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Shadowran

Shadowran

I don't usually condemn games on concept alone, but I have to make an exception. I had the opportunity at E3 to play an early version of Shadowrun for the Xbox 360/PC (Vista only). Short story: it's a terrible idea that squanders a rich universe even more than EA did with Marvel Nemesis.

Microsoft is developing Shadowrun as an online-only, team-based FPS game that takes place before the actual events of the Shadowrun source books. Players join up and fight other players with guns, swords, and magic in a game that basically amounts to a glorified "capture the flag." Frankly, that's one of the worst possible things Microsoft could do with the Shadowrun license.

Shadowrun is a pen-and-paper role-playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons. There's tons of cyberpunk action in the universe, but fundamentally Shadowrun is about creating a character and taking it through complex missions full of corporate intrigue and action on foot, in vehicles, and online. The Shadowrun universe is extremely rich, with ideas and stories as compelling as those written by William Gibson or Phil K. Dick. Characterization and problem solving are far more important than simple gunplay and spellcasting for any Shadowrunner.

Shadowrun should be treated like an RPG. It should have a rich, single-player (or cooperative multiplayer) story. It should have puzzles and dialogue and characters and settings that put the player inside the Shadowrun universe. An online-only FPS? It's a fine genre, but using the Shadowrun universe to make it is like using Kobe beef to make meatloaf.

Games based on role-playing games should be, fundamentally, role-playing games. They can still have tons of action and rely on guns and violence as much as they feel like, but at their heart they should still be role-playing games. Most of the various Dungeons and Dragons PC games did that successfully, because they stayed true to the role-playing concept, and they're not the only ones. The White Wolf RPG Vampire: The Masquerade was successfully brought to PC with Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. The game has lots of guns and swords and violence, but at heart it's about exploring a rich world and solving problems. Microsoft and FASA should take a cue from Activision, Troika, and White Wolf and give Shadowrun the same sort of treatment Bloodlines got.

I love Shadowrun, but the game Microsoft is putting out for the Xbox 360 and Windows Vista just isn't it. If I want a team-based online shooter, I'll play Counter-Strike. If I want Shadowrun, I'll load my old copy of Deus Ex, because it looks like that's as close as I'm going to get.