Shadowrun is a diamond in the rough. Although weighed down by potential barriers to entry and simplified comparisons to other games, beneath it all lies one of the most intense, well balanced, and complex online team shooters in recent memory.
Aside from bot matches and six single player training missions that are highly recommended, the bulk of the game is online exclusive. At its base, the game's structure is a competitive first person shooter with a team focus, similar to Counterstrike. There are three game types including two capture-the-flag variations and a team deathmatch mode. There are nine different maps, plus three smaller variations for the Attrition (deathmatch) mode.
What separates Shadowrun from similar offerings is the significant array of strategic options available. After choosing one of four races - each has their own nuanced strengths and weaknesses - you begin the match with 2000 dollars (2500 as a human) to purchase weapons, magic and tech to further customise your base strategy. More money is earned each round based on your performance, but only three powers or tech can be assigned to hotkeys at any time. Others can be swapped out or activated through the menu when necessary.
The powers and tech are what make Shadowrun stand out from the crowd by creating a dynamic and diverse gameplay experience. There are far too many combinations and strategies to discuss in this review, so I'll just give one example: strangle is a magic power that creates an area of crystals on a surface which slow movement and do damage. To neutralise it, you have many options: they can be removed with damage, a tech item, a dwarf player can absorb them while elves can teleport past them. The game is filled with these strategic uses for different powers as well as multiple ways to counter them, making a deeper, more cerebral experience than players of this genre might be used to.
Slogging through the mud
Shadowrun is not without its caveats. It takes quite a few matches to really see this depth, and has a significant learning curve compared to an average online shooter. A Live Silver account allows you to play dedicated server games, but automatic matching requires a Gold account. Using the TrueSkill automatic matching can often take a few minutes to join, though subsequent matches are nearly instant. Because the game is online only and has nine unique maps, some may question the £35 price tag. However, each map has so many strategic variations that nine is almost an overload, and downloadable content is rumoured to be on the way.