Have some iced tea, chummer.
I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a more creative and effective way of introducing a character as a badass than having him escape from his own slab at the morgue. I mean, this tells me that even death couldn’t stop him. That’s the kind of storytelling that makes this lesser-known action RPG worth playing.
From what I know, it’s based off a pen-and-paper RPG of the same name, which I know nothing about. The Super Nintendo game follows an amnesiac shadowrunner by the name of Jake Armatage, as he tries to figure out who wants him dead, and why. The game is really great about giving you little pieces of the puzzle to lead you along. I rarely felt that the main character knew more than me, and that’s unusual for an RPG. The storyline is also very concise, so you’re never doing anything that seems unrelated.
The art style seems to take cue from Bladerunner. The city is gritty, dark, and atmospheric. Despite several hours passing throughout the game, you don’t see a wink of sunlight. That atmosphere is one of the strongest points of the game. There is heavy use of black, everything is very bleak, and the city feels lonely yet lived in. The wonderful and memorable music adds further to the atmosphere. The game certainly does have its own personality. Altogether, the graphics aren’t anything amazing, but the art style more than makes up for it.
Combat is very simple, but it works. I found it to be a welcome alternative to the turn-based battle system that plagues most of that era’s RPGs. Basically you just point and shoot. You can run around corners or cast spells, but for the most part you just place your cursor on an enemy and fire at him until he’s dead. It sounds boring, but it does its job without being tedious at all.
Shadowrun had one major problem; it severely lacked polish. Almost every problem I had with the game can be linked back to this.
You are able to recruit party members to help you through the game. Unfortunately the system for them doesn’t work, it’s more like babysitting. You ally’s AI has 2 routines; follow you, and shoot anything hostile. That leaves you to monitor their HP, because they won’t heal themselves or run away. You have to manually select their additional spells, which means you have to drop what you’re doing, scroll over them, select them, pick the spell you want, and who you want it casted on. You also can’t revive downed teammates, so after they get themselves killed, they’re dead forever. Luckily, you can play through the entire game without ever needing a teammate. Otherwise, this would totally ruin the experience.
Some of the smaller items and switches blend into the background. On more than one occasion I found myself wandering aimlessly because I missed something. Once, it was because I couldn’t tell that a gate I had to go through was open. Something simple could have prevented these things from happening, like making objects you can interact with slightly brighter, or having items sparkle or glow. The UI as a whole is quite unwieldy, and could have been tightened simply by replacing the cursor with an action button.
I found the game to be quite unstable, as well. On over a dozen occasions, the game locked up on me. A few times, I could no longer interact with anything in the room, and couldn’t move. I ended up having to find exactly what would cause the game to stop working, so I could figure out a way around it. I’m willing to concede that maybe it was a flaw in my particular cartridge, but I can’t imagine what.
The Bottom Line
Shadowrun is a very different game. I can’t really think of another game that’s quite like it. It shares some similarities with RPGs like Fallout, or adventure games like Déjà Vu, and apparently there’s another, completely unrelated, Shadowrun game on the Genesis, but this Shadowrun is really something of its own. Its style and personality do a lot to hide its flaws. For those reasons, I’d say it’s entirely worth your while to try this game. Overall, Shadowrun is a GOOD game.