A cyberpunk RPG classic begging to return…
There are often gaming gems that not too many other people got to play, but were formative in crafting our gaming tastes. The rather excellent Shadowrun by Beam Software back in 1993 on the SNES was one of those games for us (there was a very different and inferior game of the same name on the Mega Drive, just to avoid any confusion).
Based on the fantasy cyberpunk pen-and-paper RPG by FASA, Shadowrun was an isometric RPG, which threw you into a future world populated by humans, orcs, dwarves, vampires and even dragons – all living and fighting in a grimy, violent Seattle in 2050. You played Jake Armitage, a courier shot and nearly killed by assassins, who is resurrected by a mysterious dog (which transforms into a woman) while in the morgue. With almost total amnesia, Jake must travel through the Seattle underworld with assassins on his tail to discover who he is and just why someone had tried to kill him, and why he was resurrected by this magical figure.
An action-RPG, Shadowrun combined real-time action with skill-based abilities that determined how successful your attacks were. It was really quite in-depth, as Jake built up karma killing enemies, which you then allocated to different attributes, skills, and magical powers. It meant you could play as you liked, either becoming adept with guns and weapons or taking a more magical focus. You could also hack and enter the cyberworld – a computer realm all its own, and if you died there, you died in real life.
As well as a robust combat and progression system, Shadowrun‘s RPG element was unusually sophisticated for the time. During interactive conversations, whenever Jake heard a new word it would be added to a word database, and he’d be able to ask questions based on it. which moved the story forward piece by piece. It was a great narrative, with myriad twists and turns that kept you as hooked – when you combined that with all the abilities you could power up it was hard to put the controller down.
Once Jake discovered he was a ‘Shadowrunner’ (a kind of mercenary) he became able to hire other Shadowrunners to accompany him on missions in the open world. One of the best things about the game, and rare at the time, were just how these henchmen worked with you in real time.
Shadowrun would be a perfect game to remake as a Mass Effect-style RPG – perhaps with the conversation system of the sadly much-maligned Alpha Protocol. Quite why Microsoft attempted to make a tacky FPS with the licence a few years ago is totally beyond us. The dirty, urban cyberpunk world of Shadowrun, with its violent gun and magic battles, assault weapon-toting orcs and crazy corporate assassin elves is perfect for a modern RPG. The attacks and powers you wield could take on an impressive new dimension, and the henchmen you recruit could either be Mass Effect-style companions or even friends online.
It’s unlikely to happen as Shadowrun was critically acclaimed at the time, but not played by a great many people. Still, the licence is out there, and hopefully someone will be brave enough to bring us a modern take on this little-known classic.