After their rock conference ended, it was time for Microsoft to splurge on a shindig to entice media with free drinks, Chinese food, developer demonstrations, and playable demos while dominating a nearby hotel. The champagne glasses were tall, sparkling with the reflection of green neon, and discoloring the color coded take-out boxes. So chocolate coat your strawberries, grab a martini, and try to avoid falling into the pool after gawking at the new DOA Extreme 2 trailer.
Microsoft’s next hopeful system seller, Gears of War, was playable if you didn’t mind waiting in a long line to get your hands on it. Similar was Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Lost Planet, and Rockstar’s Table Tennis. Everything was dripping fluid animation in high definition resolution, with advanced particle effects, and an extra serving of bloom lightning. Maybe it was the cocktail talking, but I didn't have the patience to stare too long under the blare of floor-shaking tunes. So instead I popped over to check out a host of upcoming xbox live arcade titles.
Street Fighter II Hyper had the slick gameplay of the original down pat, though the visuals suffer under HD, even when you stretch them to fill the screen. The demo was offline only so I couldn’t test the quarter mode, but I could take down Chun-li with Vega's rolling claw. Cloning Clyde was your classic 2D platformer with some 3D charm about a cloning experiment gone terribly wrong, but somehow it felt like something better placed on a portable. Heavy Weapon was driving a tank with the left stick and shoot any direction the right stick pointed, though with the screen only running left to right and enemies only appearing in the sky, it felt a bit too limited in its current form. Maybe it comes out better with three pals also blasting away in the full xbox live version.
The highlight for me was Roboblitz, though it could be only that the designs remind me of the misunderstood classic, Metal Arms This charming android is lacking in legs, however, rolling around on a ball for a wobbly mode of travel. That might have made it difficult to get around if it wasn't for his magnetic grapple that yanks him forward with a force based on how long you hold it down. Nice graphics, cool weapons, and short, focused objectives rounded out a demo worth a download. Expect the chance to sample it soon on a 360 near you.
Announcements encouraged the crowded throng to head to the pool area with false promises of other playables… but what they had there was more interesting, in-depth demonstrations of the killer apps that MS hopes will make Xbox 360 a brute force in the VG industry. Unfortunately, but the time I heeded the summons, it was nearly impossible to get into Blue Dragon, so I had a cookie and saw some Shadowrun.
Right off this isn't the game that the hardcore fans of the original P&P game, or the Genesis and SNES incarnations have been hoping for. However, the developer confessed this is a franchise planned with more diverse upcoming titles that just might be an old chummer's dream come true.
Until then, what you have is essentially an Unreal Tourney clone mixed with Phantom Dust style magic abilities that bring a more intense tactical style to this squad-based gameplay experience. While there will be a complete single player mode and storyline, multiplay is clearly the focus. They only showed off deathmatch and capture the flag modes (complete with bots), which makes me hope for another injection of originality in all new gameplay modes that I haven't already been playing to death for over a decade. The powers themselves were pretty slick, letting you to see through walls, teleport to get the drop on enemies, and bring your buddies back from the great beyond. Each had a risk versus reward scenario that's going to result in a lot of surprises for what's fast becoming a stale genre.
Sadly, the visuals and overall design leave something to be desired. The quality level tops off at Xbox1 with a few next-gen sparklies, especially noticeable after the blood sprays of Gears of War. The environments had the feel of old Quake maps with their boxy layout; far from the epic landscapes Bungie has made the foundation of their online empire. Character designs were disappointing cartoonish, considering the rich art of the source material. Think Timesplitters, only with troll boys and indians. Though with the way they zip by it's not something you'll only notice when you're taunting the dead underneath your heel.
Right now Shadowrun seems like it's being geared for Halo fans who want more tactics in the mix, but how much these powers will keep it from being just another FPS is hard to tell without serious hands-on time.
Meanwhile, you can listen to the proof that there's passion behind this title:
Shadowrun pitch (6.4MB, MP3 format)