Long read: Who is qualified to make a world?

In search of the magic of maps.

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The Dark Future of Cross-format shooting?

My bank manager's frowning. Were I smart, I could have spun this out for two reviews and doubled my profits. Instead, I'm doing it for one for the simple fact that this dual PC/Xbox 360 release is the same. In fact, I could probably sum up the major differences in one paragraph. Let's give it a shot.

Basically none.


Shadowrun is based on the old-skool FASA pen-and-paper role-playing game. It's already come to ["the wonderful world of videogames" - Increasingly-Despairing-For-His-Writers-Ed] in the form of the 16-bit RPG which remains a much-loved period classic. True fans of either are going to be disappointed. This is a traditional-sized team-based Counter-Strike-derived shooter with an extremely heavy online bent and a mass of interesting twists, with the mechanics justified by the Shadowrun setting of Fantasy meets Cyberpunk. In other words, as well as shooting people with guns like you would in Counter-strike, you get to spend your ill-gotten gains on cybernetics ("tech") and magic ("magic").

(To be honest, I'm fine with the abandonment of its more straight-RPG possibilities - the magic and tech stuff is absolutely great for a more purely mechanic-based shooter, giving the designers and us lots of room to have fun. While SNES Shadowrun was a great game, personally I've never been particularly convinced by Shadowrun's worth as a setting per se, purely for 'orrible Neuromancer purist reasons. Cyberpunk and Elves is just a bloody geeky idea for a real fiction setting. And, yeah, take it to the comments thread, 'Runners. As entertaining as it often is, Shadowrun has bigger problems than not being an RPG.)

The single-player is vestigial, limited to tutorials and botmatches. The real game will take place online - there's no split-screen for either format - across the nine included maps (with three smaller versions also available). Each map has an artfact-capturing mode attached to it (either both teams going for the artifact, or one defending it), or can be turned into Attrition (basically, team deathmatch). Between rounds, players are given money depending on their and their team's performance, which they get to spend on the aforementioned special powers and weapons. Much like Counter-strike. It also shares with the Half-life Mod That Did Really Well, Y'know in having character death leading to sitting out the rest of the round, which adds tension to what you're up to.

Well... it mostly means sitting out the round. In practice, someone with the resurrect ability may get you back on your feet. And it's in this - that is, the special abilities - where Shadowrun absolutely distinguishes itself. It's essentially a brutal marriage of Counter-strike and Guild Wars (i.e. you only get to use a limited number of your powers at any time, so choosing which to apply in combos is the cornerstone of your tactical choices).

Elves. Molly From Neuromancer would not approve.

The way these abilities can link together is genuinely something, with enough quirks in each ability - and in how they interact - to get really interestingly defined roles. And all the better, as you've thought them up yourself. For example, if you purchase a Katana, as well as being a melee weapon par excellence, if you manage to strike someone unawares from the rear, you can perform a back-stab that'll cause your opponent to swiftly spurt all their insides outside. However, if you marry that to Wired reflexes, as well as a general speed boost, as long as you're not swinging it, you get to deflect a large number of bullets directly shot at you like a cinematic ninja.

While you're able to purchase any number of abilities - and they remain for the rest of the round, unlike weapons which drop to the floor when you're killed - you only have three quick-slots available. This hard-limit is where the Guild Wars-esque tactics come into play. It's not even just what you can afford in terms of cash, and have room for - you also have to worry about the magical energy it takes to power them ("Essence"). Some abilities just require you have enough in the bank, like the teleport which allows you to zip through walls, ceilings, across gaps and generally confuse the living hell out of your opponents. Others require an upkeep. So, for example, summoning a Tree of Life will grey out part of your supply which will be inaccessible until the tree disappears. Throw down enough Strangles - crystalline walls which block passageways, and are ideal for defence or just plain annoying the oppositions - and you'll find you don't have enough to do anything but keep them in existence. That equipping technology like the glider-wings or enhanced vision will also diminish your bar as long as you have them plugged in means that you have to ask serious questions of whether you can afford a certain combination in terms of energy.