R³PG (Recommended Retro RPG) - Shadowrun - SNES

As a teenager, my capacity to waste time was a refined form of artistry. The sheer amount of things I could do to distract myself away from more important things like homework and household chores was staggering. You could hardly call my youth misspent though, I didn't hang around in parks with gangs of other teens drinking White Lightning and yelling abuse at the elderly. No sir. I would be sitting around a table with some friends playing any one of many pen and paper RPGs. Ok, so you could call it misspent and possibly a little sad, but hey.

Rifts, Heroes Unlimited, Cyberpunk, Cybergeneration, Dungeons and Dragons, all featured in our sessions. At one point I even got around to making my own pen and paper RPG up. My favourite distraction out of all of them though, was Shadowrun. Blade Runner meets Lord of the Rings is the best way to describe it and FASA Corporation had spent years building a painstakingly detailed futuristic fantasy world for us to enjoy. The recent release on Xbox 360 was unfortunately the latest in a string of damning blows to a series that had started well on SNES then gone into nosedive with releases on the Megadrive and MEGA CD, so let's focus on the positives eh?

Shadowrun - SNES

  • Buy from: eBay
  • Expect to pay: £35-£70
  • Gamerankings score: 74.5%
Shadowrun was first released in Europe on SNES back in 1994 - a year which I will always remember as the year England didn't qualify for the World Cup! - by Data East and developed by Beam Software and FASA Interactive, the latter being the studio headed up by Shadowrun creator and serial entrepreneur Jordan Weisman. What Shadowrun offered was an accurate recreation of Weisman's pen and paper creation as you took the role of Jake Armitage on a journey of deceit and self-discovery.

The game begins dramatically. A cut scene using the in-game engine shows Jake being set upon by hitmen who, for reasons you'll find out later in the game, have come to kill him. A shapeshifter intervenes as Jake is left for dead, by casting a spell. Next thing you know, Jake wakes up in the city morgue with nothing but a scrap of paper and the clothes on his back, his memory competely blank.

Shadowrun's intro. What Boromir's death would have looked like in a pixelated reinactation circa 2050.

What follows is a story of murder, double-crossing and ultimately the neutralisation of a large corporation headed up by the evil mastermind, Drake. One of the first things Jake discovers is that someone has planted a bomb in his head, nice of them wasn't it? It's a race against time early on for Jake to have the bomb deactivated and removed so he can continue with his quest. There will be guns for hire along the way who will follow you until they die (and then respawn in whatever seedy Seattle hole you picked them up in).

The Shadowrun world isn't as large as most RPGs of the same era, but then again, it was a completely different proposition. There was no world map, no airships, nothing remotely resembling a chocobo, it was all set in the city of Seattle and you would make your way around on foot and via the Metro system. The areas were portrayed as grimy, seedy looking backstreets, dark cemeteries and foreboding junk yards where trouble awaits Jake around every corner. Trouble in the form of zombies, vampires, orcs, elves, humans, dragons, spirits, robots and everything else you'd expect from a Shadowrun licensed game. Combat played out with a cursor you would have to guide over enemies before hammering the face buttons as quickly as possible to inflict damage. Later on, you learn magic which can help Jake in a variety of ways. The invisibility spell was a favourite of mine and absolutely critical at certain points in the game.

Watch out for snipers, in Shadowrun, they hide out in bins. Yes, all the snipers are homeless.

Information is a key area of the gameplay in Shadowrun and is cleverly executed. You will collect keywords as you progress through the game, starting with the scrap of paper you get at the beginning. When you talk to the right person about a keyword, another will be unlocked until you eventually clear that particular thread of the story. It's a fantastic way of keeping the player guessing and encouraging logical thought.

One of the most interesting features in Shadowrun at the time of release was 'The Matrix', or what we'd refer to in 2009 as the 'hyper-mega-inter-web-a-tron'. It was basically a minesweeper style minigame which required you to navigate a virtual representation of yourself through firewalls and file servers to procure some sort of reward. This usually came in the form of Nuyen (the in-game currency of which you'll need A LOT!) or information.

'The Matrix'. Keanu's in there somewhere, pulling the same face he's been pulling since Bill and Ted.

One of my favourite things about this game is the soundtrack. At first, it's totally cheesey, wannabe sci-fi, synthesised fluff, but after a while, it really grows on you and sticks in your head to the point where you'll be humming it as you go about your daily grind. It lends weight to the atmosphere and fits in brilliantly with the mood of the game. It was the antithesis of the score for your generic RPG at the time and while it doesn't possess the orchestral depth of Final Fantasy VI or the diversified tones of Terranigma, it does sit well in it's sci-fi niche.

It should be pointed out that this game is fairly tricky to come across these days. It's become something of a cult classic for a few reasons: it's the only good Shadowrun they ever made, the ending alluded to Shadowrun 2 (which has never seen the light of day) and for all the fans of the Shadowrun pen and paper game, it was the closest you could get to an interactive recreation of the source material. As such, you'll probably shell out at least £35 for it boxed, any less and you're doing well for a PAL copy but it really is well worth the investment. It's highly likely that this game will continue to grow in value if you can find a copy in reasonable condition.

Interestingly, Weisman's new company, Smith and Tinker, have reclaimed the rights to future Shadowrun games (and other FASA licenses such as MechWarrior) from Microsoft, so the chances of a second instalment without the threat of interference from a higher power is possible. Personally, I'd like to see a similar game produced for Wii and DS which would suit the combat system perfectly, we'll see though. In the meantime, dust off your SNES and check this out.

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