Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Often Overlooked Archives: Shadowrun

 Titles flop for a variety of reasons. Unrealistic expectations, bad release day timing or misrepresentative PR among other reasons can lead to quality titles getting a bad rap. I've decided to start a new series of posts to shed some light on past titles that I believe didn't get the attention they deserved. Let me start with a little game called, Shadowrun.

What was it?
Shadowrun was a multiplayer-only, class-based, team-oriented first-person shooter derived from the Shadowrun universe. For those that aren't aware of the role-playing franchise, Shadowrun is, more or less, a cyberpunk meets fantasy RPG franchise with novels and lore that fans hold very dearly. FASA studios created a game that could generally be conveyed as Counter-Strike meets Team Fortress with Elves and Dwarves. Players pick their class/race at the beginning of each game and select starting guns, techs and spells. Each round, just as in Counter-Strike, you accumulate money and purchase more items.

Why did the game flop?
Graphically, the game wasn't exactly a powerhouse. You definitely couldn't mistake it for something like Gears of War or a God of War. Particle effects on spells were kept to a minimum and animations were a bit stilted. Most damningly, despite original plans, the game was released at $60 as a multiplayer only shooter with  9 maps, 7 weapons, 7 spells, 6 techs, and 3 game modes. Having effectively just deathmatch and two different version of capture the flag certainly felt didn't win over any hardcore fps fans. Having no single player component of any kind besides bots I'm sure didn't help either.  FASA and Microsoft further restricted potential sales by restricting the PC version to Vista only. While the game touted the ability for Xbox 360 users to play with PC users, players quickly found that there was a built in mouse handicap on PC to even the playing field. Fans of the Shadowrun franchise revolted against the game even prior to release as details of the game's limited plot were exposed. Changing core things about how the universe functioned put off many fans that might have given the game a shot just because of it's title. As of July 31, 2007, the game sold roughly 162,000 copies in North America according to NPD Group with 150,000 being in sold on the Xbox 360 and the remaining 12,000 on the PC. The lack of sales killed FASA shortly thereafter.

Why it was worth playing.
Because it's freaking Counter Strike meets Team-Fortress with teleporting, healing trees and the ability to blow people off buildings with magic while shooting them with an assault rifle! Shadowrun is, in actuality, one of my favorite team oriented first person shooters ever. The few that purchased the game found an experience that was admittedly limited in scope but chock full of depth with a sheen of balance. No one build or race was overpowered and weapons required a good amount of skill to aim. One good map is worth 5 crappy maps and the 9 that came with Shadowrun were nearly all fantastically built with few exceptions. In addition, unlike recent Call of Duty's, teamwork was paramount to success. Healing, reviving and assisting your teammates payed dividends due to the game's more procedural pacing and slower movement speed. A single bullet wouldn't put you down and even if you were killed you could be revived a limited amount of times by teammates. Guns had appropriate recoil and bullet spread and weren't perfect for every range with an opponent  The appropriate guns dominated their appropriate ranges as intended. I don't think, to this date, I've ever played a more balanced and fun multiplayer FPS than Shadowrun.

Could it be Remade?
With a small but dedicated development team, I think, a remake would sell. There's not that much to do to make this game viable again. For starters, drop the Shadowrun name altogether. Uprez some of those textures. Make it a Xbox Live Arcade and Steam downloadable title for 15$. Add some more maps and custom character skins. I, for one, would be first in line to play Shadowrun again. While I don't think the game could ever be multi-million dollar behemoth, I'm sure with a new customer perspective and a fresh coat of development paint that a new audience could be found for the game.


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