System: Sega Genesis
Published by: Sega
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: Of all the games to be called “Shadowrun”, this one is by far my favorite.
You play the role of Joshua. As the game begins, you learn that Joshua’s brother, Michael, was killed while on a job in Seattle. The problem is that you don’t know who killed him, why they killed him, or what he was doing in the first place. Fortunately, Joshua has just enough money to get him to Seattle so he can find the answers to these questions, and maybe even get a little revenge in.
The game begins with you selecting from one of three classes: samurai, decker, or gator shaman. For the most part, the Shadowrun franchise doesn’t rely as much on a class-based system as other RPGs, but in terms of how they work, the classes break down as fighter, thief, and mage. You can spread out their skills however you want, but for efficiency’s sake, you’ll probably want to stick to your class’ specialty.
The bulk of the game is spent doing shadowruns, jobs for shady businessmen that range from cleaning monsters out of abandoned buildings, to stealing files off a corporation’s network, to sneaking into a megacorporation to retrieve a package or liberate a captive employee. Upon completing a job, you’ll receive a cash reward along with karma points, which you cash in to upgrade your skills.
Combat in the game is fairly simply: just target your enemy, hit the attack button, and your skills and equipment will be factored to decide if you hit the guy. Guns use ammo, and spells use up the player’s mental health bar. Combat continues until either your physical or mental health bar is depleted, at which point you are knocked out and either get a teammate to heal you. If no one is left, you wind up at a local hospital with a little less cash in your pocket.
To decrease your chances of getting wasted, you can hire other shadowrunners to watch your back. Each one charges a rate for a single job (plus a percent of the job’s reward), or if you have the cash, you can hire them on fulltime. I suppose they threw in the single job rate because it exists in the pen and paper game, but for many of the jobs, the cost of hiring a runner for one job is greater than the reward for the job itself. Plus, hiring a runner permanently is the only way to get your runner to gain karma alongside Joshua.
Where the game really differentiates itself from other RPGs lies in one of the most rewarding types of shadowruns: Matrix runs. Long before Neo and Agent Smith were knocking each other around in a giant computer, Shadowrun had its own virtual environment that could only be accessed via a jack in your head. In this case, though, the Matrix is populated by corporate networks and the valuable files they contain. To get in, you’ll need a decker to sneak into a system, bypass the Intruder Countermeasures (or ICE, as they’re called in the game), and download/upload the right file before being kicked out.
Higher end systems mean tougher defenses, and that means upgrading your “cyberdeck”, and buying tougher versions of the programs you’ll use to bypass or destroy ICE. It gets to be a very expensive hobby, but if you get can get good at it, you’ll be raking in the dough much faster than any other job you can take. You can even download random files and sell them to make even more scratch. The only downside is that you never know how much a file is worth until you sell it.
There’s tons of stuff to do in this game, and unfortunately, it doesn’t always work to the game’s advantage. When you first start a game, you’re told how to do basic bodyguard, package delivery, and ghoul-killing runs. After that, however, you’re on your own. There’s no tutorial explanation of how to perform the very complicated runs on corporations, nor are you told where to go to receive better paying jobs that aren’t beyond your capabilities as a player who has only just started the game.
And for deckers, there’s one unfortunate downside to Matrix runs: the programs you use and the ICE you encounter have levels, from 1 to 8 with 8 being the strongest. The problem is that the “Attack” program, the one you have to fall back on when an ICE won’t fall to subtler means, is just barely powerful enough to combat an ICE of the same level. What this means is that even a player who has maxed out all stats related to using the Matrix and engaging in cybercombat will find himself constantly failing to hit high-end ICE. I know I said that combat in the game isn’t that involved, but cybercombat is about one-tenth as involved as that. Imagine trying to destroy an ICE by doing nothing more than tapping the attack button over and over again. Now imagine that your stats should make you the best decker in the whole game, but you’re only hitting that ICE one in ten times you attack it. Now imagine you have nearly a dozen more ICE to deal with before you can finish your run.
Shadowrun has a few annoying gameplay aspects, but once you get into it, you’ll find it’s a very entertaining game. It can be a bit daunting in the beginning, but once you get your character developed and start getting the hang of basic runs, you’ll find that Shadowrun is an experience like no other on the Genesis.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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