By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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If you listen closely, you might just be able to hear a confused video gamer struggling to find the single-player story mode in "Shadowrun," the latest video game published by Microsoft Game Studios.
Guess what? There isn't one.
After the mandatory six-part tutorial, you can only play online against other players or in a simulated multiplayer match against computer-controlled "bots."
While not without a few interesting features, "Shadowrun" is merely an average first-person shooter that should be half the price.
You can buy the game for the Microsoft Xbox 360 or Microsoft Windows Vista PCs and play across the two platforms in online matches with up to 16 friends (eight versus eight). This cross-platform game play is a great idea, but it's not without cost.
PC gamers can play online against one another free using the Windows Vista version with a free Xbox Live Silver account. But Xbox 360 owners and PC users who want to join them in online matches across platforms must shell out $50 a year for Xbox Live Gold accounts in order to play together online.
"Shadowrun," which is based on a pen-and-paper role-playing game (RPG) of the same name, fuses weapons, ancient magic and special abilities. Think of it as a kind of team-based "Counter-Strike" game, but with the ability to sprout wings to glide off steep ledges, teleport to other spots on the map, summon creatures to do your bidding, see through walls or knock enemies down with a strong gust of wind.
Told via entertaining cut-scene sequences, the cyberpunk story takes place in Brazil about 25 years from now, when magic has returned to Earth after a 5,000-year absence. You play as an employee of a huge global corporation, RNA, out to battle for control over this recently unearthed ancient power. Along with humans, Shadowrun introduces other races, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, such as elves, trolls and dwarves.
You can choose from many different maps to play on and three unique game types:
Game play can be fun and frenetic, but the savvy developers at FASA Studio -- once responsible for the award-winning MechWarrior action games -- could've done so much more with this rich world by weaving in a great single-player story, memorable characters and RPG-like "leveling up" -- without losing the first-person action sequences.
In the end, however, the game is a good but not great multiplayer team-based shooter that doesn't leave a long-lasting impression. Perhaps if the game was $30 instead of up to $60, and didn't cost anything extra to play gamers on another platform, "Shadowrun" might be a worthy buy for action fans.
"Shadowrun" takes place in Brazil about 25 years from now, when magic has returned to Earth after a 5,000-year absence.
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