22 Reviews

Shadowrun

Review: A level playing field isn't good enough

Shadowrun's been given a hard time, really. The knives have been out for FASA's shooter from day one, maybe because PC gamers have mixed feelings about playing with the console thralls, or maybe because the art style is really bad. The fact that it's being released during the Halo 3 multiplayer beta probably doesn't help its chances either.

Shadowun isn't actually a bad game, it's just been thrust in to the spotlight a little too much for what is essentially fantasy Counter-Strike for consoles.

As pen and paper nerds will no doubt spot straight away, the game is based on the long-running RPG of the same name, which sees normal men transformed into elves, trolls and the rest after a massive magical accident. Perhaps not the ideal franchise to turn in to a deathmatch shooter, but at least it's not set in World War II.

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If you've ever played Counter-Strike you'll understand Shadowrun's formula straight away. It's all round-based, so when you're dead you're stuck in a spectator seat. Weapons are purchased with cash accumulated from killing opponents and winning the round; you can also pick up new equipment and magic abilities with your cash.

In this very bog-standard shooting environment the game's many magic abilities are the star of the show. There's a teleport that lets you zap across the map in the style of X-Men's Night Crawler, even allowing you to pass through walls and ceilings. In a similarly X-Men-ish fashion, the smoke ability allows you to transform in to a full-on smoke bloke, making projectile weapons useless.

This magic mischief makes for some interesting skirmishes. With a quick activation of smoke, two attacking opponents can take each other out as their bullets fly right through your smoky body. Any leftover stragglers can then be quickly dispatched with gust, which will fling them off the side of buildings Jedi Force push style.

In the support department magic and wizardry further shakes the shooter foundations; Trees of Life can be planted instantly on the battlefield healing anyone in the vicinity. As you can imagine this lovely plant quickly becomes a sniper's best friend.

Resurrect provides the biggest strategy shake-up out of the lot. Using this ability can bring up to two downed team-mates back from the dead - but only as long as you stay alive yourself. With this ability in the hands of your opponent, a lot more thinking power is required. In a one-on-one situation your enemy can quickly amass a small shooting squad of undead allies, so it's definitely important to make sure you've got this one in your magic bag.

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Unfortunately the rest of the formula isn't nearly as inventive. Weapons range from SMGs, to mini-guns, to third-person Katana combat. As is a running theme throughout Shadowrun, none of the guns are appalling enough to warrant being called useless, but none of them are particularly useful either.

The SMG, perhaps the bog-standard weapon in the roster, sprays bullets all over the place and feels about as powerful as a washing-up liquid bottle filled with water. Even the shotgun feels like a toy compared to that of other shooters.

Admittedly FASA has done a good job of balancing the controls between PC and console. On PC mouse movement doesn't feel as smooth as your average FPS and seems to skip slightly, but thankfully FASA has disguised its tricks well and Shadowrun doesn't feel as clunky as we expected. In fact, it controls very well.

Third-person sword combat naturally lends itself well to the comfort of a 360 pad, and sniping to a mouse and keyboard. But through a mix of joypad auto-aiming and mouse cursor dithering Shadowrun somehow manages to hit that balancing sweet spot, and what we're left with is essentially the same game on PC and Xbox 360.

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