First-person shooters


shadowrunbox.jpgThe now-defunct FASA Studios, developers of the well-received Xbox exclusives Crimson Skies and MechAssault, have tested their flair with first-person shooters in Shadowrun, a multiplayer-only title based on a pen-and-paper RPG. Now, you’d think an RPG would spawn an RPG, but misguided experimentation has resulted in something a bit freakish instead. Shadowrun, the video game, is far from terrible but should have been placed in the hands of a studio like BioWare. FASA’s version is an efficient but seriously lacking shooter that probably should have taken its inspiration from another source. And the game definitely needs more meat on its bones.

Shadowrun is an odd amalgamation, for certain. It relocates traditional RPG characters to a futuristic Brazil where corporate security guys (dressed in blue) from a conglomerate called RNA fight it out with rebels in red called The Lineage. Both sides consist of any arrangement of humans, dwarves, elves, and trolls, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Humans have a technological advantage, dwarves can drain other players’ essence (or mana), elves are dextrous with regenerative capabilities, and trolls are essentially hard-to-kill walking tanks. Weapons, magical abilities, and technology are selected from a menu at the beginning of each match. Each selection has a set price and players earn money based on performance. Although this setup is reminiscent of Counterstrike, the combination of races, magic and tech give Shadowrun a very unique flavor.

Weapons consist of a disappointingly standard assortment of firearms from pistol to rocket launcher, plus a katana that utilizes a third-person view. Each player has a set amount of essence to be used for magic, which includes abilities such as resurrection, teleportation, and summoning a creature to fight by your side, amongst others. These can be used in any combination with tech abilities such as gliding, auto-aiming, enemy detection, magic inhibition, and a speed enhancement that also deflects incoming fire when wielding a katana. It’s an eye-opening assortment of features, for sure, but seasoned shooter fans will find all this only briefly intriguing before jumping straight to the question of balancing.

A great deal of playtesting must have been devoted to Shadowrun, because it shows. No matter what type of force you’re up against, your team can change up their strategy to turn the tide of the match (assuming that your team is truly acting as a team). Any combination of race, magic and tech can defeat any other combination. Every ability has a downside, and none has a distinct advantage over another. One magic spell called Smoke can turn you into an invincible wisp, but you can’t fire weapons and can be damaged and exposed by the wind gust spell. A tech called Enhanced Vision shows waypoints to every player within fifty meters for a few seconds. However, its use exposes you to other players with Enhanced Vision equipped whether they activate it or not. Even the auto-aim tech projects a red beam across the map, revealing your position. These are just a few examples of how Shadowrun’s unique features force players to think beyond communication and marksmanship.

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So how can a person manage all these abilities in the heat of battle? You can hotkey any combination of three purchased magic or tech to your left trigger and both bumpers. These can be switched out if desired by using a radial menu of thankfully efficient design; so slick in fact that, with practice, you can access abilities in this menu almost as quickly as the ones you’ve hotkeyed. The downside is that it’s too easy to get used to keeping certain abilities in certain slots at all times, for these may have to be changed frequently depending on the situation. It’s bad to teleport when you meant to resurrect a fallen ally.

Single-player can be entertaining to those who can live without the little touches, such as plot, dialogue, scripted sequences, and cutscenes. You see, there is absolutely no campaign mode whatsoever. Going in alone consists of the tutorial and all the botmatches you can possibly endure, and that’s it. I can only imagine the story one could squeeze out of a universe that mashes up D&D-type characters with a cyberpunk setting, and it’s a shame that seemingly no effort was made to flesh out the game with any sort of narrative. The developers apparently thought they were crafting such a breakthrough multiplayer experience that the lack of a campaign mode would have been forgiven if not ignored. This may have been the case if a ridiculous number of multiplayer maps had been included, or if 32-player epic battles were an option. Unfortunately, the entire game is the equivalent of only the multiplayer component found in most other shooters.

Furthermore, Shadowrun offers pathetic match customization: choose one of three game modes then select a player cap of 8, 12, or 16. Period. The game forces you to play ranked matches with random strangers or start a leisurely match with only bots and direct friend invites. You can’t just drop into a “player” match with adjusted rules like in most multiplayer shooters. Serious players only, please.

shadowrun-2.jpgShadowrun’s graphics may also disappoint. Although serviceable, the visuals are more akin to Halo 2 than Gears of War. Textures have little detail and the architecture is mostly flat and basic, consisting of floors, walls, ramps, and little else, but this keeps the framerate buttery smooth which is arguably more important than sharp details in multiplayer. A strange graphical gripe is that ladder-climbing animations were omitted entirely; players slide up and down ladders like posed statues. However, this is forgivable if you don’t look at it…

Those who can find the existent value in Shadowrun’s team-based multiplayer exclusivity should at least pay for a rental. Not long ago I would have even recommended a purchase, but times have changed recently. Not only has Halo 3 been released (as you may have heard in passing), thinning Shadowrun’s player base, but FASA has been dissipated and absorbed into other branches of Microsoft. This means that Shadowrun’s content deficiency will likely never be improved through future downloads.

Shadowrun should by no means remain ignored. It’s a mechanically sound thinking-man’s shooter at its core, which should account for something. But it’s only a matter of short time before the game is forgotten entirely. Very few will be playing it online come next year, so even a rental may be a ripoff if you wish to do more than battle the remarkable AI. Shadowrun is a perfect example of a game brimming with potential but will soon perish from poorly nourished development and subsequent neglect.  It deserved to have been raised with more care.

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“I just found out that Halo 3 has gone gold.  Nice work Bungie. ” – Major Nelson.  Someone sedate that man!

Looks like Sept 25 remains destined to become The Day That Work Stopped.  There’s going to be serious competition for that day off, so request it now.

On a more personal note, I’ll tell you what–I’m sure as hell glad I don’t work at Gamestop anymore.  I was on the receiving end of the Halo 2 launch.  Those poor saps behind the counter are getting trampled twice as hard this time, God help ’em.  One store dealing with hundreds of copies of a game in a DVD case is one thing, but now they’ll have to deal with even more copies, about half of which are Legendary Editions that come in a box larger than a person’s head.  This launch could literally be too big for some stores to handle, and there will be plenty of madness.

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mohairborne.jpgCall me crazy, but it’s to my understanding that a demonstration should be engineered to show off a product’s most outstanding qualities.  If that’s the case with the demo of Medal of Honor Airborne, then we’re in for trip as unique as the bus route to school.

The demo begins by showing off the feature presumably intended to lead off the list on the back of the retail box:  parachuting into the fray.  It’s a nice change from starting a level with the usual fade-in, and choosing your landing zone is briefly interesting.  In a rather arcadey addition that some may find a bit inappropriate for the setting, Airborne has hidden collectibles in the form of “skill drops” where the game challenges you to land in certain targeted zones, like the top of a clocktower, and there are a set number to find in each level.

The demo’s leading me to believe that Airborne’s going to be a garden-variety WWII shooter once your feet hit the ground. Good controls, adequate texturing, and a fairly open level design make up the demo’s strengths. Bullet points in the minus column consist of subdued and ineffective sound effects, ugly as hell grenade explosions, and oblivious AI enemies that often run right past you and take cover with their heads sticking out.  Oh, and the bad guys actually show up on a state-of-the-art WWII personal radar that recognizes heat signatures, or so it seems.

Airborne feels like it’s going to be a magnificent title for people who just can’t get enough of standard WWII shooters.  The thing is, I’m actually one of them.  I enjoy the primitive feel of such games sometimes, and playing it really reminded me of the excellent Call of Duty series.  At least Airborne seems like it will be the sincerest form of flattery.

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mohairborne.jpgThe obese WWII shooter genre still lumbers forward despite years of overindulgence.  Now up on Xbox Live Marketplace is a taste of the latest edition of the franchise that started it all, the Medal of Honor: Airborne demo, weighing in at a shade under 1GB. 

Hopefully the full game will provide the necessary thrills for those of us who just can’t mow down enough Nazis.  I hear the parachuting strategy and cover system add just enough freshness to a terribly stuffed genre.  I sure as hell hope I’ve heard right.

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halo3collectors.jpgNew word has hit on how much you can screw up Halo 3’s multiplayer in ridiculously fun ways that go far beyond the mere options of match type, weapon load-outs or power-up availability.  Apparently, you can change up everything except the structure of the map itself.  That is, you’ll be able to experiment with the very placement of spawn points, vehicles, weapons, and power-ups. 

The Unreal Tournament/Championship games boast a great feature called “mutators”, which are options that allow ridiculous abilities such as one-shot kills.  Halo 3 is going to offer such customization to its power-ups, whereas collecting one can enable such things as a speed boost, high jumping, and others.  What’s even better?  Halo 3 will also offer a feature called The Forge where a person can monitor a multiplayer match and rearrange items while other people are playing, and you can still be attacked!

Of course, all these new features will result in hilariously unbalanced matches and will deactivate achievements, but I’m more than ready for some serious advances in console MP gaming customization.  This kind of variety has been around for PC shooters for over a decade, and it’s time the love was shared more widely with us thumbstickers.

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turok.jpgAnother interesting title has been thankfully pulled from the holiday crowd lest it be trampled in a stampede of more popular games.  Disney has announced that their futuristic dinosaur hunter has been moved from the expected window of fall 2007 to February of 2008.

This upcoming version of Turok is a reimagining of the well-liked original which debuted back on the Nintendo 64.  Personally, I’ve never gotten the chance to play any Turok game except for the less-than-stellar attempt that hit last-gen consoles a few years ago.  But this new Turok by Propoganda Games is looking pretty tasty, and I’ll be right there trying to stay at the top of the food chain if reviews are favorable.  Turok also features multiplayer, and if the game earns a warm reception like King Kong then the franchise will have redeemed itself in my eyes.

Source: Eurogamer

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As if the demo wasn’t evidence enough of BioShock’s magnificence, 2K’s Force to be Reckoned With looks well-prepared to walk away with a truckload of Game of the Year awards and leave the competition mercilessly crushed under Big Daddy’s massive iron boots.  According to metacritic, the dystopian juggernaut is earning scores ranging from 95 to a perfect 100 thus far.

These scores almost justify the $80-$100 some people are paying those eBayers for copies snagged at Toys R Us this week…almost.

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