Review: 'Shadowrun' Fails to Deliver on Cool Concepts

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"Shadowrun" is the first title from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) that lets gamers on both sides of the systems fence battle each other online.

But there are some serious technological tradeoffs in letting Xbox 360 console owners square off against their Windows Vista-toting brethren.

Perhaps my geek credentials should be revoked, but I'd never even heard of "Shadowrun" until this M-rated, $59.99 title was announced.

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It's based on an older pen-and-paper role playing game, à la "Dungeons and Dragons," that's set in a future where magic is real and tech-savvy humans aren't the only ones roaming the planet. Sly elves, hulking trolls and pugnacious dwarfs now vie for power, too.

Yet this potentially interesting premise feels barely fleshed out, as the game is essentially a stripped-down, bare-bones first-person shooter with some genuinely intriguing, but ultimately frustrating, role-playing aspects.

You can go through some practice levels to get a sense for the varying abilities of the different races and then play online against real human opponents on Xbox Live or against computer-controlled foes called "bots."

There's no real story, no linear progression, just some straight-up online fighting with "Shadowrun" on a rather measly selection of nine different maps and just two online modes.

Some of the most successful games, such as "Counter-Strike," have been online-only. But they offered far more diverse and complex gameplay.

"Shadowrun" is sometimes fun, especially once you grasp the magical and technological abilities at your disposal.

For example, I was able to teleport through walls and ceilings, fly long distances with the glider ability, and even summon a magical tree to regenerate health.

The visuals are generally solid, aside from a very bizarre graphical oversight where characters appear to be climbing ladders while standing straight up.

The characters themselves pack some interesting detail, but you can't customize their appearance at all, so many games I played were filled with a bunch of identical elves and humans.

As I mentioned, the lure of pitting Xbox 360 players against Vista PC gamers was enticing and one of the main reasons I wanted to test this title.

However, in order to keep things "fair," we get dumbed-down controls that aren't very precise or satisfying. Gun battles are supposed to be the adrenaline-fueled highlight of a shooting game; the guns here are very weak and insanely inaccurate.

This blending of two genres — role-playing and first-person shooter — was an ambitious undertaking for the developers at FASA Studio.

"Shadowrun," however, ends up diluting these two distinct game styles too much, leaving players with an experience that feels forced and incomplete.

Two and a half stars out of four.