Running drugs, killing cops and murdering civilians. Sounds like it’s the latest ultra-violent video game for the Playstation 2 or Xbox, right? Actually, Shadowrun is over a decade old, and was released on the Sega Genesis.
The Genesis game is based on a pen and paper RPG of the same name, and offers a good amount of freedom in gameplay for a console RPG of its age.
About fifty years into the future, corporations have nearly as much power as the government. Much of Seattle, Shadowrun’s setting, is crumbling, and rising from the mess are runners, freelance workers who do everything from run drugs to undermine big corporations.
The runners’ life isn’t one of idealism, it’s one of dangerous work for anyone who pays well. Of course, there is a story to Shadowrun. The gamer plays as Joshua, who has come to Seattle to learn who killed his brother, also a runner.
Early work consists mostly of cakewalk jobs; escorting people across town or delivering packages, presumably of illegal items or substances. Later missions are much more daring, and players will have to rough up troublesome gangs and raid corporate offices in search of a certain package or employee.
Completing missions will earn Karma for the player, and instead of traditional level increases that let the player boost his or her skills, Karma can be used to boost both
With profits from running missions, the player has a large selection of toys to purchase. Various handguns, the only legal firearms, are available in many forms, from Saturday Night Specials to powerful revolvers. Some dealers will offer a shotgun or submachine gun, both illegal arms, but the “Crime Mall” in the Puyallup Barrens holds the widest choice of illegal guns. Both pistols and SMG’s can be fitted with silencers and marksmanship boosters.
Armor comes in many forms as well, from simple Armored Clothing to Lined Dusters, which can conceal weapons. Illegal combat armor offers the best possible protection, but is expensive and will draw Lone Star police.
Mages can purchase various levels of spells, fetishes and amulets that aid spells, while Deckers can find software, cyberdecks and enhancements.
One of the interesting products of the future is Cyberware, biomechanical upgrades installed in the user’s body. There are many choices, such as Dermal Plating, which increases resistance to damage, or Muscle Replacements, which remove organic muscle and put artificial but superior mass in its place. Melee fighters will relish in Spurs, which put Wolverine-like claws on the character’s hands.
Just as Joshua is hired by “Johnsons” to carry out missions, he can recruit other runners to help on individual missions or serve as full-time allies who take a cut of each run’s profits. The selection of NPC’s is varied; deckers, heavy gunners, sorcerers and shamans are all available, each with his or her own backstory.
Taking care of companions is crucial; if one is gunned down and left for dead, trying to re-hire him will cost the player much more nuyen, the game’s currency.
The inability for Joshua or other runners to die, while standard for console RPG’s, is strange for all the grittiness of the game’s world. After being shot or pummeled into unconsciousness, the player is left at a hospital, a few nuyen poorer after the doctor takes his fees.
Combat is pretty nicely executed; using B to target an enemy (or passerby) and A to fire or punch, all action takes place in real-time. NPC’s on both sides fight reasonably well; enemies are ruthless and companions will heal wounded party members.
Cyber-combat is especially fun, and is almost a game in itself. Joshua (or an accompanying NPC) must try to either slip through computer systems through password-generating software, or toast every node’s defenses with attack programs. Just like runs, hacking grows more and more difficult as the target systems grow larger and larger. If a hack attempt is successful, data can be stolen and sold or the system can be crashed.
What gives the entire game a uniquely pen-and-paper feel is the random encounters that take place anywhere. Walking through towns, Joshua will have to deal with police questioning, grenade dealers, even angry employees who mistake the player for their boss. Aligning with one criminal syndicate will raise the ire, and frequent attacks, of the other.
The story is deep and interesting, with many twists and choices the player must make. Without giving it away, the ending scene is terribly poor and doesn’t reward the dedicated gamer who played so many hours to see it.
There isn’t much to say about the game’s graphics. The top-down perspective can make characters look like Neanderthals, but bars reflect the condition of their respective districts well; in the Barrens they are cheap and dirty, while Downtown Seattle’s clubs are glitzy and bright.
There’s something missing in the audio department, however. The music is simple and repetitive, the screams from being shot are tinny, and gunshots sound extremely poor. About the only interesting sound is the report of a silenced handgun, which sounds much like a James Bond PPK.
While it’s essentially obsolete compared to newer RPG’s, Shadowrun offers a unique atmosphere in console roleplaying games and significant freedom.