PC and Xbox 360 gamers have gotten used to living and playing in their own respective worlds, though that will change once Shadowrun ships. Shadowrun, from Microsoft and its internal FASA Studio, will be the first Live Anywhere game to feature cross-platform gameplay, meaning that Xbox 360 players will be able to battle Windows Vista players online. It'll be a showdown between the mouse-and-keyboard crowd versus the gamepad crowd. We can't wait, but thankfully Microsoft recently gave us a chance to give both versions of the game a test-drive.
Shadowrun is a first- or third-person action game set in an alternate universe where magic and technology mix. The focus of the game is round-based multiplayer action, sort of like Counter-Strike, but with magical abilities and tech items that allow for a much more dynamic experience. In Shadowrun, you can see and teleport through walls, turn into a puff of smoke so bullets can't hurt you, hurl a gust of wind that disperses that smoke, summon magical minions to slay your enemies, enable hyperreflexes that let you move faster than others, and much more. Players will select from one of four magical races, each with its advantages and disadvantages, and they'll fight for the RNA Corporation, a high-tech organization, or the Lineage, the defenders of the magical temple that's the source of conflict in the game.
This was the first time that we saw Shadowrun in a fairly complete state. Though the game still needs some work, pretty much all the pieces are finally in place, and FASA finally showed off some levels that we hadn't been showcased before. The first was Nerve Center, which is set in the high-tech environs of an RNA Corporation base. The other was Favela, which is set in the vertical slums of Santos, the fictional Brazilian city in the game. Both were designed for 12-player matches, with six players on a team, though the largest maps in the game are designed for 16-player matches.
There will be three game modes in Shadowrun, each involving an artifact that must be captured. In raid mode, one team will be tasked on defense while the other is on offense, and the objective is for the attackers to capture the artifact and deliver it to a certain spot on the map. Extraction mode is more like capture the flag, as the objective of both teams is to capture the artifact and return it to their base. And then there's attrition mode, which is basically a team deathmatch mode with a couple of twists. First, in attrition mode, bodies can't be "cleared" from play. In the two other modes, if you kill someone they can still be resurrected so long as the body remains. However, one way to prevent this is to fire your weapon into a body until it disappears, "clearing" it from play. That player can no longer be resurrected in that round and must wait for the next round to play. So "clearing" isn't a danger in attrition mode. The second twist in attrition mode is that whoever is holding the artifact can see the location of all enemy players, and the value of that is pretty obvious. The artifact holder can then call out the location of enemies to the rest of the team.
Though we've played Shadowrun on numerous occasions at this point, we remain impressed by the depth in the game. For instance, we never thought of throwing a strangler grenade at a tree of life before. The tree of life is a magical tree that instantly sprouts from a seed you throw on the ground, and the reason you plant it is because you automatically heal if you're next to one. A strangler grenade puts down magical crystals that can block an entranceway. So, let's say you're battling someone who throws a tree of life down to heal. By tossing a strangler grenade at the tree of life, you deny them the healing abilities of the tree. Another example of tactics we hadn't thought of before is throwing down a tree of life to create instant cover if you're under fire. So imagine a battle where players are not only blasting away at one another with submachine guns, rifles, rocket launchers, and shotguns, but also throwing down trees of life and strangler grenades, soaring overhead with glider wings, teleporting around, resurrecting the dead, and more, and you get the idea of just how crazy the action can get in Shadowrun.
The bad news is that those looking for evidence that one control scheme is superior than the other may be disappointed. As far as we can tell, it's pretty much a wash between the mouse and keyboard and the game controller. Both are equally effective, and what it'll come down to is personal preference. Get the PC version if you want to play with a mouse and keyboard (you can also plug in an Xbox 360 controller to a Vista machine), or get the Xbox 360 version if you want the controller. Both versions look pretty much identical, so you won't miss anything with either one. However, if you do go for the PC version, make sure that your mouse has two main buttons and two side buttons, because you can map up to three magical or tech abilities to the right mouse button and the two side buttons. (The left mouse button, of course, is used to fire your weapon.) This makes it easy in a fight to use your abilities without having to fumble with the keyboard.
Shadowrun is a lot of fun, and though Microsoft still hasn't announced an exact release date for the game, its release date is nearing. All we know for now is that Shadowrun will ship for both the Xbox 360 and Windows Vista PCs (sorry Windows XP users, but you'll have to upgrade) before the first half of the year is out.