The SNES was capable of quite a bit, wasn't it? When it's not spewing out the bright colours of Zelda or Mode 7-ing the hell out of Super Mario Kart, it also shows a grim future where corporations are in control and firearms will greatly increase your chance of survival. Like Syndicate, perhaps.
Shadowrun, based on the pencil and paper RPG of the same name, has you navigating this gloomy world in an effort to find out who you are and what you were doing before being gunned down and left for dead, and it's going to see you get familiar with guns, magic and hacking - a mix that doesn't immediately seem like it'd work, but hey... it might work.
I wasn't sure what I was expecting when first firing up Shadowrun, but I doubt it was an isometric RPG that actually made use of the SNES shoulder buttons. After a short intro cinematic to set the scene,
Jake Armitage you wake up in a morgue with amnesia, not knowing who you are or how you got here.
You have free movement of the morgue and can use it to get used to the controls. If you're near something, you can bring up a contextual menu to look at an object or pick it up, and can use the buttons mentioned as shortcuts next time, so that you don't have to dive into a menu if you know you're going to pick something up, for example.
While there's not a whole lot to do in this first room, you'll be able to discover that you can't open doors if you're standing in the way of them, which is a nice touch. I wonder how many times I'll be caught out by that little bit of attention to detail...
Heading outside, you'll find yourself in conversation with someone who can't quite believe you're up and walking, and it's here that you have the first look at the options available to you in dialogues with other characters and inhabitants in the world.
If someone says something important in a sentence, you'll then be able to ask them, or anyone else you meet, about that important something, as though you've heard a word or a name and are probing for more information on the subject. It feels natural and opens up the conversation a little - though 'conversation' might be the wrong word, as you don't appear to ever say anything yourself.
The offputting thing about Shadowrun is that it feels like it should have gone through a little more testing and tweaking before going out the door, with one example being these questions in the dialogue window.
You can ask everyone about everything, but if they don't have an answer, they'll just say their own version of 'please stop talking to me' and wait for you to stop talking to them - which is incredibly easy when your cursor then defaults to moving back to the 'Exit' option, rather than heading back into the list of important words.
That list grows and grows too, and while it's listed alphabetically, there's no way of knowing whether a character will have something to say about a subject or not, meaning you can find yourself going through word after word after word but getting only a generic sentence out of them - provided you didn't accidentally exit at any point.
Combat also shows off the random nature of the game (and it seems to rely on the random number generator a lot in order to throw up enemy encounters and the like) and pretty much removes any investment you had in the story.
After picking up a gun - while being shot at, which makes for a situation that requires urgency and action - you then pause to equip it, before finding it has infinite ammunition and that shooting it requires placing a huge targeting reticule over the enemy and spamming the fire button until one of you falls over.
You can be five feet away from them and neither of you will move, instead just popping off shot after shot until the enemy turns into a puddle on the floor, at which point you raid his pockets for cash and get on with your day. You are entirely at the mercy of your stats, whatever they may be, which I believe can be upgraded by going to sleep and spending karma if you have any. Don't quote me on that.
Further Fun Times
As disappointing as the combat is, the world that is portrayed in Shadowrun is a world I want to learn a bit more about. I walked into a cafe that was home to a Jamaican and an Orc, for goodness sake - how much more interesting can you get?
Unfortunately, I then walked into a cemetery where, very low on life thanks to being shot at by hitmen leaning out of windows, I was devoured by a zombie and killed. Properly, this time. And I've just realised that this is where I learned my first name - on the Game Over screen.
I have watched some Shadowrun, but not all of it. I know that you can have companions that will follow you and act accordingly, and I know that there are spells and weapons galore, allowing you to go about the game as you see fit.
However, I've also seen that it is a bit of a grind and that you ought to know what you're doing if you want to get through it without banging your head against the wall. I don't want to bang my head against the wall, and, to be honest, having played around with it I don't really want to play around with it too much more.
Seeing where the story goes? Yes, I want that, for sure. It's like all kinds of late 1980s, early 1990s grimy sci-fi movies rolled into one, and while it probably doesn't excel in any one particular area, Shadowrun as a game seems like it has plenty going for it in order to justify having a go at it.
It's one to keep an eye on, certainly.
Shadowrun had a bit of a rollercoaster kind of development cycle but was eventually completed before its deadline. Lead designer Paul Kidd says that keeping management away from staff and keeping staff out of meetings was a big reason why.
Shadowrun, developed by Beam Software, first released in 1993.
Version played: SNES, 1993, via emulation.
Version watched: SNES, 1993 (skorch82)