GDC 07: Shadowrun hands on
The room is set up with two very large Samsung HDTVs. In front of one monitor is a slick gaming mouse and keyboard. In front of the other is an Xbox 360 controller. We sit through the expected spiel: Shadowrun has magic, trolls, dwarves, all that stuff. But how does it play? Is it fun? Microsoft's Michael Wolf and FASA's Technical Chraracter Designer, Michael Lowrance, sure make it look fun. Finally, we get our shot (that's me and two folks from Game Informer). I'm holding a pad, my foe wields the KB and mouse. I'm a dwarf. He's a troll. Time to ask it again: is it fun?
To put it succinctly, yes. The game is fun, but we didn't have nearly enough time to test it out. Admittedly, this meeting was more for FASA to show off the game than it was for us to play it, but we wanted a bit longer. Of course, wanting more time is usually an indicator that something is right. A match in Shadowrun plays out more or less like a game of Counter-Strike. At the beginning of a round, you purchase weapons, magic, and technology (better known as "tech." Shadowrun is bewildering at first, what with all the selections available for purchase. What weapons do you pick? What magic? What tech? Do you focus on one area more than another? We imagine this process will become second nature, as players develop their niches, but at first it's pretty confusing. It took a while to get the controls down (the game is still going on as you buy weapons, etc.), but after failing with a laser guided rocket launcher, we wound up settling on an up close combo: a katana and a shotty.
Your race definitely plays a factor in Shadowrun, as each race possesses special abilities. Our dwarf, for instance, sucks magical essence from every character and magical item in the game. This effect applies to characters and items on both teams, so if you're not careful, you might end up destroying your team's tree of life (a healing station) or sucking away a friend's essence. You really do have to be careful, dwarves suck up essence fast. Naturally, this has advantages, too. Which brings us back to races.
Trolls, you see, become harder to kill as they take damage. You can actually see rough patches of spikes sprouting from their skin as they get hurt. This ability, though it is passive, still requires magic to perform. Enter the dwarf. The dwarf can run up to the troll, sap its essence (thereby eliminating its toughness ability), and slash it with a katana for a quick, efficient, and ultimately satisfying kill. Yeah, landing a kill with a katana is niiice.
Spells -- including teleport, tree of life, smoke, and more -- can be easily mapped to the left and right bumpers and the left trigger. Simply press B, pull up the desired effect from a radial menu, and press the button you want it mapped to. Done. Players can also cast spells directly from this menu. The same system applies to tech, which includes abilities like the glider, enhanced vision (called smart link), and wired reflexes. Wired reflexes is particularly interesting for up close players, as it allows the deflection of bullets with a katana.
An interesting note, the game features bots that can be enabled during online play. The bots take up player slots, but will drop when a human player shows up to take its place. It's a small feature, but a much appreciated one.
Overall, we really enjoyed our brief time with Shadowrun. It's a solid multiplayer game. We're somewhat concerned that it's complexities will limit its broad appeal. The mere act of mapping magic to different buttons could keep, say, the Halo crowd from really enjoying it. Still, as the hardcore 360 fanboys that we are, we want more. And we want it now.
Oh, and you may notice that there wasn't any mention of the fabled mouse vs. gamepad debate. Honestly, we didn't notice. Sure, we've heard that before, but now we believe it. Shadowrun is one to watch.
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