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Other powers allow you to take on a nebulous ‘smoke’ form, meaning you take no damage from weapons or falls while cloaked, or throw out a cluster of ‘strangle’ a crystalline barrier that hurts and holds hostiles who get to close. Tech upgrades boost speed or perception, but only magic can help you summon demonic minions to guard an area or relentlessly hound your foe. Cast the Tree of Life spell, and characters sheltering nearby are slowly but surely healed.
All these powers and upgrades are intricately and superbly balanced. The Smoke ability seems great until you learn that the Gust spell, which usually only blows the target backwards, can also be used to rip a ‘smoked’ character apart. The Smartlink boost adds a cool laser-targeting system and some degree of assisted-aim, but it also sends out a laser beam that tells anyone with eyes to see that you’re on your way around the corner.
The most important spell in gameplay terms is Resurrect. Shadowrun goes in for short, Counter-Strike like rounds without respawns. Die, and you’re out of action until the next round starts. However, if your allies are equipped with a ‘rez’ or ‘rezzie’ as the players like to call them, they can find your corpse and bring you back to life. There are two caveats involved here. Firstly, if a particularly mean player blasts your body to bits after death, nothing’s going to bring you back. More seriously, once resurrected your wellbeing depends on that of your resurrector. They die, you die… and slowly, bleeding out second by second by second.
The end result of all these mechanics is an ingenious team FPS that truly puts the emphasis on teamwork. Unlike Team America, there really is no ‘I’ in Shadowrun. It has much of Counter-Strike’s tension, but also some hope of reprieve. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than watching as the goon who just downed you aims his gun to finish the job, but also nothing more uplifting than the sight of him interrupted by a team-mate who blasts him and then brings you back. Watch games in action, and it’s clear that teams who look after each other – who back each other up, patrol and resurrect, and guard the artefact holder on their way to the exit – get better results. It’s also clear that while Shadowrun has no formal class system as such, the mechanics do encourage players to take on specific roles. Take troll, add minigun, smartlink and strangle or minion, and you have a great back-end defender or heavy-duty assault troop. Take elf, add katana, smoke and teleport, and you have a classy ninja on your hands. Somebody really has thought very carefully about all of this.
Of course, all this comes with a certain level of complexity, so it’s well worth playing through the tutorials and a handful of bot matches before you start playing online. If you don’t know the levels and understand the tech and magic, you simply won’t do well. Get the hang of it all, however, and there’s a lot of fun to be had. All the usual online FPS moments – the daring raid, the last-ditch defence, the heroic assault, the winning flag rush, the sudden stealth kill – are here, and the magic/tech mechanics really do add something to the formula.