The time: January 31, 2058
The place: Seattle, UCAS
Under the cover of darkness, a team of shadowrunners moves through the
Salish-Shidhe wilderness. Without warning, they are ambushed by unknown forces. The massacre is over quickly, but captured on tri-vid by one of the slain members' cybereyes.
The tri-vid was recovered and made national news. Michael, your brother, was the last to die. Spending your last nuyen to go to Seattle, you vow to avenge your brother's death.
Landing at Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport, you flag a cab to bring you to the place of Michael's last credstick transaction: Stoker's Coffin Motel, located in the Redmond Barrens. The manager yawns: "I won't bore you with the welcome speech. So whadda ya want?"
Shadowrun is easily the most original RPG on the Genesis: it's a cyberpunk mystery. This is no save-the-world adventure. There's only you, your quest, and the city of Seattle. And I can assure you of one thing: there is no single way to play Shadowrun.
You pick between three character classes: mages, warriors, and deckers. With creative use of experience (which does not come from combat, but is painstakingly accumulated through shadowruns) and cybernetic implants you can specialize your character with any number of game-relevant skill imaginable.
Find your character lacking in some area of expertise? Hire an NPC Shadowrunner to assist you with your business! In fact, this is the only way to expand your party. And you will have to do some business with Seattle's dark flipside if you want to get anywhere: big money doesn't come from slain foes; you have to earn it by hiring out for a variety of "shadowruns" - ranging from bodyguard jobs to infiltration to complex virtual reality heists.
Every character in the game gets a portrait and a bit of characteristic dialog. The one thing that Shadowrun does not lack is atmosphere. The graphics are nothing special, though they never betray the setting: the sprites are large and well-colored, if not overly detailed. Unfortunately, the game suffers from clipping problems: cast an area-effect spell and the whole screen goes haywire.
The music is simple and functional, and some of it is oddly catchy.
As long as we are on the subject of spells: Shadowrun does not encumber itself with a turn-based battle engine - all combat happens in real time directly in the area maps. The fun part is that battle is frequently done with realistic firearms (which sound sufficiently real) and other real-world weapons. The game is slightly unbalanced in this department, but this is what provides the edgy realism - you will get killed at least once in the beginning of the game, when your scale speed in combat is miserably slow and your armor is a simple padded vest; but even at the end of the game, some enemies will still be able to tear you to shreds - hellhounds come to mind.
Furthermore, there are fourteen spells to buy, upgrade, and use in combat. Unlike some games, in Shadowrun you have to be careful with magic: the drain from mindless spellcasting will knock you out in a matter of seconds. For the decker, there are twelve forms of software and countless different upgrades to use in your journeys through the Matrix.
Shadowrun falls easy prey to powergaming. Frequently I had to say to myself: enough fun - you have to advance the plot. Not that the plot is especially dull, simply that it involves more conversation and walking than one would like.
Inevitably, the first time playing Shadowrun is the best. Once you've found, mapped out, and purchased everything there is, there isn't much left to do. Nevertheless, it is worth a look, if only for its sheer originality.