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Microsoft Game Studios Shadowrun
- PC and Xbox players can go head to head, plenty of depth and strategy
- Nothing for the single player to sink their teeth into.
Read our first-ever cross-platform review of Shadowrun, the new online shooter that enables PC players to battle Xbox 360 players over Xbox Live.
Price$ 69.95 (AUD)
Shadowrun is an ambitious but almost tragically flawed game. For most players, Shadowrun's numerous gameplay advances will be outweighed by the game's demanding controls and repetitious nature, not to mention the asking price.
Let's tackle that crucial pricing issue right now. There can be no debate -- this is an outrageous price for a game that features virtually no offline mode. Even the first Unreal Tournament, an early online pioneer, had an entertaining single-player tournament. Shadowrun has none of this, aside from some rudimentary training modes and bot battles. If you don't have broadband, don't even think about buying Shadowrun.
Given the price and the absence of an offline mode, it's only natural to expect a world-class online experience. Sadly, this doesn't hold true for Shadowrun. One major irritant is the confounding on-screen interface, which strives to give you as little useful information as possible and yet somehow still manages to overwhelm your senses. For example: it's difficult to tell team colors apart, which makes for plenty of accidental team killing. A blunder as basic as this in an online-only game should not be happening in the year 2007. Assigning skills in the middle of the match is also a headache, and requires that you delve into multiple sub-menus and bind your abilities to one of three hotkeys...a suitable arrangement on the PC, perhaps, but not an elegant system for console players. It's true, it's true - practice makes perfect, but also don't forget what they say about making a good first impression.
So far, I've purposefully focused on the negatives because in many ways, Shadowrun is a great game trapped in the body of a bad one. Many of Shadowrun's most promising elements feel muted or compromised in one way or another. The spells and tech abilities are exciting but their implementation is complicated; the weapons are cool but the shooting mechanics feel mushy; the graphics technology is excellent but the art direction stinks. Throw in some bizarre grammar mistakes and even a voice-over blunder or two and you've got a game with a seriously compromised presentation. Given Shadowrun's steep learning curve and many rough spots, most inexperienced players won't give the game a second chance, which is a shame, given its clever twist on the online shooter genre.
...A pinprick of hope
If you can survive the first three or four hours and the training modes, you'll start to see Shadowrun's bright spots. Depressingly, match types in Shadowrun are mostly limited to Capture the Flag, and you won't find anything fancy such as vehicles or turrets. Despite the lack of variety, the various spells and race abilities add plenty of gameplay twists: teleporting through walls, draining magic essence, and summoning spiritual minions are only a few of the ways that Shadowrun distinguishes itself from online staples like Rainbow Six: Vegas and Halo 2 and 3.
Far from being a typical tactical shooter, the fast-paced Shadowrun is actually closer in spirit to an online team RPG that just so happens to include guns. This helps explain why bullet weapons are practically useless without the tech skill called Smartlink, which enhances precision and enables liberal auto-aim. But, such design choices also put an enthusiasm-dampening limit on character customization possibilities, because abilities such as Smartlink and Grenade (core skills that shooter veterans will want) will tie up two of your three available skill slots. Still, Shadowrun's possibilities are impressive; I hope FASA and Microsoft release some online updates in order to smooth out the game's irritating interface and expand on its gameplay promise. If so, Shadowrun could become a legitimate cult hit. Until then, I'll be sticking with Vegas and Halo.
For half the price, Shadowrun would be a worthwhile online shooter, even if it is a little rough around the edges. As it stands, it's hard to make a glowing recommendation about a game at this price that includes virtually no offline mode, lacks variety in its weapons and match types, and suffers from rookie blunders in terms of presentation and interface. It all points to a rushed, chaotic development cycle.
Ah, well. There's always Shadowrun 2...right?
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