Distribution issues aside, Shadowrun is a solidly average shooter that may appeal to hardcore fans looking for something a little bit different
Although it's practically impossible to be completely unbiased to a new release in this age of instant information, the chances are you've probably heard the Shadowrun name long before setting eyes on this review, and it'll be in one of two ways.
Gliding around can be a fun tactic to employ
Some of the level design is fairly inspired
Firstly you may have heard reference to, or even played, the aeons-old SNES title developed by FASA; based on the long running traditional RPG series of the same ilk. If this is the case, it really bares no relevance to the game presented here, and it'll probably be wise to drop any preconceptions about the series before sampling any of the action on offer. This is an FPS you see, and a controversial one at that.
The second manner in which you may have heard of Shadowrun comes from the long-running and rather troubled development cycle of the game, and the specific decision to reduce a complex RPG into a CounterStrike clone for next-generation consoles and PC. Depending on who you ask, the development of the title may or may not have led to the wholesale redundancies at the studio responsible in the last few weeks; hardly an auspicious manner to introduce a newly-envisioned franchise if it turns out to be correct.
Shadowrun then, is a shooter. More specifically, it's an online-focussed FPS which bares more than a striking resemblance to everyone's favourite Half-Life mod. Shorn of any need for a narrative, there is a stab at a tiny amount of back-story in the loading screens leading up to the tutorial and main levels, but if you're hankering for an epic storyline or any kind of notable atmosphere you definitely need to look elsewhere. On the same note, if you don't have an Xbox Live connection, there really is absolutely no point in picking this up whatsoever.
Single-player is limited to both matches on any of the nine included maps, and with a paltry three different game types on offer (single and multi-flag games, and a straight deathmatch option), it's difficult to see where the full retail price can be justified.
The focus then is firmly on the multi-player elements, and the few differentiating factors that make Shadowrun stand out from the pack. Somewhat predictably, the one vague success story to come out of this release can be attributed to the RPG-like magic system, and the effect this has on the play dynamics.
Teleporting is a staple skill, expect to see it a lot
Gust can be used to blow your enemies backwards and off ledges
You can choose up to three special skills and magic effects to assign to your controller at any time, purchased at the start of the round along with your chosen weaponry. The powers themselves are varied and interesting, all with a decent balance which never seems to lend one combination of offensive or defensive skills to be superior to another. Attacking players will want to choose from abilities such as the passive aiming upgrade 'SmartLink', and magical spells such as 'glider' and 'teleport', whilst defensive players can get stuck in with the rather self-explanatory 'resurrect' or 'tree of life', amongst several others.
In practice, this lends each match a different feel to the last, and when everything comes together it can be a very satisfying experience. Teleporting upwards through a building to take out a bunch of enemies before gliding over to the opposite rooftop to resurrect a fallen comrade is a fairly unique proposition amongst first person shooters, and the combination of different skills can be daunting, yet hypnotic in execution when timed correctly.
Choosing your initial skill set can also depend on which character class you wish to take into battle. There are a choice of four different races here, (elves, humans, trolls or dwarves), each with specific attributes to fit in to your preferred style of play. Trolls are the effective tank-class, Dwarves are hardy and can suck mana directly from opponents, elves are nimble and quick, whilst humans are a mixture of each. Each race also has it's own specialised abilities regarding the regeneration of mana, and you may find yourself picking a favourite early on. (for the record, the elves are clearly the way to go on this front)
Wrapped around a Live! Service that links PC and Xbox 360 players together for the first time (incorporating a party system similar to that of Halo or Perfect Dark), all of the above sounds like it should make for an excellent online shooter. The problem with ShadowRun isn't particularly one of concept then, but one of execution and delivery.
The problem with the execution is that Shadowrun simply doesn't feel finished on any level. Graphically, the engine is accomplished but with some alarming dips in quality throughout each map and a host of missing animations that lead to some oddly transitioned movements. Whilst the skills and magic abilities in and of themselves are well executed, basic combat just doesn't feel correct, with little power or weight sensation to any of the weaponry (the shotgun in particular is terrible). Part of that could be to do with the lacklustre sound effects, but simply running around on foot and firing at your enemies fails to satisfy to any decent degree, which is a pretty big issue for something that boils down to become a traditional shooter at heart.
Also, if ever there was a game to test digital distribution over the Xbox Live network, this was it; but for reasons unknown Microsoft doesn't seem keen to go down that route just yet. Paying full price for what amounts to a few maps and a couple of game-modes to play online is particularly galling, and hopefully the impending release of WarHawk on the Playstation Network will kick them into action if it proves a success. Whilst I can appreciate that Microsoft has to support a version of its console that doesn't contain a hard drive, it shouldn't detract from the fact that there are far more suitable distribution methods for this type of small game, and that the majority of owners will currently have the premium system to utilise such an initiative.
The tree of life spell heals any player to stand underneath it, regardless of allegiance
Sniping is as effective as ever
Distribution issues aside, Shadowrun is a solidly average shooter that may appeal to hardcore fans looking for something a little bit different. Whilst it may have been a daring move to shift the focus away from the origins of the series, the quality of the final product proves that to be a decision that needed a lot more consideration. Alienating your existing user base and creating little in the way of new followers is something that any license can do without, particularly one held in high esteem amongst gamers old enough to remember the original.
Top Game Moment:
TOP GAME MOMENT
Gliding up to the top of a building and taking photos with a sniper rifle.