not – an RPG. Now that it’s here and getting good playing time from us 360 owners, it’s easier to say what it is – a fun, slightly innovative First-Person Shooter that works better on the console than on the PC. Let’s dive into what this game has to offer the 360’s Halo-worshiping FPS fan-base.

Take a futuristic, urban cyberpunk scene, mix in some mythical races (Elves, Dwarves, and Trolls), and add high-tech weapons, along with the rediscovered power of magic and you’ve defined Shadowrun’s unique setting (borrowed from the tabletop role-playing game of the same name). It’s an intriguing backdrop to pair with a FPS and FASA, the game’s developers, have used the source material wisely and with abandon.

In some ways, the sheer variety of character options has made Shadowrun a bit off-putting for newcomers. You’ll first need to determine your character’s race: Elf, Human, Dwarf, or Troll, each of which brings specific bonuses and penalties, then you’ll be faced with the selection of up to 3 specific technical aides or magical powers to enhance your latent racial characteristics. For example, Elves are quick movers, they can regenerate their ‘essence’ (the energy source for magic or tech), and they heal fairly quickly once they’re out of combat. You have several weapons to choose, from automatic machine-guns to down-n-dirty shotguns form the ballistic line-up and there’s even a katana for those who really like their combat up close and personal.

Once you’ve purchased your weapon (in between match rounds), you’ll decide which high tech gizmo or magical spell should round out your combat package. These arcane abilities or futuristic enhancements are the heart and soul, along with the racial characteristics, of what makes the game so compellingly unique compared to other more mundane shooters. Magically oriented players can choose from an intriguing mix of spells including this partial list: Smoke, which turns you mostly incorporeal for a period of time, Teleport, which works like it sounds, Tree of life, which grows a temporary, health-giving tree wherever you cast it, and Summon, which brings an ethereal baddie to fight for you. Gear-heads will enjoy amping their aiming abilities with the Smartlink cyber connection which tightens your controller’s aim-range, Enhanced Vision, which gifts you with Superman’s X-ray vision to see foes through walls or buildings, a Glider that supplements your jumps with a short-lived but useful flying boost, and the Anti-Magic Generator, which as you guessed, nullifies magical power in a limited range for a short time. I’ll let you discover the others yourself.

Shadowrun was developed for both PC and the 360, though it feels and controls far more smoothly on the console version. Designers have tweaked the Xbox 360’s throw distance and analog-stick detection software as well as providing a better Auto-aim assist to help console gamers better compete against their mouse/keyboarding wielding computer foes in cross-platform play. I was able to hold my own with the 360-controller against the vaunted mouse/keyboard control scheme, so it would appear that they’ve achieved success in supressing the controller’s weaknesses and mitigating its inherent limitations. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the overall experience of cross-platform conflict. Lag seemed to plague most servers where Vista players appeared and the number of PC gamers online in any given server was far less than 360 combatants, though that’s not entirely unexpected due to the Vista-only requirements for PC gamers. The server browser itself wasn’t terribly impressive or remarkably detailed but, for the most part, it worked as expected. FASA has thrown in the ability to maintain a group from server to server but it didn’t appear to work consistently – sometimes our group of fraggin’ partners would end up together, other times, (particularly in smaller servers), we’d be split up. It wasn’t a deal-breaker but it’s disappointing that it was so tricky for gamers to play together on the same team in a server.

One other small gripe about the game is the cost itself at $59.99 for only nine maps and three game modes – two of which are capture the flag style games based around an artifact and the other is basically Team Deathmatch. As if that wasn’t disappointing enough, the game appears slightly unfinished in general, particularly the player animations which have a floaty, sliding feel to them as they move around the game world. I couldn’t help but feel that this was a concession to smooth framerates despite the bland texturing in large portions of the game. One positive in all this are the well-made maps. Though you don’t get many, they’ve been highly tweaked to handle all the bizarre enhancements your character can use during battle and they seem particularly well-balanced in this regard.

It all comes down to the fun factor once you’ve powered off your Xbox 360. Was the experience somewhat enjoyable? In Shadowrun’s case, I’d say ‘yes, I had a good time.’ Was it an ‘extremely polished AAA-title’ fun? No. In light of the current crop of excellent FPS shooters available on the 360, it’s hard to recommend Shadowrun as a top-tier shooter but it’s still a reasonably good time especially if you’re looking for something just a wee bit different.

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.