After a disappointing appearance at E3 2006, little was expected of Fasa Studio’s latest title. Coupled with possibly the worst scheduled release in the history of First-Person Shooters – colliding heavily with Microsoft’s Public Beta for Halo 3’s online Multi-Player – ShadowRun was always going to be playing catch-up. Fasa Studio has been hard at work on ShadowRun for over two years; could it be possible that the depths of the title were yet to be discovered?
Trade shows are rarely the best place to sample work-in-progress code. Loud noise, big flashing lights and over a hundred different Press Agencies competing for that fifteen-minute slot that remains free on the last day of the event often lead to a disappointing performance from titles which may be should’ve been first experienced in a much calmer atmosphere. ShadowRun proves this point ten-fold, simply by being a title with which nothing can be gained in a brief session of Bot battling, yet everything remains to be learned through extended play as intended – online, in a Player Vs. Player environment.
ShadowRun is a title based on the same series of which you may remember Amiga, Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Mega-Drive Role-Playing titles being released. The storyline in the title is, frankly, practically insignificant; as the title more closely follows the route of Quake III: Arena and Turok: Rage Wars Arena-based team-play, as opposed to the story-lead presentations of Quake 4 or Turok 2. After a brief, six-Level Tutorial (each followed by a brief Bot battle, in-order to execute the manoeuvres taught within), the player is then thrust immediately into a world filled with Dwarves, Elves, Trolls and Humans thirsting-for-blood.
Being an Arena-based First-Person Shooter with an emphasis on team-play, the gameplay options actually appear very limited at first, with only Raid, Attrition and Extraction modes available. Each game is played as a “best-of-ten” series of Rounds. Raid involves the team known as Lineage attempting to steal the Artefact from under the RNA’s protection and escape with it, Extraction mode sees both teams attempting to escape with the Artefact and Attrition is a simple team-based Deathmatch. A decent variety of Maps are available (with, no doubt, more to follow as Downloadable Content through Microsoft’s Xbox360 Marketplace), each of which has been painstakingly crafted to allow players to draw the most from their choice of race, weaponry and abilities – and this is exactly where ShadowRun excels: in it’s choice, strategy and perfected balancing act.
Four options of race are available to each player; Human, Elf, Troll or Dwarf. Each varies drastically in basic abilities, and the player is told the effectiveness of this through a series of Stat-Bars when selecting the race with which to play. Elves are the fastest movers, and can heal when not under-attack for a short period of time, whereas Trolls aren’t encumbered by carrying large weaponry. Dwarves can steal Essence from both members of their own team and the enemy (as well as active Magic within the Arena), which is required for using Skills.
Players have the option of equipping up to three selections from the Skills and Tech available, assigning them to either the L Trigger, L Button or R Button (with the R Trigger being restricted for firing your weapon). Other purchases may be made, but will instead be reserved for mid-game equipping through a Wheel-Menu assigned to the B Button. Before entering each Round, players have their cash (earned through playing well) allotted for spending on weaponry, Skills or Tech. The Essence at a player’s disposal is denoted by a series of Pips on the bottom-left of the screen. Each ability requires a different amount of these Pips for use, and some (such as Resurrect and Strangle) restrict a certain amount of Pips after use. Teleport grants the player the ability to travel eight metres in the direction they’re facing with the press of a button (including through walls, floors and ceilings), Gust projects a small amount of air to push-away opponents (and does a great deal of damage to those using Smoke), Resurrect revives fallen team-mates, and Smoke allows the players to avoid damage from conventional weaponry for short periods of time.
The Tech available also provides an inviting array of opportunities; a Glider allows the player to drift around an Arena with a birds-eye view, while the Smartlink increases the accuracy of weaponry and makes friendly-fire nigh-on-impossible. Weapons are seemingly limited, but are clearly as finely balanced as that of the Skills and Tech – Pistol, SMG, Rifle, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle and Rocket Launcher provide a generic line-up, coupled with the Katana (which, upon equipping, restricts the player instead to a Third-Person perspective) for melee combat.
The cost of each Tech, Skill and Weapon has been finely balanced, and it becomes quite clear after even just a few games that the vast majority of time in development has been spent creating a fine equilibrium between cost and effect, design and employ, and within relation to each other. The depth of the strategic options available when combining just a few of these Skills or Tech is simply phenomenal, and any Strategy fan looking for a new online, Player Vs. Player challenge is most definitely going to find exactly what they’re looking for with ShadowRun.
While ShadowRun’s strong-points clearly lie within its balance and strong network coding, its graphical competence could easily be considered one of the title’s greater downfalls. Falling even to the likes of Wii’s Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, ShadowRun seems to lack the polish of more recent Xbox360 releases such as Forza Motorsport 2 and Colin McRae: DiRT, yet still is pleasing within its design and chunky Character Models. The sound quality follows the same pattern as that of the graphical capabilities of the title; neither in excel nor at detriment to the title, the effect is passable, if perhaps a little to reminiscent of the Xbox360’s earlier offerings such as Perfect Dark Zero and Amped 3.
ShadowRun is an incredibly well built game. If ever first impressions could be wrong, Fasa Studio will have more reason for accreditation than many given ShadowRun’s E3 2006 showing. Although there are many reasons that ShadowRun may not appeal – the lack of any real Single-Player option, no Split-Screen Multi-Player and the requirement of an XboxLIVE! Gold Membership – for its target-audience, ShadowRun will be nothing short of an addiction.