by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Shadowrun & r & & r & Rated Mature; Windows Vista, Xbox 360 & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he box of the Xbox 360 version of Shadowrun says "Play With Windows Vista Gamers," as though such things exist. Certainly Windows Vista gamers can take solace in the fact that someone will soon be able to play with them, thanks to the very real success of Xbox Live. And so Shadowrun marks the joining of Microsoft's two separate online ventures (the general Windows-Internet interface and Xbox Live) into one linked service -- and it doesn't have a name. Let's call it Online Microsoft Gaming (OMG).
This single feature may be Shadowrun's most successful venture, though the game isn't stingy with the special features. Promising no less than to "rewrite the rules of engagement," Shadowrun concocts a multiplayer mix of back-mounted wing gliders, on-the-fly teleportation, multiple races of characters in multiple sizes, and magic-based combat, all in the hopes of reinvigorating a basic gameplay premise that hasn't been improved upon since Halo 2 -- the shooter.
There is a spell to block corridors and a grenade that makes the blockage disappear. There's a spell that lets me become invisible, and another that reveals the other players that have used the invisibility spell. For every up, there's a down, and Shadowrun is full of so many ups and downs that it begins to feel like a desperate attempt to jostle some fun out of players.
There are forced attempts at strategy. Dwarves, for example, draw magical energy from their teammates when standing near them, but if the little buggers run around and stand near the enemies, the opponents can't use magic or easily heal themselves. And while the game's hefty trolls make for good park-and-gun defenders, their bulk also -- surprise! -- makes them more visible in the game's battlefields. This sort of tit-for-tat balancing is what game designers do when they have nothing more than cosmetic refinements and corporate synergy to bring to the rules of engagement.
THE GOOD: The idea of taking a fantasy setting and merging it with mercenary combat is good, although not ingenious. As a result, area-affecting magic spells are incorporated into grenades, and fantasy races such as elves and dwarves allow players to select avatars that differ from one another in size and ability, though they're still forced to carry the usual videogame arsenal of pistols, shotguns and semi-automatic rifles.
THE BAD: Graphics and animation don't look anything like what the world's most advanced operating system and leading current-generation videogame console should be playing. Characters climbing ladders -- whether lithe elves or cumbersome trolls -- simply float up and down the rungs. This was fine about half a decade ago when multiplayer was still finding its way onto broadband. Now it looks lazy. Same with the flickery animation as characters deflect bullets with katanas, rapidly repeating the same motion for each projectile, no matter its point of origin. Blood spatters that should spray on the wall merge into identical-looking blotches on the floor, strike after strike. If a videogame wants to lay claim to innovation in this generation, it can't be ugly.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite its cyber-fantasy fa & ccedil;ade, Shadowrun can't conceal that it's an undistinguished shooter, and both the 360 and the PC already have plenty of those.