Words cannot express how much I love Shadowrun and cyberpunk in general.  I’ve never had the chance to play the pen & paper game but have devoured the source books and many of the novels.  In the mid-90s gamers were treated to a double dose of the universe with titles for both the SNES and Genesis (and if you were in Japan a Sega CD game too).  The Sega game is one of the best titles for the system in my opinion and a game ahead of its time.  Buy this game.

You are Joshua on a mission of revenge.  After watching your brother get gunned down on the national news you spend your remaining nuyen to track down his last known transaction and become a Shadowrunner in the process.  Visiting Seattle sets in motion events that will eventually lead to you saving the world from an ancient evil.

Your starting classes are Street Samurai, Decker, or Gator Shaman.  While they are specialized each class is merely a starting point that affects your beginning stats and gear.  With enough karma points you can pick up skills in the other fields although it will take longer.  Customizing your character is one of the best aspects of the game as the twenty or so skills allow you to tailor the way you want to play.  The list is pretty comprehensive and varied, allowing you to boost charisma, negotiation, computer skills, and all manner of weapons.  Raising your skills has an almost immediate tangible impact on your performance which makes your choices pretty significant.

The easiest way to describe Shadowrun is a 2d Grand Theft Auto.  From the onset nearly all of Seattle is available to explore.  As tempting as it is however you will quickly come to the realization that you are not prepared to leave the Redmond Barrens just yet without building up your skills and money.  The game’s nonlinear nature can be a bit of a detriment.  Although you have a loose idea of what to do after grabbing your brother’s belongings it isn’t outright spelled out.  Many of the game’s story related events can be completed in any order which can also be confusing.  The only barrier to your progress is the need to grind for gear.

The early stages of Shadowrun will dissuade many.  Jobs are given out by Mr. Johnsons with varying degrees of difficulty and payment.  In the beginning you are offered meager pay to do the most menial of tasks.  It’s hilarious to escort someone from one building to the one next door.  They are easy sources of nuyen and karma but incredibly repetitious.  But you need to do it because decent equipment costs hundreds of thousands of nuyen and the better paying runs require somewhat medium level gear and attributes.  You can hire additional runners as backup and utilize their skills if necessary but my experience with that was mixed.  In most cases they were the first to die and I wasted precious medkits healing them over and over.  Your mileage may vary.

It sounds damning but it is worth it in the end.  The shadow runs are the life blood of the game and where it truly excels.  I’m not talking about the escort or ghoul runs but the corporate and matrix missions that are simply fantastic.  Any mission that takes you inside of a corporate office is fraught with danger as anything can go wrong.  There are numerous random events that can occur such as a security check, running into a high ranking employee, or even simply stepping on a security tile.  It is incredibly nerve wracking in concert with the music and absolutely terrifying when the alarms go off.  Diving into the matrix could have been a separate game in itself as it is very complex but rewarding once you figure it out.

The higher level missions are where your skills are a factor.  High level computer skills will not only open every maglock but also shut off alarms and cameras plus pinpoint your objective.  Charisma will allow you to fast talk security guards.  One of my favorite examples of this are company men who stop you randomly.  You can try to avoid eye contact, yell at him, or come up with a fake story.  With charisma not only will he believe you but he might even admire your guts and tell your where to look!  How bad ass is that?  You don’t even need to max out every skill to be god like.  With the right set up you can walk into any building, turn off the alarms, have someone tell you where to look, and leave without firing a single shot.  Incredible. 

Getting to that point is a real journey however as Shadowrun is incredibly difficult.  Invisible dice govern your attacks and up until the ending stages you will be frustrated at how often you miss.  Although I have described a few awesome scenarios it will be a long time before things play out that way.  The very best equipment in the game requires you to buy expensive contacts who will then charge ludicrous amounts of money for their gear.  It’s certainly possible to get by without it but it makes the game a lot easier being tricked out. 

I can kind of see why the game is so hard and grind heavy as the main story is very short if you know what you are doing.  I would estimate the game would be four or five hours long if you cheated instead of a long twenty.  It sucks that they made the initial phase of the game so tedious but trust me when I I say stick with it.  It really is that good.  

In Closing

Get past the difficult early stages and you will find a true gem of a game.  The grind is heavy but so worth it on the way toward finding your brother’s killer.  It’s a damn shame that there weren’t a series of Shadowrun titles that expanded on the ideas present here.  For those who crave more there are three excellent campaigns available for PC.  In the meantime however take a trip down memory lane with this classic.

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