To many, the name Shadowrun conjures up images of a Phillip K. Dick future, complete with dirty streets, outlandish guns, high tech gadgets, and myterious magic. Microsoft announced that they wanted to release a Shadowrun game to kick off their Windows Live services to let Windows players compete with and against Xbox 360 owners. This had the result of generating the loudest ‘huh?’ across the various message boards and instant messaging clients. Well, it is out and I wanted to see how it stood up to other first person shooter titles on the 360.

Before I start, I would like to let people know what I am using on my 360, as I do not have a standard TV setup. I’m using the MS VGA cables on a Viewsonic 20 inch LCD display (1280×1024 widescreen setting). This is important as some games display differently on TV versus LCD/HD display resolutions.

Ancient dig sites, corporate offices, city slums, Shadowrun has all the various environments to match the background for Santos, Brazil in this alternate future. The maps are well rendered, having a fair number of little details laying about without impacting the framerate. At dig sites, you can see the various implements that were being used to carefully unearth ancient relics (before gun-toting Shadowrunners came along at least). The corporate offices of RNA are clean, to the point of being sterile. Various art-deco statues adorn the nooks and crannies, rooms of terminals and displays run counter to passages between the floors and conduits. The map designers (much like the team that balanced the gear) took care that each level had its own balance and challenges.

It is hard to say much about the sound on this title. Aside from gunshot sounds (of which each weapon has distincive noises) and the casting of spells, they took care to make this a very simple part of the game. The bots have two voices. There is one for the ‘radio’ voice, which is a modulated female voice reporting various situations (Elf in room X, Artifact Taken), then there is the ‘nearby’ voice used for some combat situations (Tree up, Rez incoming). The only music in the game is during the lead in to the training missions, and during the main menu.

I’ll give credit to the actor who was your instructor. They gave him a solid script and he played right to it. The training missions were fun to listen to, while he showed you the ropes. It is a shame he didn’t appear anywhere else.

The controls for this title are very solid, using the standard 360 first person shooter movement and aiming controls. The L trigger is always used for your weapon, but the R trigger and the L/R button are hotkey slots that you can assign various gear/spells to for use. The B button triggers a radial menu where you can select magic from or gear that you purchased at the start of the round. The controls work well, and once you learn the menus/hotkey assignments you like, you’ll have no problems flipping through them to get the gear you need quickly. I was frequently annoyed by the Buy menu as I had to hit start and pick it from the list, and if I moved to fast on the controls that would try and exit me from my match. I wanted the buy menu to be on my main controls rather than two levels down in a menu (like on the Back button).

Shadowrun follows the Gears of War / Counterstrike method of gameplay. Of course, with magic and high technology about, this changes the formula a little bit. In any game mode, eliminating the other team is a win for your team. Depending on the gametype (Raid, Extraction, Attrition) the artifact is placed at different locations, and must be carried to locations. In Raid, RNA never touch the artifact, just make sure the Lineage team does not escape with it. In Extraction, each team is trying to get the artifact to their own extraction point (usually the other team’s starting zone) In Attrition…. I found myself really quickly wanting another objective that wasn’t ‘Go pick up the relic’. It is a nice focus, but a team death match would have been nice at least.

As in CounterStrike, completing objectives and killing the enemy earn you money to spend in each round. You have three categories to spend money in: Weapons, Gear, and Magic. Gear and Magic are each pricey (two thousand to four thousand per item) but the nice part is that they stay with you even if you die. Weapons drop to the ground when you are killed, and must be repurchased unless you survived the round, or were resurrected and picked them back up…and still survived the round. One of the nice balances between gear and magic were how they worked when equipped to a hotkey versus used from the radial menu. Some pieces of gear (glider, Anti Magic Generators) have no difference no matter where they are used, but other gear (smartlink, enhanced vision) require the item to be in a hotkey slot to have any effect. Magic can all be used without needing to be on a hotkey, but at least one (smoke) gives you an added effect if you keep it equipped. All of these choices add up to helping you choose what kind of player you want to be. I usually ended up playing a human with Enhanced Vision, Smartlink, Anti Magic Generators as my hotkeys. I would then buy Tree of life and resurrect to help out my teammates but not hotkey them.

This also leads into another important choice that is decided at the start of the match / when you join the match: your race. Human, elf, troll, and dwarf are all available to choose and each have their own good and bad sides. Strangely enough, despite all the RNA rhetoric during the training, neither RNA or Lineage are equal opportunity employers…at no point can you pick a female character. Humans suffer the smallest essence penalty when gear is on the hotkeys. Elves regenerate health out of combat. Trolls ‘harden’ as they take damage. Dwarves have a huge essence pool and can’t be hit by a headshot. When combined with the various gear and magic choices, you can get very unique teams that play to your role in the match.

It could be argued that the game has no single player component, which I do not quite agree with. Once the six mission training is done, you have available to you bot matches of various skill and the bots are fairly competant. They aren’t perfect though and choose to stick near the objective zones no matter what is going on, which means a lone elf with resurrect won’t come and rez the rest of the team if they are ‘too far’ from the current objective, even if it might help. The bots are a good challenge for new players without being one-shot killers all the time.

This game was made for the multiplayer and the simple main menu confirms this. I really liked the inclusion of the party system, and we used it to easily get three of us into several multiplayer matches quickly. I was a little disappointed at how long it took some days to get a match to connect (sometimes I waited up to five minutes before I would connect. I was also dismayed at the lack of a custom search for games. If you want to join multiplayer, it simply tries to match you up to the best possible match without giving you *any* feedback as to how the search is going. (It does say ‘Connecting’ instead of ‘Searching’ but that currently is no indicator that you will actually join a match.) The best way to get into a match quickly would be to bring a party. Having more than 1 person in my party really sped up the time for me to get a match.

That said, once the matches start, the gameplay had me hooked. A normal match is first team to six wins. Sadly, there are two big flaws. I never found the option to host a match for internet play, and there is no indicator who the host is. This means a player can call it a night and not even know he was hosting the match. This is not fun for the other players in the match.

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