Shadowrun is the best multiplayer first person shooter on the Xbox 360 so far, and we never saw that coming. The main aspect being pushed, the cross platform play with Windows Vista Live, is the least relevant from a gameplay perspective – which is a shame, because Shadowrun’s gameplay is some of the freshest and most finely tuned we’ve seen in this genre since Halo. It may be all but completely devoid of any single player content (don’t worry, there are bots!), but the enormous range of possible ways to approach it could easily make up for the bizarrely high retail price if you really get into it.

When you begin playing Shadowrun, it is essential that you go through the extensive training missions. You will be introduced to each of that game’s classes, skills and key weapons. This will take you an hour or more, but it’s worth it. Even if your gamertag is along the lines of XxPr0Sn1p3rxX, you’ll be a sitting duck for much longer than necessary if you skip this part. The reason for this is that Shadowrun is a complicated game. Not so much in how you play it, but in that you need to understand what is going on around you, and what you can do about it.

In addition to guns, which are handled in a pretty conventional manner with all the usual favorites, the game employs an ability system, which consists of magic powers and tech for a total of 12 abilities. You have three buttons to map abilities to, by default these are the left trigger and the two shoulder bumpers. Magic abilities include teleportation through walls, a powerful minion that can be summoned and set upon an enemy or set to guard a particular spot, as well as abilities like resurrect (which speaks for itself), and the Tree of Life which conjures a small tree in front of you that heals anyone, including your foes in its immediate vicinity. One piece of tech allows you to glide through the air whilst another allows you to see your enemies through walls. Some less exciting ones simply do things like improve your accuracy or speed up your gun-slinging. These abilities are limited by your essence bar, which recharges itself gradually, as well as the fact that the abilities must be purchased.

Shadowrun actually shares quite a bit in common with Counter-Strike, in that games and resource allocation are structured in much the same way. The three game types available are standard offense/defense capture the flag (an ‘Artifact’ in this case), neutral flag and a deathmatch mode which confusingly still has a flag that serves almost no purpose. Counter-Strike’s money system is also here. At the beginning of each round you are presented with a menu which allows you to buy abilities and weapons. Abilities purchased are kept for the rest of the game, but weapons are only carried over if you are holding them when the previous round ends. This of course requires you to be alive. More money is earned by getting kills, scoring, resuscitating allies and pretty much anything else that helps the team. A nice touch is the ability to give spare cash to team mates, say if someone is getting left behind in the arms race. A well organized team could potentially pool their spare money right at the beginning on one player to allow them to get a step ahead of the opposition.

The effect of this system is much more pronounced than in Counter-Strike however. The abilities do so many entirely different and specific things that choosing the right ones is one of the most strategic aspects of the game. Eventually you will probably settle on things like resurrection, which always makes you popular and can turn around a lot of sticky situations, but being afraid to deviate from your normal pick won’t get you anywhere in the long run when you play different maps and game types.

Lastly, a key aspect of Shadowrun’s depth is the ability to choose one of four races. This can be determined at the beginning of each game and is hugely important. The four races are human, troll, dwarf and elf, all with distinctive appearances and attributes. Humans are a safe choice, with no big trade-offs, but equally no great advantages. Trolls are the hulking piles of meat you’ve probably seen in screenshots. They can take a lot more damage and handle heavy weapons the best, but are slow and not particularly adept at magic or tech. Dwarves are small, a bit harder to hit and are able to drain essence from foes, allies and even magical objects cast by other players. Finally, elf players are much faster than the others, though quite a lot weaker. They’re particularly adept with the katana sword, which has made them the favorite class of newer players, but it’s not long before they realize that they’re an easy target for a troll with a huge mini gun. Finding a niche like this in your team and coordinating this with them is fundamental, and is half the fun.

You may have noticed that the story of the game hasn’t been mentioned at all yet. To be honest, while there is a story, it’s not important at all and we needed to remind ourselves what it was after playing for a short while. The game is, of course, based on FASA’s Shadowrun pen and paper role playing game, and borrows many of its ideas from that as well as its plot. In simple terms, the RNA corporation (the blue team) are fighting the Lineage (the red team) for control of the magical artifacts (the flags), in order to control an ancient magic which has been reawakened in a futuristic vision of Brazil. The differences between these factions are purely aesthetic.

The online mechanism is very similar to that of Halo 2, which is good in many ways. As a party or on your own, you’ll be automatically matched to a suitable game. Where it differs from Halo 2 however is that after it has finished you will remain with the same people for the next game unless you choose to leave. This helps enormously in finding a talkative team and staying with them for a decent amount of time. Like any team game, you will always encounter frustrating games, ruined by badly matched players, but that’s just the nature of the beast. Griefers are deterred by money penalties, which in our experience has worked.

The graphics in Shadowrun will not blow you away. While the models are nice enough and the general art style is nice, the textures are very low in detail a lot of the time, but maintains its frame rate throughout, which is always a good thing.

Shadowrun is a fantastic team-based first person shooter. A genuinely fresh, competitive multiplayer experience with a unique, un-offensive character of its own and an impressive, liberating class and skill system which will keep you occupied for a significant amount of time. The problem is that despite the fact that what is there is very good fun indeed, the high price is much too much when you can easily imagine a juicy campaign sitting alongside it for the same amount of dosh. If anything deserves to knock Gears of War off the Xbox Live most played chart, this is it – just not at a high price tag. If you can get it for a good price though, [Or get given it for free, right Edward? -Ed] it’s whole-heartedly recommended.

Originally Written By: Edward

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