I very distinctly remember seeing the Super Nintendo version of Shadowrun in Nintendo Power when I was a kid and wanting to get my hands on a copy. I ended up not getting to do so until my senior year of high school. I played through it, and rather enjoyed the combination of gameplay, technology, magic, and NPC interaction, but I thought that each type was a bit underutilized.
Now, in between seeing the SNES version in that magazine and actually getting to play it, I had a friend who owned a Sega Genesis and its version of Shadowrun. Upon learning this, I then proceeded to badger him into popping it on, in the hopes that I would finally get to take a spin as Jake Armitage and get revenge on Drake. This…was not that game. And after 20 minutes of wandering around and getting killed, we decided to say “screw this” and went back to Mortal Kombat.
You play as Joshua, who comes to Seattle after his brother Michael and Michael’s associates were killed on a run gone bad on a Native American reservation, and you’re there to learn the circumstances surrounding his death: why were they sent there? What were they after? And why were they killed? Upon starting a new game, you’re asked to select a character class: Samurai (basic soldier type), Decker (hacker type), and Gator Shaman (magic user). There’s not a lot of difference between the first two types; other than how your stats start out. Samurai can learn hacking skills, Deckers can become proficient with guns, but only Shaman can use magic.
Now, one thing I want to get across is that this game is a pain in the ass in the beginning. That “20 minutes of wandering around and getting killed” line above was not entirely due to youthful ineptitude, for a substantial chunk of the game, you are a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. In the Super Nintendo version, you were at least reasonably capable of defending yourself from the random snipers and guys hiding in dumpsters, here, two guys with just fists who run up on you in the street pose a very serious threat, and it takes a surprisingly long time to reach the point you can even deal with low-levels muggers effectively. Even worse, you start out barely capable of outrunning enemies, and while you’re on-screen with an enemy, you can’t enter buildings, so be prepared for a lot of block-circling and and trying to duck into buildings in the early going.
Much like the Super Nintendo version, you upgrade your stats with karma points, but this time, you don’t earn karma simply by wandering around and blasting enemies in spawn rooms (well, you kinda can, but it’s not recommended). Instead, you’ll meet a handful of contacts called “Mr. Johnsons”, who you take actual shadowruns from, ranging from simple “go to location A, get a package, bring it to location B” runs, acquisitions, where you infiltrate corporate offices to retrieve a package from a safe, to matrix runs where you hack into a company’s computer system to heist files or shut their system down completely. Different Johnsons specialize in different runs, so you can always find work that suits your skills.
This talk of jobs brings me to an important point. As much as I liked the SNES version, it was EXTREMELY linear. There was only so much money to be made, and better weapons only started showing up at certain times, there were only a few computers to hack into, and only a handful of weapons and magic spells available. There were no real side jobs, and most everything that needed to be done only required sheer brute force. The Genesis version allows you to jack into the Matrix at every console (and if you’ve previously hacked a big corp’s system, you can access it later from anywhere).
There are multiple solutions to problems; if you’re on an acquisition run, do you have a magic user cast Invisibility and pick locks while dodging the cameras, do you send a hacker to deactivate all the cameras and door locks, or do you hire some extra muscle and blast your way in (again, doable…not recommended.) And when it comes to hiring other runners, the SNES version only let you hire them for a finite amount of time, and then they would leave…and if they left while you were having a firefight, well, tough shit. This was also assuming you bothered to hire other runners, because as J Man said, if you were willing to put in about an hour karma-grinding, you were pretty much good to tackle the game yourself. Here, you can hire runners for a single run or permanently for more money, and they can also gain Karma, so you might be inclined to hire a couple runners to be your permanent team. In fact, if you complete one of the side quests, you could “unlock” a certain runner who’ll join you for free.
No matter how you decide to take care of business, you’ll have a pretty lengthy list of tools. Gunslingers can choose from a wide array of heaters, from dinky but cheap pistols to sub-machine guns to illegal sawed-off-shotguns, even claws to add some “oomph” to your punches. However, no matter your gun, you’ll have to buy ammo, in the form of clips that work in every gun, allowing you to share ammo easily with other runners. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it is something to be mindful of. Magic users can learn spells like Invisibility, Heal Wounds, Launch Angry Wave of Fire, but higher-end skills drain mental energy unless you’re in possession of an item called a fetish, which only has limited uses. You can also purchase talismans for protection or increased combat ability, as well as increased potency for certain skills.
As for deckers, well, I probably need to go a bit in-depth, as unlike the SNES version, where hacking was basically a glorified version of Minesweeper, the Genesis version of cyberspace is rather elaborate. Each company’s system is basically a maze of tunnels, with stops at each intersection called nodes. Each node is protected by an enemy program called an IC, and you select a program to attack it or bypass it some other way. After defeating the IC, you operate the actual node (deactivating cameras, downloading files, etc.) and move on to the next node. Some IC’s attack you, some try to raise an alert (which makes all actions more difficult) but two in particular are absolute motherfuckers: Black Ice bypasses your avatar and attacks you physically, and Tar Pit literally swallows your program whole and deletes it from your skillset entirely, so if you’ve spent fifty grand on the highest level attack program, and you encounter Tar Pit, well, I hope you either saved your game or have another fifty large squirreled away.
NPC interaction is a bit smoother, as well. You start a conversation by bumping into somebody, and responses are selected with A, B, or C, as opposed to digging through a pile of keywords and hoping the other person knows what you’re talking about. Random events, usually in the form of others asking for help or someone trying to sell you illegal weapons, are also handled in the same multiple choice way.
Aesthetically, this isn’t the most pleasing game, but it gets the job done. You see things from a top-down perspective, like an early Grand Theft Auto game. People are a bit blocky and walk stiffly, and everyone has the same one-frame “chalk outline” death animation. Each area is portrayed well enough, from the dismal dumps of the barrens to the anesthetic cleanliness of the Renraku Arcology. Of note are the character portraits during conversations…they’re well-detailed for Genesis, but if anything, they tip their hand a little, shady-looking characters tend to be shady.
Sound, ehh, is bit squelchy, but to be fair, this too is probably more a reflection of the Genesis’s limitations. None of the weapons sound particularly emphatic, but at least a shotgun still sounds nastier than a pistol. Music also sounds bleepy-bloopy, but there is enough variety and you’ll be moving between areas too much to really be annoyed.
I know it seems like I spent most of this review comparing the Genesis version to the SNES, but like I said, I really liked the SNES version, and I didn’t have any experience with the Genesis version of most games being much different or better than their counterparts, so to find out this was DECIDEDLY more enjoyable than the Super Nintendo version was rather eye-opening. And if you never played the other version, this is still an awesome game on its own merits, and how this franchise didn’t make it onto more systems is mind-boggling.
Deep, plenty of ways to handle business, make money, and build a character, far outclasses the SNES version.
Takes a while to build a character to anything respectable, there can still be some frustrating moments, graphics and sound are unspectacular.