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The Double-A Team: The glorious messiness of Shadowrun

A kind of magic.

The Double-A Team is a newish feature series honouring the unpretentious, mid-budget, gimmicky commercial action games that no-one seems to make any more.

Last week, we took to the skies with Dark Void. Today we're exploring Shadowrun. Not that one. The other one.

(Oh, and we have an archive of the existing Double-A Team pieces now. Enjoy!)

I like mess. Those films that are nearly amazing but not quite because they get a bit silly, those meals that taste delicious but look a bit, well, sloppy, and - of course - those games that simultaneously work so wonderfully yet are so utterly broken in their own way too. That's Shadowrun all over.

Imagine a game where you can choose to glide through the sky with a set of wings before vanishing into thin air then popping out behind a huge troll and stabbing it in the back with a katana. Or using wind magic to blow an enemy off a cliff face or send a grenade back in their face. That was Shadowrun.

With undertones of Overwatch and a hint of Counterstrike - if those terrorists and counter-terrorists had become a little too overly friendly with characters straight from a fantasy novel - Shadowrun could never be anything more than a bit odd. But ohh, it was a lovely broken kind of odd.

Up to 16 players would battle it out in tightly packed arenas, using a mixture of fancy advanced technology and ancient magic (really) to try to eviscerate each other. It was loosely inspired by the RPG of the same name. I didn't play the RPG but it certainly explains Shadowrun's attempt at having an intricate plot that literally no one had any interest in paying attention to.

Essentially, magic is cyclical and meant to return every 5000 years. This time round, in 2012 (the future in this game - God, I feel old), magic returned and a multinational corporation decided to use it for nefarious reasons. Because of course they did! Anyway, anyone who played it couldn't care less about that.

Instead, the fun stemmed from choosing who you were going to play at before trying to shoot or cast magic at someone. Humans and mystical races like Orcs, Trolls, Elves, and others all co-exist here. That meant that Shadowrun wasn't your regular multiplayer FPS because there was so much variety, even if not all the players tried experimenting. Resurrection was possible and fairly overpowered but it had an interesting limitation. Kill the resurrector and everyone they've resurrected begins to slowly bleed out, potentially changing the course of battle. There was a nice layer of strategy here.

Counterstrike-style purchasing systems meant you could buy new tech at the beginning of each round keeping it for the rest of the game, or you could buy guns that only lasted till you died. In that respect, Shadowrun was remarkably varied. You could mix and match skills and race combos to your heart's content.

Knowing the best way to spend money was almost as vital as being able to react quickly in a firefight but it meant you worked well as a team. Even if I mostly remember everyone hanging around the healing Tree of Life rather than pursuing the objective.

To make Shadowrun more flawed, it was part of the Vista-only Games for Windows Live service which proved to be a bit of a disaster. Cross-platform gaming sounded great at the time but I'm not entirely convinced anyone I knew really cared about it. The divisions were formed. A lack of single-player mode other than some dull bot play also made this feel like a very pricey purchase back in 2007.

In a year that saw BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Halo 3, it never really stood a chance in the long term. But I loved it.

Those moments where you could glide across half the map, nip into a corner, slice and dice with a Katana, before sniping from a distance, were wonderfully varied. The sheer wealth of options seemed such a delight compared to the usual FPS methods even if there was no sense of long-term progression other than the odd achievement unlock.

Could Shadowrun work today? Probably not. Like so many online-only games, it was a thing of its time, but the memories stick with me so much more than countless hours of the polished Overwatch.

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