I remember the day I picked Shadowrun from the local store; I was walking home from the bus stop when I ran into a fellow gamer. He noticed the Xbox 360 game in my bag and asked me what it was. "Shadowrun," I said, not expecting to have to explain it.
"Shadowrun?" he asked. "What's that?"
I think that's when I realized that this game, and the IP/license itself, is a bit more under the radar for the current generation of gamers. I just assumed that people knew about it because I've been familiar with the name for years - from my days of tabletop/pencil-and-paper gaming. It was (and still is) a relatively popular tabletop role-playing game, but the community that plays such games is rather small compared to the mainstream gaming community.
Shadowrun is a team-based first-person shooter that supports up to 16 players or bots in a given match. It focuses primarily on online play, though system link, offline bot battles and training sessions also are available. It's also designed to support cross-platform play via Xbox Live/Windows Live; players can join the same online games whether they're playing on an Xbox 360 or a Windows Vista PC. Xbox 360 players are required to have an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play online, but Vista players have the option to play with a free Silver account - just with fewer bells-and-whistles associated with the online service if they go that route.
Now, I'm aware that there has been a fair bit of angst and gnashing of teeth from the fans of the RPG due to the fact that this game is not, at all, part of that genre, but is very much an FPS - it goes to third-person when wielding a katana or carrying an artifact, but it's mainly first-person. I wasn't too thrilled when I heard the announcement that it wasn't going to be an RPG. Still, I kept an open mind.
There have been complaints that FASA has played fast and loose with the license and isn't being faithful to the source material. The game is earlier in the timeline than the RPG; the timeline has been changed; the abilities in the game aren't accurate; etc. These complaints are more valid. However, does it make this game bad?
I could spend my time arguing these points, or I could just look at the game and ask: Is it good? Is it fun? Do I enjoy playing it?
I do wish the Ork race had been included along with the other iconic Shadowrun races. Those included are: Humans (of course), Elves, Dwarves and Trolls. They all seem quite well-balanced (though not equal in popularity by any means) and provide for a different play experience depending on which you've chosen.
I kept informed about the game before release. My interest wavered between lukewarm to warm. But, good press from the beta players and finding it on sale pushed me over the edge.
Some things I'd heard still concerned me - the weak single-player portion of the game, which consisted of training/tutorial sessions and bot battles but no campaign of any kind. I almost reconsidered, but the online multiplayer portion intrigued me so much that I took the plunge. Another mollifying factor was the advanced artificial intelligence of the bots I'd been hearing about; they are indeed pretty good, save for a few path-finding issues in some of the more complex maps (and they get pretty complex, believe me).
Playing with and against bot teams on a medium difficulty setting is still a challenge for me at times. And although some may snicker at that, the bots have better teamwork skills than the average team of live players, from what I can tell. They are good at calling out enemy positions and using support abilities, and they are pretty deadly in a fight. When I call for a rez (a magical ability purchasable by characters in order to raise fallen comrades), I usually get one.
The tutorial chapters are good and have plenty of useful information. Achievements are also awarded for each chapter completed. Overall, it's not something a new player should pass up, especially if one doesn't read the manual. That said, it still surprises me how many players online admit that they haven't bothered to go through the training, and they keep asking questions that would have been answered by both the manual and the training. Just go through it, people; you'll thank me later.
This game has an unusual level of depth and thought to it, such that training becomes all the more important. You may be a veteran of other shooter games and think you don't need another tutorial; those who think so are mistaken. This is actually one of the things that attracted me to the game; even if someone is not the greatest at the "twitch" skills associated with this genre, it's still possible to do well through proper knowledge and application of the various abilities, by knowing the limitations and advantages of the various races, weapons, technology and magic abilities, by using sound tactics and by having good teamwork. The best players aren't always the ones with the highest number of kills.
The game tracks what happens during the match and awards cash for use at the beginning of each round in a given match -first to win six rounds wins the match - in order to purchase weapons, technology and magic. Race is decided when joining the match and cannot be changed until the start of a new match. One does not have to score the killing blow in order to get bonus cash for a kill; doing damage will still get you something. Other ways to get bonuses include carrying the artifact (kind of like a flag in a capture-the-flag game, only you can hit people with it), scoring with said artifact by taking it to the exit point for your side when playing certain game types, healing people by using the Tree of Life magic, rezzing them, etc. It's possible to be leading the team in terms of a bonus score in a given match while having zero kills.
I should also point out something related to this, which is a downside for some, and a positive thing for others: This game has no leaderboards, no stat rankings for public display, etc. It does use a hidden Trueskill system to help match players when searching for public games, but the numbers used are not available for public view. Personally, I like it this way. I play for fun, not to see my name at the top of some list that most people would probably glitch or cheat to reach the top - quit matches they're losing because it might affect their rank, etc. This removes a lot of elitism associated with the genre, a lot of the poor sportsmanship and other similar issues. People have to wait to actually play a game with you in order to judge your abilities, rather than go by some number on a list that doesn't necessarily provide a good representation of skill and ability, let alone less quantifiable attributes such as teamwork.
Races have different attributes, affecting performance in different ways, and each has a special ability unique to that race.
The attributes are: Strength (affects melee damage and ability to wield heavy weapons without being slowed down), Speed, Essence (fuels magic abilities and is reduced by having tech abilities equipped) and Health.
Humans are middle-of-the-road as far as attributes go. They have some interesting bonuses in addition to being flexible all-rounders: They receive little or no penalty to Essence for having tech abilities assigned (up to three abilities can be assigned to the controller's bumpers and left trigger, and others can be quick-cast from a radial menu). Also, they start with $500 more than anyone else at the start of a match, allowing them to choose a standard-price ability and still have enough left for a gun (everyone starts with a pistol for free and can carry two weapons at a time). They are not very popular online, but I personally like them, and they are my second choice when I play.
Elves: What can I say, they're like the cool kids in school that you love to hate ... and everyone wants to be one. They're the most popular race online, bar none. I don't think they're overpowered necessarily, it's just that people love elves in general, and they like being the speedy ninja/assassin-style character, running around hacking people with their katanas and then teleporting away, turning to smoke or some other stealthy escape tactic. Elves are naturals at the hit-and-run play style. They are the fastest race, while possessing the lowest Strength, meaning they are slowed down to an extent by anything heavier than a katana and pistol. Equip an elf with a minigun, and he moves like he's slogging through quicksand. They have high Essence, but take a hefty penalty for equipping tech abilities, though many elf players will accept the loss in order to take Wired Reflexes, making them the fastest thing around. They also have the ability to use their Essence to regenerate health out of combat, given some time without being attacked. Other races must rely on outside means to heal, via the Tree of Life magic. Expect to see a good 50 to 75 percent of the average online team to consist of elves, most wielding katanas.
Dwarves are a surprisingly fun bunch of guys to play as, with some interesting abilities. I didn't think I'd like them as much as I do. They are probably the second most popular race, after elves. They are quite strong, can handle heavy weapons with minor slowdown at worst. They are fairly average health-wise but can withstand a shot to the head that would kill any other race. They also have the highest starting Essence score in the game, but it works a bit differently with them; they regenerate Essence very slowly on their own but have the ability to drain it from others, or from magical constructs, simply by standing near them. They have to be a short distance from an enemy to drain them, but right next to an ally if they want to borrow some Essence. They can destroy summoned creatures, such defensive constructs as Strangle crystals or Trees of Life, etc. (This is a common mistake of many new dwarf players, standing too close to the Tree and making it go poof too soon.)
Trolls: Last but not least, the brutes of the game. My favorite race ever since I played the tabletop RPG version of Shadowrun; these fellows are an impressive sight but a popular target for enemy bullets due to their large size. They have the highest amount of Health, and they need all of it to survive, especially since they move slower than any other race. On the other hand, due to their massive strength, they are not slowed at all by heavy weaponry. They also have the ability to use their modest allotment of Essence to harden their skin against attacks when damaged, though this slows them down even more. A troll with full Essence is much harder to kill than one with no Essence remaining, so watch out for dwarves and anti-magic devices. The Tree of Life magic is a troll's best friend, allowing them to regain health while standing near it.
Players are on one of two sides, generally placed there automatically according to game-balancing needs, unless playing a private or solo match. RNA Corp. wears blue uniforms and are generally of a sleeker, more clean-cut appearance, while the ragtag freedom fighters known as the Lineage favor red attire and tribal markings or tattoos. There are two models/skins for each race, one for each faction. That's about it for customization of appearance.
Some basic background info on the conflict: Magic is re-emerging in the world, and Santos, Brazil, is a focal point for this, with ancient artifacts of power being unearthed in the ruins of older civilizations. RNA wants to harness the forces of magic there for their own profit, while the Lineage wants to prevent that from happening.
The conflict is reflected in the game maps and modes/game types. Some of the maps take place around unearthed ruins, others are in more urban areas of Santos, and still others are high-tech, glossy interiors depicting areas controlled by RNA. Some of the maps are simpler than others: Lobby and Powerstation, which the beta-testers had access to, have been described as being "beginner" maps meant to get players used to navigating these areas, before going to the more complex ones. My favorite map thus far is probably Maelstrom, where the battle centers around an old temple-like area set high in the mountains with multiple cloud layers that players can pass through and precarious, rocky areas where clumsy players can fall to their deaths, or perhaps be Gusted off the nearest edge by a magic-wielding opponent.
The game types consist of Raid, Extraction and Attrition; with the first two being the most representative of the game as it is intended to be played.
Attrition is more of a "just for fun" type of mode, basically a deathmatch where players don't have to worry about fighting over the Artifact - the focal point of the other modes - and mainly just try to kill the other side off. Normally, bodies of downed opponents stick around until they are "cleared" by the other team, generally by doing damage to them until they disappear. When that happens, they can no longer be resurrected. In Attrition, bodies can't be cleared, and the main challenge is to take down everyone on the opposing team before they can revive each other. Grabbing the Artifact in this mode allows the wielder to see the location of all enemies ... and they can see whoever is holding the Artifact.
Raid and Extraction both revolved around possession of the Artifact (think of capture the flag). If it's a Raid map, it means that RNA has to defend the Artifact from theft, while Lineage has to grab it, and escape to the exit point to win the round. In Extraction, both sides are vying to get to the Artifact and run off with it first. The winning side gets bonus cash overall, and the players who actually ran the Artifact will get more credit.
Bonuses are handed out for other things as well, such as healing or rezzing teammates, doing damage to the enemy (there is no real kill-stealing, because whoever does most of the damage for a kill gets most of the bonus cash) and generally helping out the team. More money means the ability to purchase more weapons, tech, magic, etc. If you die, you lose your weapons but not your tech and magic, so people usually buy something like that in the first round and just use the pistol while saving up for the bigger weapons or more expensive abilities.
Regarding techniques...we know about the obvious ones: Tree of Life heals people who stand near it (it's an actual, glowing tree that springs up when you cast it), and Rez is pretty self-explanatory. If the rezzer dies, the player who was revived starts to bleed out and has to get someone else to cast it on them before they die. The bleeding can be stopped while near a Tree, but that's a temporary solution. Some of a rezzer's Essence is "held" (not usable) while a rez is active. Dwarves make good rezzers for this reason, with their high Essence scores, and Elves have plenty to draw upon, as well (though the elf players don't like taking Rez, usually, preferring to use it for their self-healing racial ability or escape/mobility magic).
It's also possible to do things like Summon a minion to defend an area or attack someone or Strangle an area with spiky crystals that damage and slow down whoever touches them - both good defensive magics.
Say you're standing on a high catwalk or balcony, and you need to get down to the ground floor in a hurry. Falling hurts and it could kill you. Still, if you're healthy enough, you could toss a Tree of Life down at the bottom and hope you didn't get shot before having a chance to heal from the fall. Or, why not use that Gust spell to cushion your fall? Time it correctly, and it'll create a cushion of air that prevents falling damage right before you hit the bottom. Don't have Gust? Then how about Smoke? This turns the caster's body to a smoky form that can't be harmed by anything physical ... but Gust becomes deadly to you and can knock you out of Smoke form, as well. It drains Essence while active, and makes Essence slower to regenerate in general when the ability is equipped but has the added perk of making you harder to see with the Enhanced Vision tech (an x-ray vision type of thing), and falling damage is negated when it's active. Teleport can get you down there faster, as well; just crouch and hit Teleport to go straight down, right through the floor. Or, if tech is more your thing, just activate your Glider wings, and float down to safety. Or port out into the air first and then Glide. Or trigger the boost ability on the Wired Reflexes tech (this damages the user slightly but provides a higher rate of speed than the passive version for a couple of seconds), do an accelerated leap and then hit the Glider for some added flight time, etc. Starting to see the possibilities?
It can be tough having speedy, low-health teammates constantly zipping into your line of fire in their attempts to dodge around, slash the enemy and various glory-hound tactics, and you lose money if you engage in friendly fire, tempting though the prospect is. What to do? Smartlink tech will help in this regard, with a handy IFF system built in that will prevent the user from firing if currently targeting a friendly. It also helps manage recoil without losing accuracy, while assisting in your ability to track the target with your reticule (this can actually make headshots harder, though, since it just tracks the opponent's body, so know when to turn it off). The laser sight it generates can give away position, so just turn it on when needed.
Tired of people using magic to get away from you, heal themselves, harden their skin and so on? Try the Anti-Magic Device tech, or "Dwarf in a Bottle," as I call it. Toss this sucker, and it'll generate an Essence-draining field to dampen those magic abilities. It's cheaper than most, too, and incurs no Essence loss, since it's basically just like a grenade variant.
Any race can use any magic or tech, but some are better-suited for a given race than others. Trolls are better off not being used as the team's main rezzers, for example; they need the Essence free for their skin-hardening ability and to handle tech penalties if they have any equipped, since their total is not very high. Tree of Life works better for them, especially if they cast it prior to battle.
Weapons are fairly standard, though seemingly more carefully balanced than in the average FPS. The starting weapon is the pistol, which is never dropped, though it becomes inaccessible when carrying two other weapons, until one is dropped. Others are the shotgun, rifle, SMG, katana, minigun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher. Players get two grenades at the start of every round and can take more from nearby bodies.
Rocket launchers can be overpowering in other games, but this one is balanced out by being very expensive, heavy, slow to load and fire, etc. It is very damaging and explodes in a radius, killing pretty much anything in that radius. It's wire-guided.
Miniguns are a fun type of heavy weapon that sees more use and is popular with trolls and dwarves. Using a Smartlink with one helps quite a bit; otherwise, teammates will be in the way very often, preventing you from using it fully, especially since it takes time to spin the barrel up to firing speed.
Katanas are a popular item - especially with those skinny, pointy-eared types - and are the only melee weapons other than smacking people with the Artifact or an empty gun. They can block other katana strikes if the wielder is facing the opponent and not attacking and can even block some bullets if Wired Reflexes is equipped. Catch an enemy from behind and unaware, and a strike will cause them to start bleeding out, meaning they have seconds to live. Guess who loves to do this?
Accuracy is partially determined by the weapon, and other factors are whether or not the shooter is moving, holding down fire for too long rather than using short bursts, or jumping. People used to getting away with "bunnyhopping" and scoring headshots may need to find another tactic; it won't work here. The game also doesn't have the degree of pinpoint accuracy that PC FPSers are used to; the reticule is a circle of varying size, and shots land within that circle. The more variables messing with your accuracy, the more that circle expands. Fights tend to last longer, as well, though it's still possible to die quickly in a bad situation.
This is primarily an online game, and fortunately the community seems to be a relatively mature on average, compared to other online games I've tried. One tends to see a bit more good sportsmanship and teamwork here, and it is clearly encouraged by the nature of the game. I think the lack of leaderboards helps. People don't stress as much over a loss. I've run into a who few who do, but most folks are fairly cool about things, especially if you're clearly helping out the team; they won't care as much about you being a bad shot if you're handy with a rez or a Tree. And if they do yell at you for things that aren't really your fault, mute them or just find a different match.
One problem I've noticed is that parents are dropping the ball;- in a few cases, at least. This game is rated Mature for a reason: It says "Intense Violence" and "Blood" on the box, and they're not kidding. Blood spurts are actually used as a visual indicator of how much damage is being done, and whether or not you've scored a critical strike from behind with those katanas. People get hacked down in a spray of blood and then the corpses get destroyed, leaving behind a bloody smear. It's not intended for kids, so it bothers me when I hear the high-pitched, squeaky voice of a pre-teen over the headset.
I don't mind teens playing, especially the older ones - a lot of them are more mature than some of the hardcore twenty-somethings. If a kid isn't even a teenager yet, that's too much of a stretch between that and the recommended age, and it's not really fair to the other players. I've even heard kids who sounded like they were under 10. That's not cool, folks; watch your kids, and take some responsibility.
The single player offering is pretty minimal, as I said earlier, and while some people are perfectly happy with the fun that the advanced AI of the bot battles provides, I cannot recommend paying full price for this game unless you have Xbox Live. Also, some people feel that this game does not offer enough variety, despite the fairly deep game-play modes it does have. It's definitely an acquired taste and not for everyone. Those who prefer more of the run-and-gun free for all death matches with respawns and health/power-up/weapon pickups may want to look elsewhere. I believe there is a demo on Xbox Live (or will be soon), so try before you buy.
Whether or not the game looks good visually depends on who you talk to. I like the look of the characters and environments, especially the more exotic maps. I'd appreciate more variety in the look of the characters. It's an FPS, though, and it's important to have characters from a given side remain very recognizable to the opposition, so it's understandable to have such clearly defined visuals for each side and race. Who knows, maybe some DLC will vary things up a bit, too.
The effects are nice visually, and audio cues are well-done, down to the footsteps of nearby allies of enemies or warnings are called out (targeting an enemy and pressing up on the d-pad will call out the target and location, pressing left calls for help, right calls for a move to the location, etc.). Trolls blazing away with miniguns look pretty scary. Blood spatters and pools on the ground, pavement cracks are left behind from Trees of Life being planted, and vaporous wisps emanate from those who have Smoke equipped.
I like this game; I'm pretty addicted to it at the moment, despite an occasional connection trouble or listening to swearing matches between immature players. I do wish it had more to offer to those without access to the online play. It would also have been nice if it had started at a lower price point than the standard 360 pricing, especially since it is a first-party product and is rather specialized. I'm having fun and am not getting tired of the game thus far, so that's a good sign.
If you're on the fence about it, try the demo, rent the game, go play with a friend who has it, etc. If you like team-based play and online shooters, it's likely you'll find something appealing about this title. As with any game, just try to educate yourself about it before purchasing, and you're less likely to be disappointed. I did my research, bought the game and haven't looked back.