One of the first RPGs that I got into was Cyberpunk. Instead of having a traditional fantasy setting where you wore armor, carried around swords and slung spells, we carried around guns, wore leather jackets and carried credsticks. It was a unique universe and, while it had some elements of high fantasy, it was decidedly set in a world that could potentially be what ours looks like in the future.
However, there was another incredibly popular license that gamers enjoyed. Shadowrun was set in a similar universe, with technology and magic running side by side with each other. Races that pen-and-paper gamers were familiar with, such as Dwarves and Elves, were still commonplace in this world. This world has been realized in video games in the past, but has only been mediocre. So, when it was announced that Shadowrun would be making its way to the XBOX 360 and the PC, fans of the series were, needless to say, excited. The game wasn't what was expected though – instead of an RPG of some type, it was made as an online-only first-person shooter (not counting the very forgettable offline bot matches). Despite this, the game does indeed still have potential, as it heralded Microsoft's new initiative to allow Xbox 360 and PC gamers to play games together.
The first thing anyone will want to tackle are the training missions. While many first person shooters are horribly easy to understand (run around, blow people up, get points, win), Shadowrun does have some unique elements. First of all, you're going to have Magic and Tech stuff to buy along with your weaponry. This seems to come at a cost, though – while the tech and magic selections are pretty nice and add to the gameplay, there is very little weapon variety. You have your typical weapons, ranging from a pistol at the low end to a rocket launcher at the high end. The only real weapon that stands out is the katana, and only because your melee weapon in these types of games is a piddly knife of some kind.
The magic and tech abilities you can pick from, though, add a great bit of variety into the game. Lets first look at one of my favorite items, enhanced vision. Where most first person shooters frown upon any sort of mod that lets you see through walls, the enhanced vision ability lets you, at least for a limited time, see enemies within a certain range of you. Sure, they might only show up as small blips on the screen (unless you're pretty close), but it can allow you to see if you're about to be ambushed. One of the spells, teleport, seems to work well with this. If you see enemies on the other side of a wall, just run up to it, teleport through it and get the jump on them instead. However, one of the most unique abilities in the game is the Resurrect spell. While the game could have just had resurrected players come back to life, the developers didn't see fit to run with such a simple system. You see, you're linked to the person that tosses the resurrect your way – if they die, you start to lose life at a rapid rate. This small touch encourages teamwork and makes people want to stick together so their savior doesn't die, giving the other team a huge advantage.
Also, you'll pick from one of four different races at the start of a match. You can choose to be a human, who can make better use of these varying tech items. Another race offering is the elf – while they are weaker overall (both in lower amounts of health and ability to use heavier weapons), they will regenerate health if they take damage, leading to a potential hit and run style of play. Next up is the troll, a total opposite of the elf. Instead of being thin and dexterous types, they're huge, massive brawny types. They can pick up the heavier weapons and use them well and have stupidly high amounts of health, but they have less essence (think mana) for using spells. Finally, dwarves – they aren't your typical dwarves, that's for sure. While they aren't weak by any means, they're much more magical than typical dwarves. They have more essence than elves, but just suck at regenerating it. Instead, they steal essence from people around them. Each race is pretty well balanced when looked at alongside the others, making the choice based more on your playstyle instead of what race is overpowered
Even with all these fun weapons, gadgets and different races to choose from, the lack of good gameplay modes and solid maps can ruin a game. This is where Shadowrun falters after an initially strong showing out of the gate. First, the gameplay modes are limited. You can either have both sides trying to capture an artifact (think flag) and attempt to escape the map with it, have one side defend the artifact while the other tries to escape with it, or just have one team try to eradicate the other. The problem with this is that, even on the capture-the-artifact maps, you can just eradicate the other team to win. If there's going to be a mode that involves destroying the other team, there needs to be something that sets apart the other modes – not just an extra win condition. Why couldn't the “defend the artifact” mode be something more like what we've seen in the Battlefield series where you defend various map points? However you look at it, the game modes are seriously lacking.
Another area where the game stumbles is the lack of map variety. The major problem with the XBOX 360 version is that most games seem to run on all of a few different maps – the system loads using a Halo-style matchmaking system instead of letting you choose a server to play on. This system seems to have a tendency to pick from the same couple of maps – in multiple games, I only ever saw two different maps. I'd like to have seen the other ones, and hopefully will later down the line – but for now, I couldn't. At least the PC version (from what I hear) alleviates this somewhat since you can pick a server to play on instead of using the often-slow matchmaking system.
Overall, the actual game itself is pretty fun. The magic and tech abilities are good fun and, while the weapons don't have much variety, they are at least balanced. However, the lack of variety when it comes to game modes and maps is what makes this game a mere shadow of what it could have possibly been. While Shadowrun is far from a bad game, it also doesn't get anywhere near being a good one, either – there's just too much missing in the way of overall variety. At the very least, this game is well worth renting – the tech and magic abilities make for a first-person shooter that feels significantly different from the standard fare. If only there were actually more to it.