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Shadowrun

Hands-on: Better than expected

Based on the long-running pen and paper RPG, FASA and Microsoft's Shadowrun shoehorns the magic and wizardry of the tabletop pastime into a fast-paced deathmatch shooter.

At first glance it's easy to toss aside as another generic jigsaw shooter, but our recent hands-on time has thankfully proved that Shadowun has plenty to shout about.

Taking the vanilla Counter-Strike round-based formula, FASA's take on the age-old IP mixes things up with character races, high-tech gadgets and enough magic to fill a year's worth of Final Fantasy instalments. Two teams battle it out to capture a staff-shaped artefact - though unlike the common flag game alternative with this collectable you can twat people in the head.

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Rather than pitching them as weapons without triggers, FASA points out that it has made all of Shadowrun's magic powers benefit the player with abilities rather than simply dealing out damage. Teleports, speed-ups and summons are among the purchasable powers, each lending themselves to specific strategy for the player.

IN THE SHADOWS
Upon starting a round you can purchase powers and technology using an in-game buy menu, again similar to Valve's shooter. Tech includes self-explanatory gliders, sight assist tweaks and ability boosters to help you reload and run faster.

Straight away we found the most useful magic ability to be the Nightcrawler-esque teleport, which zaps you through thin-air in whichever direction you're facing - even through walls or ceilings. The manoeuvring advantages of having teleport are obvious, but we also discovered excellent comedy potential such as the moment we zapped away from the middle of an enemy barrage, leaving our foes to get hit by their own projectiles.

This proved particularly effective - and awesome looking - when we shied off the vanilla shotgun-ing and sniper camping of the first-person view, and found our niche in the third-person katana combat, which switches you into third-person to jump around like a sword-wielding elf ninja.

Other useful magic tricks include the ability to turn into smoke (causing bullets to fly through you), a demon buddy to summon and dispatch upon unlucky opponents and perhaps most important of all; the tree of life, which grows from the ground and heals anyone nearby.

As you can imagine, as soon as we discovered this most replenishing of plants we set up camp atop a very high building, with the loudest and most burly sniper rifle we could get our hands on. With the tree healing us, and our massive gun picking off the red team left, right and centre, we were almost unstoppable - until, that is, an angry elf hovered over with his sword. Git.

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As far as races go, on offer are the all-round humans, the fast and pointy-eared elves, the tiny dwarves and the hard as nails trolls. But as we found out your character choice goes deeper than just stat changes; the trolls for example 'harden' the more damage they take and dwarves are completely immune to headshots, so your choice of race is going to sway heavily on your strategy.

One the most defining aspects of Shadowrun is how its scoring system works. In any other deathmatch game the scoreboard is ranked on kills, where as in Shadowrun you're scored for the amount of damage you've dealt. That way no-one can turn up to your fire fight and snatch the last shot, stealing your kill (*cough* Gavin Ogden *cough*).

Another huge change that features prominently in the game is magic ability to resurrect your team mates. With this in hand you can pick your shooting buddies right off the floor and back into action, though they'll be linked to you for the rest of the game. If you die, everyone you've brought back to life will die too. Resurrecting also lessens the maximum size of your magic bar, eventually leaving you with nothing once you've resurrected three or four teammates. This is just one example of the amount of thought that has been poured into balancing and tweaking.

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