Written by  :  xroox (3970)
Written on  :  Mar 18, 2003
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
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A neglected masterpiece!

The Good

Shadowrun was actually the first console game I seriously sat down and played - And this was only two weeks ago!

Yep, I decided to check out the past I never had and explore the delights of classic console gaming. How appropriate then, that I picked an absolute masterpiece to start off with.

From the moment I started playing Shadowrun, I was hooked. The moody isometric graphics, compelling soundtrack and instantly engaging gameplay all combined to make this an addictive experience. This is an extremely atmospheric game. I've played a lot of games set in bleak, obviously Blade Runner-inspired futures, with hacking, cybernetic implants, guns, smoke and guys in dark trenchcoats, but this is definitely one of the best.

The gameplay is surprisingly deep, with a lot of things to do, and a lot of flexibility about the way you go about things. Conversations with other characters are generally brief, but nearly every line carries you on, and seems to add to the richness of the gameworld. Similarily, clues scribbled on scraps of paper or found lurking in cyberspace reveal more of the plot in ways which, through their very sparseness, make it all the more involving. New technology and skills are drip-fed to you in the best possible way, but as you need the money to buy things and the 'karma' (experience) points to upgrade your skills, you are always striving to reach the next level. Usually, in RPGs, the levelling system is quite uninvolving; You just fight a lot of battles and are occasionally pleasantly surprised when you get a 'level up' message. In Shadowrun, though, you have to collect points and then you decide when you're going to use those points and how you're going to spend them. This may seem like a small distinction, but it really works to maintain your addiction and keep the game rattling along.

A lot of the gameplay is satisfyingly adventure-based. There are traditional inventory-item puzzles, but they generally tend to be logical, obvious in their use in furthering the story and they nearly always open new areas or allow you to do exciting new things.

I keep coming back to this, but one of Shadowrun's greatest strengths is in the way that it constantly presents players with things they want, but which they can't quite get - yet. This is the hook, and is one of the key components of great game design. Whether it's a gun you want but can't quite afford, a locked gate that you need to find a key for, or a spell that you need to find another component for, Shadowrun excels in keeping you hungry. And that makes it all the better when you get what you want. And then there's something else you want, after that! It's very cool.

Fighting is extremely simple, but generally fun. Hacking is an interesting subgame that, while not great (Hacking in games is rarely great), certainly offers a refreshing change of pace. Adventuring, exploring, and RPG levelling are where the game really scores, and where you get to soak in that thick, thick atmosphere and tingly addictive gameplay. Oh yeah, and the attention to detail is awesome too - There are optional subquests, different ways of solving some puzzles, intricately detailed graphics, all kinds of fun stuff and all kinds of things that the designers didn't need to throw in, but did because they obviously enjoyed creating this game. Excellent example: Late in the game, you kill a huge serpent beast. When it dies, it leaves some scales on the floor. If you examine them, the description is something like 'Slimy scales from the dead serpent.' Try to pick them, and you can't. Try again, and they scoot across the floor. Finally, on the third or fourth attempt, you manage to get them. The scales were slimy and they slipped from your hand! Totally pointless, but very cute.

Have I made it clear yet? This is one compelling, fun-packed, involving, deep cyberpunk-y RPG. It reminded me of System Shock and anyone who knows me can tell you how much I worship that game.

The Bad

The game falls down in two areas: Its combat and its party recruiting.

The combat is very basic. When you're not just running around, you change between different cursor modes. You either use the hand cursor to manipulate the environment, the spell cursor to cast spells or the crosshairs cursor to fire. Because you're switching from movement to cursor mode, you can't move when doing any of these things. In combat this means that you change to the crosshairs, move them over your enemy and blast away. You can't move. Well, you could, but you'd have to temporarily lose the crosshairs as you switched back to movement mode, then switch back to firing mode...You see what I mean. It's just not worth it, because you'd lose too much time even trying to move. So every battle basically consists of you standing still and hammering the fire button while the cursor is over the top of your enemy. Meanwhile, they do the same to you. And the AI is very basic, too. For normal enemies, it's pretty much nonexistant. Most of the time, they will stand completely still and fire back at you. When you get some spells, combat does improve, and become a little more tactical, but it's still rather too basic. I actually bought my first control pad after playing this game for a while. That is definitely a good thing, but the reason for it isn't - I seriously could feel the beginnings of RSI in my wrists from pummelling the same key over and over again. Anyway, despite it being so basic (and despite the possiblity of wrist hurt disease), combat is actually pretty good fun. It's satisfying to watch enemies flash and die (Hmm!) and you always want to get a bigger gun so you can deal more damage. I just think they could have rethought the system a wee bit and allowed you to move and fire at the same time. Some enemy AI wouldn't have hurt, either.

The second point where Shadowrun falls down is party recruiting, which is almost entirely pointless, and again, the fault must lie at the feet of the AI routines (or rather, the lack of them). I don't know much about the Shadowrun universe beyond this game, but it seems pretty clear that a big part of it is the idea of gangs of Shadowrunners running around together. Here, it's really not worth it. You can hire whoever you want from the motley bunch hanging out at various bars and clubs across the city. They all have different strengths and weapons and you can hire fighters, mages or deckers (If your cyber skill is not high enough, you can get them to plug into the net instead of you). Party members follow you around blindly and will start shooting when you run into some enemies. This can be useful to add extra guns to a hot situation, but the problem is that your party members have no intelligence whatsoever. They won't move (except to follow you), they won't run away if they're about to die and they won't ever try to heal themselves. Even mages, who are loaded up with heal spells, will never use them, unless you explicitly tell them to. Yes, you can tell people to move, or to use different spells, but to do this, you have to change from fire mode to the 'hand' mode, move your cursor over to the party member, and then select what you want them to do. In the middle of a exchange of hot lead with a seriously hard orc ganger, this takes way too long. In fact, when you have a party with you, you'll spend most of your time checking on their health, and desperately trying to medikit them before they die. I hired a mad uzi-toting dwarf, called Norbert, near the start of the game, and together we took out the leaders of the Rust Stilettos gang. That was fun, but back then, my own firepower and health were too limited. I soon realised it was a lot better to save money and get myself a better gun that to waste it hiring idiots who were just going to stand there and get shot. From then on, I went solo. I had no complaints about this, as the gloomy Bladerunner-ish future is usually a lonely place, with one desperate person fighting against whole evil MegaCorps, but I'm sure fans of the original RPG would be rather upset about the near-uselessness of hiring in this game.

The Bottom Line

Whoah! Well, my 'complaints' section was quite long, but it was only two points and one of them (the combat) managed to be fun despite it being so basic and the other (recruiting) was disappointing, but it was fine being on your own, anyway.

So know this: Shadowrun for the SNES is a truly excellent game. It's rich in atmosphere, gameplay and fun, and it kept me playing solidly into the small hours for a week or so. It's actually one of the best games I've ever played, comparing favourably with the likes of more recent mega-smashes such as Deus Ex. Even more than that, it's now got me hopelessly addicted to console gaming. I'm playing Chrono Trigger, loving every minute of it, and I now walk boldly forward into a console-loving future, wearing my smoky grey trenchcoat, SNES in one hand and AS-7 assault cannon in the other.