E3 06: Shadowrun Impressions

Xbox 360 and PC players go head-to-head as Microsoft shows off its upcoming first-person shooter at its E3 booth.

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LOS ANGELES--Earlier today, during a fun-filled stroll through Microsoft's E3 booth, we noticed that FASA Studio representatives were doing battle with each other in a playable demo of Shadowrun. Purportedly based on the classic role-playing game of the same name (we saw very little evidence of this), Shadowrun is a sci-fi first-person shooter in which Xbox 360 and PC players can do battle with each other--as evidenced by today's four-on-four contest at Microsoft.

The game being played was a variation on the popular capture-the-flag theme in which both teams were attempting to retrieve a single artifact and take it to their base. The teams were composed of humans and elves, who have different racial abilities that will make each group better suited to different styles of play. Elves have smaller health bars than the humans but are able to regenerate their health slowly whenever they're not under fire, for example, while humans will start each gameplay session with more money to spend on weapons and skill upgrades. Other, currently unannounced races will also appear in the finished game.

Weapons that we got to see in action today included a katana sword, a machine gun, a shotgun, and a sniper rifle. What promises to set Shadowrun apart from the first-person shooter crowd, though, is its magic and technology system, which affords you additional abilities across multiple game rounds during the same gameplay session. In the first game of a session, for example, you might find that Shadowrun plays a lot like many of the other games in the genre, but as you earn money and have an opportunity to spend it between rounds, you'll learn skills such as teleport, with which you can instantly move forward around 10 meters in any direction; glider, which gives you the ability to descend upon your enemies from above, Batman-style; enhanced vision, which is useful for locating enemies through walls; and resurrect, which lets you do exactly what you think it does to your fallen colleagues. Powering these magical abilities will be your "essence" meter, which regenerates slowly over time and will get smaller every time you equip an additional ability. This means you can choose between having just one ability equipped and plenty of essence, or up to three abilities with less essence to power them. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the game is that every round in a given session is sure to play out differently, because players will be gaining significant upgrades in between them.

The map that we saw being played during today's demo was also quite interesting, because in addition to the usual base and artifact (or flag) battle focus points, the ancient-looking temple was home to a "tree of life" that slowly restored the health of anybody who stood close to it. This made the tree an ideal place for teams to pause en route back to their base once they had the artifact in their possession, which in turn saw the teams fighting for control of the tree.

Shadowrun will support a total of 16 players when it's released, and that number can include any combination of Xbox 360 and PC users. The game will boast a limited amount of single-player content in the form of bot battles and training minigames, but it has definitely been designed primarily for competitive play. The only noticeable difference between the two versions of Shadowrun was that the PC version looked a little sharper. When we enquired about the balancing issues of a first-person shooter that pits keyboard-and-mouse users against those armed with a console controller, we were told that the Xbox 360 game is a little more forgiving where shot accuracy is concerned, but that the balancing is still very much a work in progress.

Microsoft and FASA Studios are clearly withholding information on additional character races, weapons, abilities, and gameplay types at this time, but we look forward to bringing you more on Shadowrun just as soon as it becomes available.

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