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SHADOWRUN / Data East / SNES
The SNES version of Shadowrun, numerous flaws and drab graphics and all, is still probably the best treatment of the source material that this franchise has seen to date. I don't know exactly how faithful it is, since I haven't played the pen and paper game, but from what I've read it hits most of the major elements and at the very least is the most fun and playable.
Alright chummer, whip out your credstick ... on second thought don't do that. This game stars some dude named Jake Armitage, and opens with him getting jumped by some street gang and shot to pieces in Robocop style. But some mysterious fox girl comes along and heals him apparently just enough to keep him alive, but he's still unconcious and the meat wagon hauls him off to the morgue. Upon regaining consciousness upon a slab, Jake realizes he has lost his memory and has no idea how he wound up in this state. So you'll have to blunder around Seattle, bursting into people's apartments at random and getting into all sorts of gun battles, in your quest to figure out who Jake is and why all these hobos keep trying to gun him down.
Combat is pretty much the main focus of Shadowrun. It seems that on every street and in every building there is an assortment of Heavy Dudes, Ferocious Orcs, Snappily Dressed Mages and Dancing Hippies waiting to fill Jake full of holes. There's certain points on most screens where a random enemy may or may not be waiting in ambush for Jake each time he re-enters the area, and then in the "dungeon" areas of the game there are clusters of pre-set enemies that don't respawn when they are killed. Combat is semi-action-based. You fight the enemies on the same screen you see them waiting on, and can move around freely. This means you can dodge slower moving projectiles like lobbed grenades and magic spells, but in order to fight you have to stand still and bring up a crosshairs which you control with the gamepad, meaning that most fights just turn into you and the enemies standing face-to-face blasting away at each other until one falls. You can hide behind terrain sometimes to avoid bullets, but this also cuts you off from being able to shoot at the enemy. Later on in the game, when magic spells are introduced it adds a touch more variety, as you can make yourself invisible for a short time or cast an armor spell that soaks up damage. For the most part, though, combat is pretty simplistic, but the ability to retreat at any time or even run past it in some cases is a welcome change of pace from the usual console RPG conventions.
The other major unique feature of the game is cyberspace. Certain computers can be hacked once you have acquired a cyberdeck and taken care of some plot-related items, in which you can find information needed to progress in the game as well as large sums of money. "Hacking" is represented as a simplistic logic game where you move around on a grid, and the game tells you how many IC units (defense systems) are in squares near you, but not where they are. You have to attack in a direction to find them, but if you attack an empty square you lose a little life. If you attack an IC and fail (success is determined by your Computer statistic plus a random dice roll), you can lose a significant chunk of health, but if you succeed you blow the thing up permanently. The goal is to work your way towards "nodes" from which you download data, open doors, turn on elevators, shut off security systems and so on.
You'll often see Shadowrun characterized as being one of the hardest games on the Super NES. I don't necessarily agree with this. I think the only thing that's really difficult about it is that it has a non-linear structure that often gives you no clues, or very vague clues, about what you are supposed to do next. For example, the very beginning of the game is one of the most frustrating parts. After you escape from the morgue, you find a weapon and some armor in short order. You need to find Jake's apartment to be able to rest and save the game, but you are given absolutely no clues as to where it is. Now, the section of Seattle you are confined to at the beginning is pretty small, but there's a shit ton of hobos and peeping snipers waiting to chip away at your health as you run around trying to first figure out where Jake's place is, and then where the key to it is once you do find it. It's very easy to die during this part while running around aimlessly and exploring, which probably has turned a fair share of gamers away from the game before they could give it a proper shake. And the rest of the game has many sequences where the next objective is not pointed out to you in any way, and you are left to barge around until you stumble upon it for yourself. However, now that we are in the age of widespread internet access and GameFAQs, this isn't as big a deal as it used to be in the early 90's when this came out. As far as the combat, there are some tough battles, but as long as you put in the time to boost your levels (which really doesn't take that long in this game as compared to the usual JRPG) and seek out all the available equipment upgrades, the game's battles are fairly easily handled.
The game is long on atmosphere, mostly thanks to the soundtrack. It uses low quality sound samples, especially considering what the wonderful SNES sound chip is capable of, yet has such panache that it really doesn't matter. It suits the dystopian setting perfectly. The graphics are low-res and almost of Sega Genesis quality, but the drabness does also suit the game's setting.
Smooth combat and atmosphere are the two strongest points of the game really, as the story is pretty inane and full of logical gaps and deus-ex-machina stuff. It's like Johnny Mnemonic rewritten, but sloppily and with dragons and elves thrown in. Jake is hired as a courier to transfer some really important secret data for this evil megacorporation, and he's supposed to be killed afterwards to erase all evidence but that gets boned up because he happens to be a latent shaman and his Dog totem protects him. But no one knows what's going on so he has to run around town kicking in random doors and chatting up everyone he sees to figure out WTF happened. Once you stumble across Teh EviL Plot, it turns into typical improbable American action movie style revenge mission where you blast your way through ridiculous defenses to get revenge and single-handedly take down the evil corporate masterminds and all of that. The designers were pretty lazy or they just seemed to lack ideas, as stuff that you need to progress is often just lying out in the open and no one ever stops you from taking it. Either that, or like a safe key that you need is held by some guy who happens to be standing right next to the safe, etc. The characters are all one-dimensional and there's no development at all, it's a very shallow story that just serves to set up the computer hacking and mass amounts of gunplay. Jake hardly ever talks, and no one else in the game says anything other than giving you information about whatever your next plot-related objectives are. NPCs are such fodder that their facial portraits are often recycled several times throughout the game. Hacking and magic are downplayed as well - you need both to some degree, but they are kind of an afterthought. It's not like, say, Quest For Glory where there are multiple paths to develop your character along. You have to pretty much develop as a heavil armed tank, since huge difficult gun battles are requisite to complete the game.
The only other element that I wanted to discuss was the issue of Shadowrunners in the game. Jake himself doesn't actually take any runs, he's just following his own agenda for pretty much all of the game. So the Shadowrunning element is reduced to NPCs that you can hire as temporary party members. The problem with these guys is that by and large they are a waste of time and money, as they are so weak that they get smoked almost right away in the major battles that you actually could use them for. It's actually a better strategy overall to just save your money and solo the whole game, never hiring anyone except for a couple of specific incidences where a runner can find some bonus stuff for you. So, what should be a major component of the game is actually factored almost completely out of it.
Numerous flaws aside, the game is actually pretty fun and the crazy characters and setting (as well as the music) make it worth a look.
Shadowrun Office Space Edition
Jake Wears His Sunglasses At Night
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