Written by James Welch, March 26, 2016, at 3:30 p.m.
I admit it, I love Shadowrun; love it! (Funny, considering I’m not a Pen and Paper (PnP) RPG fan.) My first experience with PnP was Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) with my brother-in-law, and I absolutely hated it.
Fast forward a few years later; his DnD group became enamored with BattleTech. During one of these Mechwarrior battle parties, I glanced at a booklet. This particular booklet was a catalog from FASA, the creator of BattleTech, and something else…
Shadowrun: Where Man Meets Magic and Machine. I was intrigued. A trip to the local Hobby Store and I came home carrying the Official Shadowrun Second Edition Rulebook. Then, after rounding up anyone that wasn’t too cool to play PnP games, I started my career as a “way too easy on my players” Game Master.
The fact that I loved Shadowrun so much made picking up and playing the video game versions of Shadowrun an inevitability. The first game I played was the Super NES version. It was a sort of point and click game in a Film Noire style; an absolutely great game that will certainly get its own review. Today, I am, instead, focusing on the later release, Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis.
In 1994 Blue Sky Software, the makers of the once-epic-but-now-forgotten Joe Montana Sportstalk Football games, released Shadowrun as a futuristic RPG set in the Shadowrun universe. In typical RPG fare, you will meet people, collect items, and kill bosses to save the world of, wait… No, it’s nothing like that. Shadowrun was way ahead of its time. In fact, it’s anything but typical. I will even go out on a limb and say that it is the best RPG on the Sega Genesis (sorry, Phantasy Star IV) and my second all-time favorite RPG, after Final Fantasy IV. (Yes…I am old.)
Well, I think the fact that I am a shameless Shadowrun fanboy is apparent; so lets’ see if I can convince some of you new to the retro game craze folk to add this to your collections. It’s really that good!
The game takes place from an overhead perspective that’s not quite 3D; awkward, but seems to work. Note: I don’t do numeric values for categories, but if I was to rate the graphics in this game on a scale from 1 to 10 they would be a saltine cracker (i.e. You’ll eat ‘em, you may even like them, but they’re just there to get you by to the next meal). If you are looking for a weak point in Shadowrun, it would probably be the graphics; but that was far less apparent back in 1994.
Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, you need to imagine this game coming out brand new in 1994. My best advice to you youngsters is to pop Ready to Die by the Notorious B.I.G. in to your CD Boombox, turn your hat around backwards, toss your Reebok Pumps in the corner, and prepare to delve into the cutting edge graphics of the Sega Genesis; all 512 colors (you’ll see why the graphics aren’t really all that bad). I’ve never seen anyone say they wouldn’t eat a Saltine; so, there it is, the negative.
The sound, on the other hand, is excellent. I actually enjoy the gritty electric sounds of the Genesis sound chip and this game takes advantage of them. Each little burg has its own unique track. On the other hand, the sound effects are what you would expect from that time. I always found the fact that missed shots ricochet, to be pretty neat (don’t judge me, I came from a simpler time). So sound on a scale of zero to 100% is Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die. Hey, that’s a very good CD; good soundtrack, too.
Where this game really shines though, is in its variety. You young bucks that are used to Skyrim or The Witcher 3 don’t realize that 50+ hour games were pretty much nonexistent outside of a Square game, so most games were designed to be linear; not Shadowrun. No, not Shadowrun at all. Unlike most games, in Shadowrun, you have to work for your money, literally. In Shadowrun, you are employed as a Shadowrunner, contracted to do Shadowruns. Shadowruns are jobs handed out by Mr. Johnson’s, who are the middle men between the client and the customer.
Maybe you should just Google Shadowrun. it’s pretty complicated, but, basically you take jobs from different employers located in different parts of town; these jobs range from breaking into a corporation to find a secret file, to running basic escort missions, to full-fledged cyberhacking in the Matrix; no, not that really awesome movie followed by a less awesome movie followed by a really crappy movie that crapped on the really awesome movie. The Matrix in Shadowrun is a worldwide computer network linking countries, corporations, and people together. They are all accessible from terminals located in homes, companies, and, occasionally, next to buildings. Before I hear someone say, “You just described the internet,” the interface in the Matrix is virtual reality, so pfffftttt.
The Matrix is a game within a game. It’s hard to explain, but essentially you enter a computer system with your persona; a sort of virtual avatar that resembles the Silver Surfer, and you try to bypass nodes in order to get to more valuable nodes. Some missions may require you to crash a network’s CPU, while others may want access to a Datafile. Your job is to work your way through these nodes and utilize programs to bypass or destroy their guarding Intrusion Countermeasures (ICs), the digital guard programs that stop you from entering the node. Some ICs attack your persona, some attempt to have you booted, and some raise the alert status, while others delete your expensive programs, and the worst, Black IC, attacks your actual character outside the Matrix.
Pretty complicated for a game that was made when pagers were cool. “Hey, man, go to the payphone, I just got paged.” Times were harder back then, you kids have it easy today.
It’s a deep game, with an endless supply of missions and tons of ways to make money. Money to buy guns, ammo, accessorize your guns, install body modifications, upgrade your cyberdeck, and it’s programs. You can connect to multiple underground contacts, each offering something illegal and shady to help you through the game, such as deleting your criminal record if you have one, selling magnetic keys to open magnetically locked doors in buildings, and fake badges to fool corporate security.
The amount of content in this game is staggering, especially by 16-bit era standards. I can’t stress this enough. This is one of the top 10 games on the Genesis and, surprisingly, a lot of people have never played it. Don’t be those people. On a scale of one to five, this game is a Mirko CroCop Left High Kick (A knockout…I never claimed to be clever, but be dolls and humor me). Play it, you won’t be disappointed.
As far as a review goes, I know this particular one comes off as more of a fanboy rant, but it’s because the game was just that awesome. It still holds up very well today, where a lot of games just don’t. If you are a collector, grab it. If you are a Genesis gamer, grab it, and if you are a Shadowrun fan, you probably already have it, but if you don’t, grab it.
P.S. If you are already a fan of the game and own the Steam version of Shadowrun Returns, check out the UGC “Brothers to the End.” It’s a prequel to this game, and I know the guy who is making it. It’s worth checking out.
P.P.S. This is my first review, so please save the stoning for my second one…or just humiliate me on twitter.