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Shadowrun Preview

publisher: Microsoft
developer: FASA Studio
genre: Shooters

PIV 3200, 1GB RAM, 256MB video card
ESRB rating: M

release date: May 29, 07
» All About Shadowrun on ActionTrip

During the E3 2006, in preparation for the launch of its new OS, Microsoft revealed an array of Vista-compatible titles, which include Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, Alan Wake, Company of Heroes, Crysis, Flight Simulator X, Halo 2, Hellgate: London and, last but not least, Shadowrun. While we're all itching to see Crysis, Hellgate: London and Halo 2 on the PC, MS also has big plans for Shadowrun. The announcement of Shadowrun coincides with the company's plan to introduce Live Anywhere. As revealed, this game will be the first cross-platform title for Xbox 360 and Windows Vista. But there is more to it.

As soon as news of the game surfaced, many disgruntled fans got pretty pissed off when Microsoft and FASA Interactive explained that their Xbox 360 and PC title doesn't relate to the popular tabletop RPG, Shadowrun, albeit it is loosely based on the same universe. Even more to the disappointment of Shadowrun aficionados, the newly announced game was being hailed as a first-person shooter, rather than a classic role-playing game. Actually, it ended up being a multiplayer shooter, with strong emphasis on team-based combat. Though it caused initial discontent among hardcore fans of the Shadowrun franchise, the title seems to have all the essentials of a decent action game, which is supposed to pioneer the way for Microsoft's concept behind Live Anywhere, allowing PC and Xbox 360 owners to compete against each other.

Shadowrun is set in and around Santos, Brazil, during the year 2031. The backbone of the story depicts a constant battle between two key opposing forces. You can either side with RNA Global, which represents a huge conglomerate that's just discovered tremendous magical power or you may choose to fight with the Lineage - a secret society that existed for 5000 years and is dedicated to protecting that very same power.

Before we go any further, it's important to mention that the game definitely came a long way since it was last showcased at the E3 2006. The developers now threw in a variety of impressive visual effects. The surroundings on some of the maps were refurbished with additional details, while character models also went through major improvements. On top of that, Shadowrun appears more polished and is said to have a solid 30 fps during matches. The whole idea is to create a game that looks and plays similarly on both the Xbox 360 and PC. I presume there will be a few subtle differences between the versions, but, as the developers pointed out, the game will feel the same for the most part regardless of the system you happen to be playing on.

So how does the game work? Simple. Each player is allowed to choose one of the four available races: Human, Elf, Troll and Dwarf. All of these races are at your disposal no matter which side you choose (RNA Global or Lineage). The Elves wield magic powers, which derive from the so-called essence, better than any other race. However, elves are more susceptible to physical damage than other races and they have the least health. Dwarves, on the other hand, are gifted at draining magic powers. When they pass other characters by, they begin exhausting their essence in order to replenish their own. Incidentally, consuming essence from other players keeps you stashed with enough power to prevail during a match. Otherwise, the essence regenerates slowly on its own if you play as a Dwarf. Trolls are large warriors, slow, but extremely hard to bring down. One of their greatest advantages is the ability to gain extra armor upon taking damage, which makes them admirable opponents in combat. Finally, opting to play as a Human means you've chosen a balanced race with versatile combat skills and different powers. Although they can handle themselves in many various ways, Humans don't have any particularly noteworthy strengths or weaknesses. The good news is that they take lesser essence penalties for utilizing technology items (visions, gliders, etc.).

The makers of Shadowrun are mostly concerned with delivering a satisfying gameplay, as opposed to cramming maps with as many players as possible. This is comforting in a way. Matches support up to 16 players, which, I'm sure, may sound puny to some of you, considering that certain modern-day multiplayer shooters are designed to accommodate 64 players and more in a single online match. Anyhow, the upside to supporting "only" 16 players is that the developers were able to concentrate on how to make Shadowrun play better. This will allow battles to be focused more on the tactical side of things. For instance, players have the ability to cast a diversity of spells, plus they can summon additional creatures to assist them in combat. The real fun should begin when you start teleporting through ceilings, walls and floors (imagine the possibilities). Other skills give you the opportunity to see through walls, enabling you to anticipate the enemy's next move. Another cool thing is the ability to turn your avatar into smoke to become invulnerable against oncoming bullets. It can also be used to counter the see-through-walls ability - with the smoke ability, nobody can see your character through a wall.

In terms of actual gameplay, Shadowrun borrows some of the basics from the legendary Counter-Strike. Prior to the start of each round, players purchase their weapons, magic abilities or different technology upgrades (techs). As for weapons, it's possible to carry only two at a time; a pistol and an SMG, for example. Throughout gameplay it's wise to keep an eye out for something better; hence, you can always switch for weapons dropped by opponents. As you play though the matches, you'll be able to get your mitts on a more or less standard choice of weaponry, including shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, grenades, rocket launchers, mini-guns and so on. And you're gonna need magic and techs as well to survive through each match. As far as techs are concerned, we do know the game includes the so-called Smartlink, AntiMagic Generator, Enhanced Vision (the see-through-walls ability), Wired Reflexes and more. Each has its own uses and disadvantages. Smartlink, for example, helps you fire more accurately, but also adds laser sight to your weapon making you more visible to the enemy. In short, you'll have to think on your feet each match. Matches, by the way, last until one of the teams triumphs in six rounds.

Apart from being the flagship title for Microsoft's Live Anywhere, Shadowrun also shows ample promise and should be one of the most sought after action games in summer 2007. While truehearted fans of the traditional tabletop edition of Shadowrun won't get what they are hoping for, gamers who prefer action-packed multiplayer shooters might be looking at a game that takes Counter-Strike to the next level. What's even more encouraging is that John Howard stepped in as Lead Designer on this one. To refresh your memory, J.H. also worked as Lead Designer on that "little game" we like to call, Halo.



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