As the first game under the Windows Live brand to bring both PC and Xbox 360 gamers together, Shadowrun isn't the most casual-friendly title imaginable. So unexpectedly complex that after the initial training exercises and multiplayer matches, we were overwhelmed to say the least. A few hours and a dozen or so matches later, it hadn't fully connected, but the pieces were starting to fall into place.
Like we said in our previous coverage of the game, Shadowrun is about finding your niche and sticking to it. In other shooters, your niche can be as simple as controlling the rocket launcher or defending the flag. In Shadowrun, it's defined by the powers you equip, how you utilize them and what role you take in your group. Even if you consider yourself a sponge for tactical knowledge, a learning curve this high won't be conquered in your first hour of play. And for a high profile, predominantly multiplayer shooter, that could spell trouble for Microsoft and FASA Studios.
It's not just about saying "I like healing, so I'll just equip the Tree of Life power." It's about coming up with entire game plans that work with your style, starting off with your choice of race. Deciding between being a human, dwarf, troll or elf is as important as your weapon as all four races sport unique attributes and properties. From there you equip yourself with a variety of magics ranging from teleportation to beast summoning, or techniques such as grenades and enhanced vision. The goal being to load yourself up with the utilities needed to compliment your game.
Though it controls like Halo and even feels like Halo, weapons in Shadowrun react more like something out of a realistic shooter such as Counter-Strike. This can be a difficult concept to grasp as a lot of Shadowrun has folks phasing through walls and using gliders to sail through the air. Having to stop and pop for accuracy gives one the feeling that it never quite commits to one or the other in terms of design. It does, however, help to support a group mentality as you're not going to get much done alone.
Once you've settled into your role, the depth of Shadowrun -- once an overly complex beast -- begins to unfurl into something more manageable with still more room to grow. With every magic and technique there is a counter and while it seems like a game of rock-paper-scissors, practically everything can be utilized in a variety of ways as to avoid that trap. Working alongside a partner that compliments your magics can turn a rock smashes scissors situation into a string of combinations and easy kills. Dealing with just weapons alone feels so under-powered that if you're not dishing out consistent head shots, you probably shouldn't even be wasting your ammo.
As a supremely hardcore, round-based tactical shooter, Shadowrun doesn't contain the universal appeal of something like Halo or Call of Duty. It's difficult to grasp at first and once you think you've got it, someone out there will pull out a technique that will make you think twice about how you play, but that's the hook. There is a certain addictive quality in polishing your game in Shadowrun that comes from defeat. The technical combinations and focus on teamwork forces you to look at your flaws and figure out how to conquer them. It's a shooter that, while perhaps not immediately apparent, prefers to favor brains more so than brawn.