Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.
The setting for Shadowrun is a curious Science and Sorcery fusion of high Fantasy and Cyberpunk, an innovation which greatly appealed to many players but has resulted in adverse comments on its aesthetics from, amongst others, William Gibson. Some aspects of the design are closely based on actual technology and history, notably the rules for handling shamanic magic and Cyberspace, but the primary influences on the game are literary. In the Future History posited by the designers, a magical "Awakening" occurs in the twenty-first century, after which North America fragments into tribal nations, nonhuman homelands (occupied by such species as Elves and Orks) and high-technology Cities dominated by large corporations. Low-intensity warfare between these factions is common, fought by mercenary "shadowrunners" (amongst whom will be found most of the player characters). The game is loosely associated with the fantasy RPG Earthdawn (1993 FASA; rev 1994; rev 2001; rev 2009) designed by Greg Gorden, Louis Prosperi, which is set in a prehistoric era which may correspond to the distant past of the Shadowrun milieu. This setting does demonstrate a strong sense of style, revelling in such elegant conceits as the threat to air travel posed by terrorist dragons. There have been three editions of the core rules since the first, in 1992, 1998 and 2005. The second edition resolved the notable problems with game balance present in the original (see Worlds in Balance); later versions have remained eminently playable. Notably the 2005 edition, designed by Robert Boyle, updated the game's fictional technologies to be more in keeping with twenty-first century realities.
Three separate Console Role Playing Games (see Computer Role Playing Games) have been created in the milieu, each one for a different games machine: the Isometric Shadowrun (1993 Beam Software, SNES) designed by Gregg Barnett and the fantasy writer Paul Kidd, the two-dimensional plan view Shadowrun (1994 BlueSky Software, MegaDrive) designed by Scott Berfield, John Fulbright, Heinrich Michaels, Tony Van, and the plan view Shadowrun (1996 Compile, MegaCD) designed by Takafumi Tanida, Akira Egawa, Shinobu Murakawa. In Beam Software's game, which is arguably the most interesting of the three, the player is encouraged to participate in a broadly linear Interactive Narrative which begins with the resurrection of a murdered shadowrunner in Seattle (the suggested starting point for players of the pen and paper RPG). Despite placing considerable emphasis on real-time combat and suffering from a somewhat awkward interface, the game's noir atmosphere and involving plot make playing it an intriguing experience. The 1994 Shadowrun, on the other hand, concentrates on providing a detailed simulation of the player's character, with a design that closely follows the mechanics of its tabletop original, in the manner of most contemporary Computer Role Playing Games. Here, a largely modular story, also set in Seattle, revolves around the protagonist's investigations of the death of his brother. Finally, the MegaCD game, which was only released in Japan, is a turn-based work with an episodic linear storyline, set in "Neo Tokyo". This game seems distinctly Eastern in approach; its design is reminiscent of both contemporary members of the Final Fantasy series and menu-driven Adventures such as Snatcher (1988), while the narrative and characters are based on a Manga which was licensed from a Japanese version of the pen and paper RPG.
The computer gaming aspect of the franchise was revived in 2007 as a First Person Shooter, again called Shadowrun (FASA, Win, XB360) but this time published by Microsoft and designed by John Howard and Sage Merrill. This iteration of the concept is set in an alternate version of the RPG's history, during a period of transition between the present day and a fully magical reality. The FPS received highly mixed reviews, partly due to the absence of any storyline which could be played through by a single participant; only competitive games against opponents controlled by the computer or online players are possible. The next attempt to reinvigorate the series was very different. Shadowrun Returns (2013 HareBrained Schemes, Win) designed by Jordan Weisman, Mitch Gitelman is an isometric turn-based CRPG set firmly within the tabletop milieu, with a detailed implementation of the pen and paper game's mechanics resembling that of BlueSky's 1994 effort. Narratively, the game presents a highly linear plot in which the murder of an old friend of the player's character at the hands of a serial killer turns out to be only the first clue to a deadly New Age conspiracy; there is much colourful (and often deliberately clichéd) dialogue. This storyline could be described as a loose sequel to that of Beam Software's game, whose protagonist makes several appearances, though the 2013 iteration treats sex and drugs in a far more adult manner than was possible in an early 1990s console game, for which the primary market was Young Adults.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Shadowrun Returns is its demonstration of how to make an effective CRPG with limited resources. Funding was obtained from the Shadowrun fan community via the "crowdsourcing" website Kickstarter, and used to build a work which is supplied with a relatively small amount of content, but which comes with a sophisticated realization of the RPG's core rules and editors designed to make it easy for enthusiasts to add their own contributions. If this strategy proves successful, the final game is likely to owe as much to the work of its dedicated fans as to that of its professional developers. Regardless, it seems likely that this game and the upcoming Shadowrun Online, another product of Kickstarter which will be set in a persistent Online World, will restore some of the lustre which the franchise lost after the release of the Microsoft FPS.
Related works: The original tabletop game is loosely associated with the fantasy RPG Earthdawn (1993 FASA; rev 1994; rev 2001; rev 2009) designed by Greg Gorden, Louis Prosperi, which is set in a prehistoric era which may correspond to the distant past of the Shadowrun milieu. Shadowrun: The Trading Card Game (1997 FASA) designed by Mike Nielson is a Collectible Card Game based on the franchise, while Shadowrun Duels (2003 WizKids) designed by Kevin Barrett, Jordan Weisman was a commercially unsuccessful Collectible Miniatures Game. Shadowrun: Downtown Militarized Zone (1990 FASA) is a tabletop Wargame which depicts personal combat in urban environments. 1-800-Magic (2007) is an amusing Machinima based on the FPS, made by Rooster Teeth Productions. In addition, more than forty Shadowrun-related novels have been published, beginning with Never Deal With a Dragon (1990) by Robert N Charrette, which was also the inspiration for the storyline of Beam Software's 1993 videogame. [NT]
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