Video Game Review – Shadowrun (Genesis)

*This review won 2nd place in VideoGameGeek’s monthly video game contest for May 2013. The theme was Law*

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Shadowrun US & EU Cover

      My experience with Shadowrun is only through the Super Nintendo game. I’m not going to compare it to the Genesis version, but they are completely different games. I finally got a hold of this game and expected it to be entertaining, but it was not. It was not fun in the slightest.

      In 2058, technology and flesh bond. The Matrix is invented, which allows people to jack into cyberspace. Around the same time, Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs returned to the world. Some were hiding in human guises, whereas others were normal humans who turned into them.

      A Shadowrunner is someone who steals data from corporations for their own profit by jacking into their Matrix systems (they occasionally break into buildings and steal packages or save lives, and occasionally do escort missions, such as walking an NPC from one house to the other house directly next to it). Your brother (a Shadowrunner) is killed, and you fly to Seattle to find out who killed him, by becoming a Shadowrunner yourself.

      The game is played in an Overhead perspective, along with a character portrait of yourself in the far right. It will show your current Mental Health and Physical Health; if either of these reaches 0, you die. Your current spell or weapon will also be displayed under it.

      Right off the bat you will die—all the time. You start walking and immediately get attacked by 1 or 2 people. You can’t fight them very well. So, you’ll have to get money to buy better weapons and protection. When fighting, you simply press A, and your character will attack with the gun or magic you have equipped. The enemy you attack will be surrounded by a either a Green, Yellow, Orange, or Red square to indicate how close to dying they are (in that order). Hit B to change the enemy you want to target. Hit C to control another Shadowrunner with you (if you have one).

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I’m attacking the guy on the other end of the screen
while I’m getting beaten up by the guy in front of me.

      One of the aspects I like is random encounters. Occasionally, you will be interrupted by your display screen with various different options to choose from. A Lone Star (police) will come at you, and if you just talk to him, he goes on his way (with a small percentage he will see your illegal weapons and shoot at you). However, if you try to run, he appears on the game map and starts shooting at you (though occasionally you might be able to get away). Many of these encounters are the same thing with a random outcome. In one instance, A sick man will ask for help, and if you help him, he gives you money. Sometimes, however, he will be an instant killing vampire.

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A random encounter like this will pop-up and stop your movement in the overhead world,
forcing you to make a decision.

      To raise money, I find a Johnson. They give you missions so you can earn money. When I first started, I was given simple escort missions and prayed that no one would run into me on the way to both locations (you have to walk to where the guy is, then take him to his destination). Whatever you do, you need to save immediately when coming out of the 2nd location for the escort mission. Many times, enemies will already be outside 2 seconds after you exit, giving you a limited opportunity to save because you can’t save during combat (you can’t enter buildings either). Nothing sucks more than accomplishing your mission and getting the money, only to be gunned down immediately after trying to simply walk one step.

      Fighting is at first frustrating, then boring. Every enemy will always come right up next to you and start shooting or punching; enemies cannot be stopped or slowed by guns or magic, they continue to walk right toward you as if the bullets or spells are not there. You end up having to run away a lot while fighting. Luckily, if you are far enough way (not office building levels) your other Shadowrunners won’t get hurt if they are way off-screen.

      The first few hours of the game, if you are caught with 2 enemies or more, you die in 3 seconds with all of them punching you. This game is really hard in the beginning and leads to many deaths simply from just trying to cross the street and find a building. Realizing that taking a taxi would be suicide if every level was harder than this one, I spent over 2 hours doing Shadowruns to afford the best gun and armor, and enough to pay off the gangs to stop attacking me. I was still not ready. In the next town, I died all the time just trying to move. I returned to the original city to earn enough money to get the highest level Zap spell and to hire another Shadowrunner full-time.

      When hiring another Shadowrunner, you can set them (and yourself) to 1 of 5 reaction levels since the AI will control the other ones, and each one affects their defense and attack (if you tell them to be totally offensive, their attack power goes up, but their defense is weaker). Just remember that spells bypass armor altogether.

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This is your character and his items. The Damage refers to how powerful the shot is.

      When you are injured, you can stay at a hospital to heal your Physical and Mental energy, and how much it costs is relative to how injured you are. Hotel heals your Mental energy only (but fully) but here you can also increase your Karma points.

      Doing a Johnson mission will give you Karma points, as will killing a certain number of people. You use these to increase your stats, and there are a lot of stats; around 20. You need to decide what to focus on (for each Shadowrunner). Charisma makes you drive the prices of gods down and get by guards in corporate buildings. Body increases your defense. There is a separate skills for Medkit. What your skill in it is depends on how much health you administer. Spell makes your spells more accurate and powerful. Guns make your guns more accurate and powerful. And, yes, accuracy is a problem. When using magic, you raise your hands and a small circle moves around you, but sometimes you can press the button, and your arms will raise, but nothing will happen (this is like a Miss in an RPG) and the same can happen for bullets. Lastly, all the Shadowrunners you hire also earn Karma points so you can make the ones you like more powerful, as their stats are permanent, no matter how often they leave the party.

 photo 75a22d19-d9e1-4be5-96c7-8d8950b3ee65_zps8c626bc9.jpg
You can raise every stat here except Essense & Magic (and Sorcery for some). Also, each character has a different Max Limit, with the Orc only able to go to a 4 Intelligence, whereas you can go to an 8.

      I returned to the major part of Seattle, but I couldn’t do many of the Shadowrun missions; they were all too hard. Just going into a building to find something or someone sounds the alarm pretty quickly, for you see, you need a high Charisma to pretend that you work there, and it doesn’t work all the time. Also, once the alarm starts, the guards spawn indefinitely unless you turn off the alarm, but there is only 1 computer that will allow you to do this per floor. Escort missions would be in different towns, which cost a taxi, so you won’t end up making as much money. You could hack into the Matrix now, but the stuff you buy for it only has a limited number of uses, so occasionally I found my Attack or Deception powers just suddenly disappear and I realized I wasted my entire trip in here. Also, I was still not powerful enough to kill Ghouls for extra money (abandoned houses contain infinite spawning Ghouls, and you are sometimes hired to kill them with a price per Ghoul). All I did was find a wide place to run far ahead of the Ghouls, shoot a spell, repeat. But just screwing up once resulted in an instant death too many times.

      Matrix runs are really hard to describe. They are insanely boring. You are a metal avatar traveling from Node to Node looking for a download jack to find information you were hired to retrieve. You can chose 4 of the 12 items for the computer deck (you can never actually buy all 12 at max level, as even the best computer doesn’t have enough memory to fit them all). Your avatar appears before a node. Each node will continue doing what it’s doing or attack you. You can chose to attack it or try to get buy it. Sometimes trying to sneak by it makes it enter attack mode, then you have no choice. If you sneak by it, though, you will not be able to Transfer data if there was a data transfer jack there, so you will need to attack it. Luckily, there is a Matrix map that displays which areas are Data Transfer points. Your attack will miss all the time unless you upgrade your attack more, so yes, even more items to buy and upgrade. Where will you find the money for all this, and just how much time do you want to invest in this game? There are many other things you can buy, such as health, slowing down the Nodes attacks, confusing them; but for the most part, you can do pretty well just using attack and deception only and ignore everything else (and increase your Computer Stat) and explaining every single computer app you can buy might sound like there is depth to this game, but it is really just very dull.

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Here you stock up on your computer programs, like Attack and…well, you don’t really need anything else.

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You have 3 attack options, each doing more damage than the other. I assume using the strong one all the time is what led to my Attack option going away forever.

      You can hack into random low-level Matrix areas and steal anywhere from $50 – $200. But when most magic and upgrades cost 14,000 for the Level 4 upgrade (not counting the high price at level 8 and the massively expensive computer boards that are over 200,000) you realize grinding in a different way is all you are doing. To hack into specific locations, you need a password from a Johnson because it’s for your mission. To hack corporate buildings, you need to be in the actual building itself (but to do that, you have to have a mission reason to be there). It’s only later that you can discover a Johnson that will hire you for Matrix mission for the big corporations and give you passwords to hack from the outside. Hire him all the time, as the passwords are permanent even after the mission is over; this way you can go in and make more money on the side if you wish.

      After traveling to all the other cities and learning everything I could about the story, I eventually gave up on the game. Yes, I could do stupid little side missions only and gain money to get better stuff, but I already did 6-8 hours of this stuff; I was not wasting anymore time on this. I never give up on a game, but this game made me abandon it.

      I would have given up there, but a few days later I looked to see if there was a cheat code; and there was. I gave myself 250,000 to see if it would actually change the outcome of anything; it didn’t.

      I eventually gave in and did it 3 more times, making my stats (and my 2 other Shadowrunners’ stats) up a little and getting them the best armor (you can buy items, armors, weapons, magic, and cyberware for any of the Shadorunners you hire). And, if you dismiss them (or they run off after dying) they retain all their items and stat bonuses.

      I hired a 3rd Shadowrunner permanently, then we died really quickly. I then show up at the hospital with $350.00 taken from me. It takes forever to earn that much money. And if I try to hire the same Shadowrunner again, his prices goes up because you nearly got him killed before. You can hire Shadowrunners for the short or long term, but both prices go up if you let them die. Can you guess what you have to do? Yep, reset the game and reload your game.

      Still, the combat just gets worse. None of the enemies have any concept of anything but run right at you and attack, even people with guns. Only other wizards will stand afar and shoot at you. Even when I became powerful enough to stand a chance, fights just weren’t exciting or fun; they were all boring and not well constructed.

      An important thing you have on you is your Notebook. This keeps track of plot points so you know what or who you are looking for. It also includes a list of every Johnson that offers missions (and where they are located) and every Shadowunner you can hire (and where they are located). However, there is no Map; you will have to remember all the 50 buildings or so and what they are for. There is a map included in the manual which lists which doors you can go in, but you will have to write in what the buildings are yourself. In addition, the Notebook also keeps a list of contacts. You need to meet people and pay them for contacts. These people sometimes give you more contacts or help you out for a price (such as getting into you into a prison to break someone out, or selling you discount weapons). It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had missed the most important contact of the game; the guy who sells you keycards for corporate buildings so you can sneak around without being attacked on site if you fail your Charisma check. This finally made the corporate missions a little easier, but you can still screw up with the random co-worker that likes to talk to you all the time. Now, corporate raids were the best source of money as there are safes all over the place with money inside. Occasional you find grenades instead (?) but you can then sell those for money. This is when I started making more money to buy things. I could then afford to buy computer apps to infiltrate corporate computers to find even more money in Data Transfers in addition to money hidden in safes, making an average of $1,000.00 each mission, plus the $2,000 for completing the mission successfully.

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I’m a beefy, chest-exposing guy with a blade on my arm and this is my half-naked elven co-worker;
we totally work here.

      Random Mentions

It’s mentioned that you shouldn’t carry illegal weapons, but I never had a problem with it. My Orc Fighter carried an illegal shotgun the entire game without incident.

Everyone starts with 6.0 Essence. If you equip yourself with genetic modifications, you lose that Essence and spells are less effective. My elf Decker had an Essene of 1.6 because her focus was in computer hacking, not magic, so equipping her with things wouldn’t matter. Early in the game, it’s better to hire her to go into the Matrix rather than going yourself. These modifications are the weakest aspect of the game, as you never need anything that will drop your Essence detrimentally.

Item overload. There are over 100 unique items and every single item is available at the beginning of the game. You won’t know where to begin or what to spend your money on, let alone what’s worth buying. This is both a blessing and curse, as the exploration should be fun, but in the beginning you die way too easily to really enjoy it.

Spells. When using guns, you use ammo that you can run out of and have to buy replacement clips. But with spells, some drain your mental Energy. They can damage an enemy really quickly, but drain you a lot. Usually, you stick to the weaker, non-draining spells so you can attack indefinitely and save the big spells for when 4-5 enemies show up on-screen at once. You can buy items that absorb your drain a limited number of times, but that felt worthless and too costly to me when you can only hold 8 items and you really need to pay for a helicopter to bypass a half hour stage that is full of insanely powerful Weindigos.

Hilariously, if you max out your best computer with every application you can, you will no longer be able to download data in Matrix runs because you used up all your memory, which means you can’t make money this way the rest of the game. Luckily, you can still download plot relevant data.

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      Story: 10 out of 10

The story (for the time) is more involved that most. There are many twists in turns in solving your brothers murder. In addition, the personalities of some of the character are very interesting. Even the Contacts system, in which people join a contact system for money to help people do illegal things, is interesting and very fun to read and use. Also, the random story moments that pop up when just walking around lead to a feeling that anything could happen at anytime that could sometimes reward you, but for the most part leads to situations you will try to avoid and help develop some tension.

      Sound: 5 out of 10

I only remember the theme song from the title screen. I know there are other songs there, but I can’t remember any of them even after playing for over 20 hours. That comes to average in my book.

      Graphics: 5 out of 10

The graphics are very detailed when looking at faces and people. However, the sprites are very similar and small; making battles hard to maneuver and sometimes you forget where you are and which character you are controlling.

      Controls: 8 out of 10

The controls are very simple, as stated above. It is the stats of your characters and weapons that make it seem complicated, but otherwise, A is attack, B is focus on another target, and C is switch characters. The only odd thing is when you turn, your entire body turns along your shoulder, so sometime you make some awkward moves when traveling around the map and it can make you run into an enemy or go in a door you don’t want to go in.

      Challenge: 5 out of 10

This game is challenging, but the challenging isn’t alleviated by maxing out your character, unless you REALLY max out your character. The reason this isn’t a high score is because there is too much grinding and repetitive play, as well as an unusually high learning curve in the beginning. If you enjoy games that really change you, however, you might want to check this out.

      Fun: 3 out of 20

I really don’t know why I continued playing. It was fun the first 2 hours or so, then a little more fun once I cheated and gave myself money, but each only lasted briefly. I wanted to play to see what they did with the story, but eventually the story moments became fetch quests and even that lost its appeal. Looking at GameFAQs reviews, however, not liking this game seems pretty rare.

      Replay: 0 out of 10

I’m selling this game. That should tell you how much replay value I am giving it.

      Extra: 10 out of 10

I give a high score to it’s extras. It has lots of bonus side missions. And though they can get repetitive, they made many different buildings to infiltrate, along with many different escort and Matrix hacking missions. Though it will become a requirement to do almost all of them to earn money, you can tell they really enjoyed making their Shadowrun missions. Also, there is a cheat menu that does amazing things. Simply select A, B, B, A, C, A, B on the title screen, load your game, then go to the menu and scroll past the Save/Load option and select the blank space; you now have 8 cheats you can do to the game.

Bonus Points:

       +5 Random Encounters

The random encounters with individuals in distress, random animals you have to hide from, and even undercover cops pretending to sell illegal weapons to trick you so they can kill you (they never try to arrest) are really inventive. I haven’t really seen anything like it before and really believe something like this should be incorporated into other games.

      Total Score: 51 out of 90.

I still see a lot of positive points in the game, but the few major negatives I have with it seem to supersede all of it for me. I thought it would be fun the way the Super Nintendo game was. Alas, games with the same name for different systems back then really were completely different games.

See the review at:
      VideoGameGeek / RetroWareTV / GameFAQS

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