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SummaryOrcs and computer hackers of all countries, unite!
The GoodNote: Before I begin, I must state this is a review of the SNES version of "Shadowrun", and only of this version. The Genesis version is an entirely different game, not a port of the earlier SNES title, but a game with a different gameplay, different plot, different graphics, and different characters. They share only the unique setting of the Shadowrun universe - a bizarre futuristic world populated by hitmen, ferocious orcs, mages, shamans, computer hackers, and giant snakes.
It is hard to describe the appeal of this world - my best advice to you would be to play this game yourself, and as soon as possible. The moment I saw the first location of the game, I was hooked, captured, and imprisoned, and the outside world ceased to exist for me. "Shadowrun" cleverly avoids the well-known clichés of a "post-apocalyptic", or a "bladerunneresque" setting, and creates a world that is hard to forget. No radioactivity and no huge Chinatowns, but an extremely strange and wonderful city, where gangsters roam about, and where a troll armed with a machine gun is not a rare sight.
Medieval fantasy is merged with typical modern-day life, vampires co-exist with large corrupted corporations, and your hero casts magic while threatening the enemies with an assault rifle. All this fills the game with an incredible atmosphere, makes mere wandering around the streets of the futuristic Seattle a one-time experience. In terms of originality, the setting of "Shadowrun" can be compared to the one of Arcanum, a great modern RPG of the Fallout school, or the recent Shadow Hearts, a Final Fantasy-like game set in China and Europe of 1913.
Living in such an unusual world, your hero Jake Armitage has to find out who is trying to kill him, and why. He awakes in a morgue, after some hitmen attacked him and he was presumed dead. From now on, he has to regain his lost memory, to discover more about the assassins, and to realize his true purpose. Of course, this story slowly, but surely develops into an old "good guys vs. the bad guys" sort of a tale, and although it has a great premise, we aren't talking Planescape: Torment here. Still, the story keeps you interested until the very end. And there are some interesting optional background information that you can discover by talking to characters or getting data files from computers. However, the game's main focus is hardly on the story, and perhaps even not on the setting. What makes "Shadowrun" so great is first and foremost its wonderfully designed gameplay.
The gameplay of "Shadowrun" is a mixture of at least three different genres: role-playing (which is its most important aspect), adventure, and shooting. The shooter part is not to be underestimated. The largest portion of combat in "Shadowrun" consists of shooting: there are no other types of weapons except guns, and the type of magic you'll use the most is defensive. The shooting occurs in real time, and you'll have to move around and to aim at the target in order to shoot successfully. You press the A button to shoot, and the X button to use a spell, all in real time (unless you use an item or generally access the menu). It sounds simple and primitive, yet it is actually quite fun. Such combat in a RPG is much more dynamic than hack-and-slash with melee weapons, or turn-based battle style.
You can have a party in "Shadowrun", i.e., you can hire all kinds of people to help you, but those "party members" are AI-controlled, and most of them will leave you after some time. I played the game entirely without a party, although I admit having a party would have been more fun. But since you can't control and can't develop your party members, your entire attention is devoted to the development of Jake himself.
The role-playing system of "Shadowrun" is an incredibly balanced and fascinating skill-based character development, that is quite a bit similar to games like Deus Ex. You have attributes, skills, and magic. The attributes include hit points (called "body"), magic points ("magic"), and also strength (higher levels allow you to wear heavy armor), and charisma (allows you to have more people in your party). The various skills are often acquired by Jake from people and places, but you start the game already having two basic and most important skills: firearms and computer. Firearms allows to inflict more damage with your gun (up to a certain maximum the gun is capable of), while computer skill is necessary to hack into many computers scattered around Seattle. During your adventure, you will be able to acquire also other skills, such as negotiation or leadership. Finally, the magic you can use should be learned by obtaining necessary items. Then you can also train the diverse kinds of magic by bringing them to higher levels and making them more efficient. You upgrade your skills by gaining experience points, which are called "karma" in this game. The cool part is that you decide yourself in what ability or skill to invest karma, unlike in most console-type RPGs or even classic AD&D games, where leveling up occurs automatically. Since all the skills are important, and an improvement in any skill is clearly visible, you'll be spending quite some time fighting in areas where random enemies appear, to gain karma and to upgrade your character the way you like. It makes the game extremely addictive - in fact, "Shadowrun" is one of the most addictive games I know. In few other games is mere leveling up as fun as in this one. You'll find yourself unable to quit playing the game until you've gained one more point to a skill, and then you'll remember another skill is still at a low level, and will go and get karma and upgrade it too.
With all this RPG goodness, the structure of the game resembles more an adventure. The game develops according to the rules of a classic adventure: complete a part of it in order to trigger the next part. Fortunately, the game gives you a lot of freedom as to when and in what order to complete those parts. Most quests and events are running simultaneously, and since already early in the game you have access to most important locations, you can choose freely where to go first and with whom to talk first to obtain some information. If you explore the game world carefully, talking with everybody about everything, and picking up every object, you'll complete many quests without even knowing you have done it. The wonderful adventure gameplay of the game imposes on you a set of simple tasks instead of boring, complicated, or tedious puzzles. Besides some switch-pressing in one location, and several elementary tasks like opening doors with keys, the game is basically devoid of puzzles. Instead, the adventure gameplay is based on dialogue. While talking to people, you learn about important words. Then you can talk to other people and ask them about those words, and perhaps to receive some new ones, which you can use in a conversation with another person, etc. This is the way you progress in the story - a certain key person will react to a certain key word and will give you another one, intended for another person. Often you'll also have to pick up items and to use them - such as finding keys for locked doors or collecting spell components. "Shadowrun" is one of the best proofs for the fact a good adventure game doesn't need puzzles to provide a simple, compelling, and interesting gameplay.
Graphically, "Shadowrun" is an ancestor of the great modern isometric RPG. The graphics belong to the highest achievements of Super Nintendo, and of 2D graphics in general. The animation is excellent, and the detailed, atmospheric backgrounds prove once more graphics don't have to be 3D in order to be great. When talking to characters, their portraits appear in small windows. Although there is a standard set of portraits used for the game (the same portrait is usually used for several different characters, with the exception of the important ones, such as Kitsune, Jester, or Drake), those portraits are very original and vivid, in most cases adequately reflecting the personality of the character. The somewhat strange, unusual music of "Shadowrun" fits the game perfectly. Finally, the almost PC-like interface (it uses a cursor you can move around the screen to highlight objects or persons you can interact with, as if you were using a mouse) is actually very comfortable and easy to learn.
The BadThe adventure part of the game has certain problems. You don't need to solve boring puzzles, but instead, you'll need to ask everybody about everything. It can become slightly uncomfortable, especially because new people will come to known locations after you have triggered a certain event without even knowing it. There is no way to know exactly who will provide you with useful information and what word you have to use in a conversation. This leads to the fact you'll have to talk to every single person about every single key word, hoping to learn something new and to make the story progress. This involves running around a lot through the considerably large city. Some events are very loosely connected to each other, and certain trigger action are absolutely illogical. For example, at one point you'll need a boat, but the owner will refuse to give it to you, saying the mermaids in the sea are too dangerous. Instead of giving you a possibility of convincing this person, or doing something directly connected to sea or mermaids, the game forces you to complete an otherwise totally unnecessary small quest, which is by no means connected to your problem, but which will miraculously trigger the needed change in the conversation with the boat owner.
Another problem is the fact that while the main genre of this game is RPG, the adventure-like outlines make it a bit too linear. There are basically no side quests in the game, with the exception of buying skills or getting spell components, which can hardly be considered side quests. Although the game allows you to complete most of the main quests almost in any order you like, it doesn't allow you not to complete a quest. In other words, you'll sooner or later have to go to all locations, talk to all important people, and fight all the bosses, or you won't be able to finish the game.
Also, the combat could use a little bit more refinement. Of course, it is your basic shoot-'em-all, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I wish they'd have more usage of the targeting system. You have to target an enemy in order to hit him, but it doesn't matter what part of the enemy's body you target. Whether you hit him in the legs or in the head, the result will be the same. Just think of the wonderful targeting system in Fallout...
The Bottom LineWhat can I say? "Shadowrun" for SNES is an awesome game. I'm still puzzled and perplexed, thinking how come it never became a hit it should have become. The game oozes personality and style, and manages to bring something new into every main aspect of game development, especially setting and gameplay. It is cool, it is addictive, and it is unlike any other game out there.
May the Dog Spirit guide and protect you!