A Gaming Eclipse of the Sun | Gaming | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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A Gaming Eclipse of the Sun

Game On: "Shadowrun" Xbox 360/Vista, $59.99, M for Mature


Published June 13, 2007 at 4:57 p.m.


Looking for a little fun in the sun?

Summer arrives when the weather warms up, kids replace the schoolyard with the backyard, and gamers have to decide whether to catch some solar rays or ones from the cathode tube in their TV.

This year, you can have your pool parties and barbecues in the park. For the duration of the summer, many players will shun the light and stick with “Shadowrun.” This new team-combat game won’t displace “Counter-Strike,” or even “Halo,” as a fan favorite in the genre of multiplayer first-person shooter games. But what this title lacks in timeless influence it makes up for in clever innovations and surprising twists on the same old thing.

“Shadowrun” focuses on fast-paced, guns-a-blazing action. Sit tight in a safe place, and you’ll have no fun. Engage the enemy — and stay in motion—or die.

If you’ve never experienced the joys of running around abandoned moon-bases, desert fortresses and alien colonies, the design of “Shadowrun” may come off more strange than clever. Loosely based on a popular science-fiction/fantasy game series that blends high-technology with arch-magic, the narrative appeals to players by neatly blending computer science with dwarves and elves. Scratching the nerd’s itch for both Tolkien and Heinlein, “Shadowrun” has a perfect point of inspiration for a new video game.

What happens when you introduce magic into a gaming genre that is defined largely by a delicate balance of futuristic weapons and armor? It works something like this:Teams of up to eight players battle either to wipe out the other team or capture an artifact — a relic that stands in for the flag in a game of Capture the Flag. Each player has three powers that they can load for the duration of the round. Powers include — in addition to a trusty machine gun, or maybe a sword — the abilities to see through walls, teleport, soar like a flying squirrel, dematerialize into smoke or simply toss grenades.

You can also plant a Tree of Life, which regenerates damage, but works equally well for your team and your opponents. A little resurrection magic brings fellow players back from the dead. Unfortunately, if you die, your reanimated comrade quickly loses vitality and dies as well.

These wrinkles dramatically complicate the usual rugby-like carnage of running around hurting people. For instance, say you cast the Tree of Life spell. If you don’t attend to it, the other team will use it to recharge. All things considered, a better strategy might have you loading up on weapons and ammo and blasting the other guys out of the ring of safety around their tree. Resurrection keeps your team in action, but it costs vital magic points that you may need to teleport out of harm’s way.

All these options foster a variety of styles of play, along with an unusually cerebral approach to running around and shooting. Now winning doesn’t just require a quick trigger finger. It also demands a little thought.