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Review: Shadowrun

One of the few notable releases these hot summer months besides Forza Motorsport 2, Shadowrun had thus far failed to elicit widespread enthusiasm from gamers as it slowly crept towards its release. With the game in stores now for both Xbox 360 and Vista gamers to play online together, it is time to put the game under the microscope and see whether it’s worth our precious money.

Shadowrun tells the story of Santos, Brazil in 2021, where an ancient ziggurat of power has spawned, reintroducing age-old magic into the modern world. Along with all the magic, the hidden races of old step out of the void again as well, mingling elves, trolls and dwarves with humans, all with their own specific traits. Now the race is on to gain control of all that newfound power, as the global RNA corporation faces the rebellious Lineage faction who want to keep the magic freely available for all.

Putting Shadowrun in a confined genre box is hard, as it mixes a whole lot of different, previously strongly separated, styles together into one big bag of multiplayer mayhem. While the game was frequently touted as a mix between a RPG and a FPS, the game does not actually implement any RPG-like elements except possibly some elements of the fantasy theme common in RPGs. The final game is probably best described as a sci-fi fantasy FPS with magic, which is a respectable genre definition in itself. The main question is whether it works in the end.

Booting up the game you are presented with a menu that doesn’t even try to beat around the bush: this is a multiplayer game. The four options available are simply to run through the tutorials or play a solo, public or private match. No single player campaign at all, which could be fine ever since Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament pioneered the multiplayer-only concept in 1999. In theory, not having to spend time on campaigns, storylines and lots of scenario material like transition movies and the like gives the developer a chance to focus on perfecting multiplayer maps and game balance.

There is not much to fault in Shadowrun’s tutorial section. A total of six extensive tutorial chapters lead you through everything you need to know about the game, and consequently force you to put it to the test in real fighting situations in a bot match. Not a single topic is ignored, touching on all races, skills and spells available in the game, and while it can get hectic at times you really feel prepared for everything the game has to offer after completing them.

Solo matches allow you to try your skills against bot teams, assisted by bot teams. You can select any of the maps, any game mode, and just start blowing away. Public and private matches work as one would expect as well, with public matches allowing you to form a party to take on anyone with similar TrueSkill rankings on the internet and private matches pitting you and some invited friends against each other or AI-controlled bots. All matches are played as best-of-11 round-based affairs, with the first team winning 6 rounds to win the match.

At the beginning of a match all you need to do is pick a race out of the four available. They all have widely different traits, with trolls being tough but slow, elves fast but weak, dwarves strong yet handicapped for magic essence regeneration, and humans being the resident allrounders. As the game begins you get to spend money on weapons, technical upgrades and magical spells at the beginning of every round, of which all but weapons are permanent upgrades for the remainder of that match. Technical upgrades vary from SmartLink, which allows you to zoom and aim better with all weapons, to Wired Reflexes, allowing you to move faster and deflect bullets. Magical upgrades are spells you can use amongst other things to spawn monsters, resurrect fallen team mates and erect trees with healing auras.

Playing the game you will notice that all the different powers are quite appreciatively balanced. Whilst there are some obvious favorites in the online playfield, it certainly pays to discuss with the team who is responsible for different tasks and who takes which spells. Even resurrection, which may seem overpowered at first glance, is kept well at bay by design choices that set up a dependency chain: the resurrected player will slowly die when his resurrector is killed himself. The same goes for the weapons: a proper and varied choice of weaponry throughout the team will pay off, as miniguns and rocket launchers facilitate brute force break ins and SMGs and Katanas rock close quarters combat.

The rounds themselves are played as a variation on classic CTF heritage. A magical artifact is placed somewhere, and based on which of the 3 game modes you are playing you either have to deliver it to a predefined drop off point, prevent the other team from doing so, or fight around it to exterminate the other team, all within a set amount of time. Respawns are not possible, although you can of course resurrect fallen team mates as mentioned before. While carrying the artifact you are a sitting duck due to its size, disabling your use of weapons and magic, but you can luckily swing it like a katana to defend yourself to some extent.

After all the previous paragraphs, one might wonder why it is all so positive. Simply put, because it is from a gameplay point of view: everything contained in the game is both well executed and appreciatively balanced. Shame then, that there is so damn little of it. For your $60 bucks, you get what appears to be a stripped down testbed game for Microsoft’s crossplatform online gaming, that would barely have satisfied gamers 10 years ago in terms of content. Not having a single player campaign is an understandable choice, but it would make sense to compensate for that with an incredibly polished and complete multiplayer game. Well, Shadowrun provides a grand total of nine maps. Smallish ones too, for 12 or 16 players only. Another three are provided for 8 player matches, but they are only rescaled versions of three of the big ones. The lack of maps is matched by the equally disappointing lack of game modes. Three nearly identical gamemodes just don’t cut it: where’s the variety we are entitled to expect in a dedicated multiplayer title? Where are plain old free for all and team deathmatch, or even more creative stuff like “who can hold the artifact the longest, respawns enabled”? The engine could easily do it, and the maps could certainly be reused.

Further adding to the lack of content frustrations is that the bar has been set for several years now by a certain other Microsoft-published title about what a proper multiplayer title should contain. The Halo series has spoilt us with endless streams of statistics, ranks and ratios. When we rule the online world, give us some satisfaction, let us check how our level is progressing, show us some medals, give us graphs of how our kill/death ratios change over time. None of all that in Shadowrun, not even a TrueSkill ranking is shown, and every game is just a basic meeting of random folks with unknown skills again. Even the mandatory achievements are barely spectacular, most being based on how many kills you made with what weapon against which race. Emphasizing Shadowrun’s status as a cross-platform gaming testbed a grand total of four achievements are based on performing certain gameplay actions with ‘those from the other side’.

Despite the praise given for the gameplay mechanics themselves, the basic qualities exposed there did not touch the developer’s graphics and sound teams either. The menu music is bland, the voice acting is ‘acceptable’, and the graphics and modelling are simply what Sony representatives would describe as “Xbox 1.5″: characters without facial expressions whatsoever literally floating up ladders in standing position are just not what the general public considers next-generation. Levels that are well designed suffer from bad and overly reused texturing, without enough details to keep them attractive for long. Sound effects are better executed thankfully, as the different guns, magic and technologies more or less sound like you’d want them to through a surround system.

Shadowrun is at its core a well-designed and balanced multiplayer game, that had great potential based on the ideas of combining magic with guns. It is a shame that it appears that most of its long development time was dedicated to balancing and testing online play against Vista users, instead of actually finishing up the game to meet 2007’s common expectations from a dedicated multiplayer title. While the game is most certainly fun to play for a while, its lack of maps, game modes and rewarding career mode make it highly unlikely to have any definite lasting appeal truly justifying a $60 purchase.

Final Score: 6 out of 10 – Average (How do we rate games?)

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56 comments on 'Review: Shadowrun'

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Comment by UKJAY on 2007-06-13 23:06:27 | Reply

6 out of 10 is literally what it has been given everywhere…

Comment by UKJAY on 2007-06-13 23:07:07 | Reply

It is well overpriced for what it is - but still good fun all the same.

Comment by Curtis Jackson on 2007-06-13 23:55:47 | Reply

Exactly what I was thinking. I like it, it’s very fun, but not having a single player, it should be around $30.

Comment by UKJAY on 2007-06-13 23:09:33 | Reply

me again…

Nice review though. Well put.

Comment by nofear360 on 2007-06-14 00:04:48 | Reply

Agreed. That was a great review. I like how he goes from pros to cons, unlike other gaming sites which mostly criticize the game all throughout.

Comment by newmodel on 2007-06-14 00:21:11 | Reply

Review is spot on, except maybe you could have talked a little more about the gigantic failure of the matchmaking system. Otherwise, great job.

The games that I have played appeared to be quite acceptably balanced in general, with between-round adjustments taking proper enough care usually of people leaving and joining.

Comment by VeteranAssassin on 2007-06-14 00:34:55 | Reply

I agree with the review completely; I was enthralled with the Beta for a short period, but lost interest as no new experiences presented themselves. I thought, “Surely there will be more game types in the full release”….

My GF scoffed at the poorly animated (read: not at all) ladder climbing. I assured her that the animation was removed to make the Beta light in file size. Sadly, I was wrong.

I’ll pass on this one but will patiently wait for an SR RPG that more closely resembles the 16-bit titles some of us remember.

“I’ll pass on this one but will patiently wait for an SR RPG that more closely resembles the 16-bit titles some of us remember” AMEN! That game was da bomb. They need to remake it.

Comment by VeteranAssassin on 2007-06-14 20:22:44 | Reply

Word!

Comment by Kid Outhouse on 2007-06-18 16:00:33 | Reply

To all the people who complain about “ladder animations”: you must lead a sad, empty life. I hope something comes along to occupy your attention soon enough– that is, something other than video game graphics. Get a life. Wow.

Comment by xYouGot0wnedx on 2007-06-14 01:12:26 | Reply

I’m renting this, and that’s all I see this game as. A Rental.
no point in buying it until it comes down to a low price tag. Even then, I might not even consider it.

Comment by Rabid on 2007-06-14 01:55:40 | Reply

I rented this game from Blockbuster.(no late fees) So technically I could have kept it for 14 days… I took it back after a record of . . . 4 Days!! Yeah, it wasn’t even worth a rental to me. Sorry Shadowrun… not even DLC can help you now.

Comment by VeteranAssassin on 2007-06-14 02:11:15 | Reply

It’s too bad, I really like the IP.

Comment by nofear360 on 2007-06-14 02:44:58 | Reply

You must’ve been shocked when they announced it was gonna be an FPS, eh? lol

Comment by VeteranAssassin on 2007-06-14 20:22:16 | Reply

Yes I was but I had really high hopes for this title - I figured it, as an FPS, would draw many more folks into the realm of SR, paving the way for the game that I actually want.

You know, this game does have its merits and may still win me over…I’ll have to see what is made of the DLC.

Comment by MoD Gunslinger on 2007-06-14 04:13:21 | Reply

6 out of 10…

All the cons are about lack of content (Which on the Official Shadowrun forums, they stated they are patching), and graphics such as climbing up ladders (They did this on purpose, lets see you come up with a way to climb up a ladder, shoot and use magic at the same time as showing a pointless animation)

To everyone out there reading this, if you want to play an EXCELLENT, amazingly balanced, soon to have more content, best FPS since Halo 1 game, BUY Shadowrun.

I would have given it at the very LEAST a 7.5

Comment by Veritas on 2007-06-14 05:13:50 | Reply

I have lots of fun on it. I played the beta, and now I’m playing the demo. I enjoy it tons, and that’s with just one map and half of the races/weapons.

All the cons are about lack of content (Which on the Official Shadowrun forums, they stated they are patching)

So? If the finished game doesn’t have nearly enough content, it’s to be judged based on that. What they add with DLC later on does not change the fundamental purchase.

Comment by The_Glovner on 2007-06-14 15:18:06 | Reply

Ah but remember there is the large contingent of people who believe that all dlc ever made for the game should be included in the initial release.

Comment by MoD Gunslinger on 2007-06-15 03:13:46 | Reply

Yet, unlike any other game, this content is going to be all free. Most-Likely due to cross-platform…

Besides, this game doesn’t even need any more content than it has, it already has so many different variations of things to do. Sure if you put it all out on a board it may look small, but think about it; 4 races in 9 maps in 3 modes. That’s a lot of combinations, and within the 4 races, there is a different combination of magic and technology you can choose to use…

This game is full of content.

Comment by halojames on 2007-06-14 09:13:44 | Reply

i bought it for $30 bucks for windows :)

More worthwhile purchase imho :)

Comment by 4lcatraz on 2007-06-14 11:22:14 | Reply

I downloaded it for free

Comment by BruNasty's DeadlyBongRip on 2007-06-14 11:38:44 | Reply

Shadowrun… I wanted to like you :’(
If you’re not in a party, moving through the games, it’s a clusterfucking of a matchmaking system. It starts games with the score 3-0 and puts me on the team with zero, who are just getting obliterated by the other team. It’s magic use is just like its cross-platform capability, a gimmick. I was feigning for some new FPS action after the Halo3 beta ended and fell into the peer pressure and got suckered. I even knew about the lack of single player, so that didn’t piss me off, its just like Niels said, with the lack of a single player campaign, the multiplayer should be nothing short of PHENOMANAL. I think 6/10 is generous! 5/10 max for me.

Comment by BruNasty's DeadlyBongRip on 2007-06-14 11:40:19 | Reply

*Phenomenal sorry!

Comment by Malacath on 2007-06-14 12:34:30 | Reply

This is the best online multiplayer game there is. It just needs more maps. I like this game so much that I have cancelled my pre-order for Halo 3.
Halo 3 sucks in comparison to this game.

Comment by The_Glovner on 2007-06-14 15:19:40 | Reply

Balls to that, the best onlone multiplayer right now is either GoW or Forza, end of.

Comment by Malacath on 2007-06-14 16:11:30 | Reply

It’s a matter of opinion. Gears of War multiplayer is just OK. And Forza is a shitty racing game. Once you’ve played one racer you’ve played them all.

Comment by Veritas on 2007-06-14 20:51:49 | Reply

I enjoy BFMEII far more than Gears of War online. Maybe it’s just because I actually have friends to play it with.

Comment by VeteranAssassin on 2007-06-15 02:26:08 | Reply

Gears is still my favorite MP, hands down. I may very well be playing that game consistently until the next iteration.

Comment by SKiNG25 on 2007-09-24 12:58:35 | Reply

sorry to dissapoint u guys, there is not going to be any more maps or skins, FASA Studios has closed down… Sorry for those of u who wanted a Shadowrun 2 (although there is a chance FASA sold out the rights to Shadowrun…).

Comment by Tucky on 2007-06-14 12:44:33 | Reply

Its shit, that simple. The game is wank.

Comment by Travis on 2007-06-14 15:11:49 | Reply

I like the game, but it would be way better if it had a campaign mode, and split screen, it just seems it should have more features, but really fun online, I just can’t see paying $59 for it, but rented it.

I love the game! worth the 30 quid (About $60?)i paided for it!
9/10 i would give it! Loving it! :)

I think that games like this could ultimately bring up a very interesting point about game reviews. There seems to be a very strong theme in the reviews of “what they did is great, but they didn’t do enough”.

So what happens if a game like this is fleshed out by DLC later in its life? Ladder animations aside, it sounds like this could be a very compelling multiplayer strategy game that rewards practice, experience and teamwork. How much would the reviewers’ opinion change with double the number of maps, a full suite of multiplayer game modes and enhanced matchmaking/statistics? All of those features could be easily added with DLC, if the publisher makes the effort.

At that point, you could easily have a game that stands out from the Halo/GOW crowd by providing a more strategic experience, where a team has to be good at mixing/matching races & abilities in order to be successful.

If you assume that additional DLC could bring this game from 6/10 to a score of 8.5/10 or 9/10, should reviewers update their reviews? I’m assuming the DLC is free in this case. Reviews can make or break a game, and presumably reviewers would want their review to accurately reflect the current state of the game. Will game sites discover a need to establish a mechanism for updating their reviews as games evolve over time through patches and DLC?

How much would the reviewers’ opinion change with double the number of maps, a full suite of multiplayer game modes and enhanced matchmaking/statistics? All of those features could be easily added with DLC, if the publisher makes the effort.

Interesting point, to which I’ll gladly answer.

No. DLC will never change a game’s grade. Apart from the obvious notion that 40% of Xbox 360s are not connected to the internet and as such will never see the DLC, we review the product as it is put on the shelves. The disc. The shipped content.

If DLC is meant to make up for lack of content in the shipping release, they should have delayed the release and included more maps, thus making it a more favorable purchase.

If DLC is included later in an GotY-edition or whatever, and priced down, we may or may not decide to run a short review on the budget release, taking the total content available at the lower price point into consideration. It would be a review of the new product though.

As for DLC being free: that’s rarely been the case, but it’s irrelevant in this discussion. Our approach is simple: if the game is not finished on release date, delay it or suffer the consequences of your unfinished product getting reviewed.

I hope this answers your questions :)

Incredibly well put. While it’s always great to see developers take reviews to heart and fix their titles, reviews lose their meaning if they’re constantly updated. That of course, doesn’t stop a seperate review of just the DLC (shivering isles for e.g.) but the game needs to be reviewed based on what went “gold.”

Comment by Veritas on 2007-06-14 20:56:47 | Reply

Did you forget the Halo 2 disc that was released for $30 with all of the new maps, patches, etc.?

I agree, though, that if the “GOTY” edition of the game is released with updated content, that should get a small, new review. Plus, keeping the reviews separate eliminates confusion over which version to buy.

Comment by MoD Gunslinger on 2007-06-15 03:18:00 | Reply

Microsoft asked for a date, when they gave the date, that was it. They would have delayed it if they could, but they couldn’t.

Also, they gameplay is perfectly balanced (Which is extremely rare), and they did a wonderful job of cross-platform integration (which was hardly mentioned). Listen to the interviews with Mitch (a dev) that are coming out more and more, you will understand.

they did a wonderful job of cross-platform integration (which was hardly mentioned)

But honestly, who cares outside Microsoft? I fail to see the advantage of crossplatform gaming for anyone except the game publisher who doubles his market. For gamers, who cares if it’s 360-gamers of Vista gamers you’re fragging.

Comment by Kid Outhouse on 2007-06-18 16:10:26 | Reply

DLC won’t make you change your grade?? OH NOES!!! I guess I won’t be able to buy it then. Why judge a game based on my own enjoyment when I have some dime-a-dozen video game website with it’s unpaid legion of wannabe journalists (*snicker*) to tell me what I think?

We do get paid unfortunately :( Try again!

You’re not required to read our reviews, or even visit the site, let alone waste breath on a bullshit comment like this :)

Comment by Phocas on 2007-06-14 16:05:52 | Reply

I really enjoy the game. It will be interesting to see if it does get DLC support.

Comment by Worms on 2007-06-14 16:24:31 | Reply

I’ll wait for a while until Gamefly is offering it for $30-40. I played the hell out of the beta and loved it. $60 is just too much for the game. I’m sure the future DLC that will add much needed maps won’t be free either.

Whomever said the magic and tech is a gimmick. It’s not and it’s vital to the game if you are going to win along with teamwork.

Comment by Pugilation on 2007-06-15 13:54:46 | Reply

I was in two minds whether to buy Shadowrun or not. On one hand they’ve changed the original IP in a lot of ways, on the other it’s still got trolls with smartlinks and miniguns that are scary as hell. In the end I bought it, and am pleased that I did. Gears MP has left me pretty cold to be honest, the maps are quite small and it just feels unsatisfying (although Gears Co-Op is utterly sublime). Whereas Shadowrun MP takes me right back to my QW Team Fortress days, only with more options, better maps than just 2Fort5 and great attention to balance. I honestly think I’ll be playing SR for the life of my 360.

Comment by Lotus 111s on 2007-06-15 15:36:51 | Reply

When i first tried this on the Xbox360 i thought yeah pretty average at best(but very unbalanced), but my God if they have not handicapped the PC users mouse control this will be a must buy on the PC just simply to completely obliterate the 360 users.

Alas my hopes have been dashed, reading the Pc reviews for this, many point out that if you like PC fps’s accurate aiming DONT BUY THIS GAME. I remember reading the developers comments that the joypad users were beating the mouse users in the beta testing, well i am not surprised from what i have been reading the mouse is so badly handicapped that there is no point in using it.

That just reinforces the argument that there is no point in having cross platform games were accurate aiming is the name of the game, as mouse users will(if not handicapped) completely dominate the joypad users.

Ohh and i think based on what i have seen in the demo, the review is generous.

Comment by Veritas on 2007-06-16 03:01:55 | Reply

You seem to constantly forget that winning is based more on skill than aiming preference.

Comment by Lotus 111s on 2007-06-16 12:50:19 | Reply

Huh? So what your saying then is aiming is not a skill? I understand that movement and tactics also play a part, but aiming is the name of the game in FPS’s without accuracy you can have the best tactics in the world and you will not win shit.
Come and play me at Quake4 on the PC and then tell me accuracy doesn’t matter.

Comment by Veritas on 2007-06-16 21:34:31 | Reply

I didn’t say that. I meant that no matter what peripheral you’re using to aim, if someone is a championship player at a game, they’ll very likely win against someone that isn’t.

Comment by Lotus 111s on 2007-06-17 01:03:24 | Reply

Yeah but what i said was that the joypad is no match for the mouse, nothing about who the better player is, the best joypad user/player in the world would not be a match for the average mouse user in a FPS. Which is why they have handicapped the PC version as it would be a massacre just like Quake 3 was when they let Dreamcast users play the Pc users, it was hysterical how it easy it was to run rings around the joypad users, i had a great laugh ripping them to shreds for the very short time it lasted.

Comment by Veritas on 2007-06-17 02:20:20 | Reply

Uh-huh… =P

I honestly think I’ll be playing GoW for the life of my 360

Comment by VeteranAssassin on 2007-06-18 23:25:29 | Reply

Same

Comment by Fuck Fiddy on 2007-06-29 02:51:13 | Reply

GoW is an overhyped piece of shit.

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