The first thing that you need to be aware of when considering purchasing Shadowrun is that it is a multiplayer only game. There are some offline tutorial modes and practice matches against AI-controlled bots, but that’s it. It seems odd that a game based on an older tabletop RPG with a rich mythology and a unique setting would be missing a story-based single player campaign, but that’s the case here. The second important thing that you need to know is that Shadowrun will only run on Windows Vista, and even if you have Vista you better have a dual core processor or the game will be nearly unplayable. The game box does not mention the game’s minimum requirements and it took a little bit of searching on the internet to find them. During testing I tried the game on a machine with a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 processor that exceeded the minimum requirements and the game was impossible to play even with all of the game options at their minimum settings. Now that you’ve been warned, I can proceed for those of you still with me…
Shadowrun is set in the not too distant future after magic has made a return to the world. The world is pretty much run by one of those big evil corporations (RNA) so beloved by games with a Sci-Fi setting and it wants to control magic just as it controls everything else. Opposing RNA is the Lineage, a confederation of elves, trolls, and dwarves who want to keep magic out of RNA’s hands. There’s definitely potential here for an interesting high-tech meets high fantasy storyline, but there’s not really any room for story in an online-only shooter and so the backdrop merely serves as the explanation behind the powers available in the game.
I won’t dwell on the small handful of tutorial sessions and battles against bots of suspect AI available in the game because neither will anyone who buys the game. Online play supports up to 16 players divided into two teams of eight and there are three game variants to play, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and a capture the flag variant in which one team defends the flag while the other attempts to take it. So far things seem pretty typical of an online shooter, but Shadowrun is different in that it gives you the choice between playing as a human, elf, dwarf, or troll. Humans are a balanced race, elves are fast and have a natural affinity for magic but are the frailest race, dwarves are slow but can drain magical essence, and trolls can take a lot of damage but are the weakest at using magic. Speaking of magic, it is one of the categories of abilities made available before game rounds with the other two being weapons and tech. There’s a bit of strategy involved in picking your weapons, ammo, and such before each round as you have a limited number of slots for weapons, magic, and tech, and you need to pick a good mix for the character race you’re playing and your role on your team. This brings us to an important point – teamwork is essential for success in the game. Your experience will be completely different with a group of friends coordinating their efforts than it will be in a free-for-all
The gameplay itself features a number of cool enhancements thanks to the magic and tech enhancements. Let’s start by looking at the magic, which adds healing and defensive abilities to your repertoire. Tree of Life causes a magical tree to appear that provides you with cover while it heals nearby teammates. Its drawback is that it will heal nearby enemies as well. Resurrection will raise an ally from the dead, but the resurrected comrade will be a permanent drain on your magical essence and if the resurrecting player dies, everyone he saved will watch their health drain to nothing. Gust is a knockback power and Strangle covers an area with defensive spikes. Smoke turns you into a ghost, but you’ll need Teleport to move through walls or drop through floors. Tech enhancements are pretty useful as well. Glider lets you soar over the battlefield or cross gaps too large to jump over. Enhanced Vision gives you the ability to see other players through walls and behind obstructions. Anti-Magic Generators drain magical essence from players, and Smartlink and Wired Reflexes improve your weapon and physical characteristics. As you can see there are a lot of choices here and trying to put together the right combination of enhancements for the right situation is part of the fun of the game.