Shadowrun is a noir cyberpunk adventure, based off of the novel Never Deal with a Dragon by Robert N. Charrette. Other aspects of the game are inspired by William Gibson's Neuromancer and Blade Runner. Shadowrun deals with concepts such as monopolized corporations, a large interconnected cyber world, the reawakening of magic in a technologically advanced society, and biomechanics body augmentation in a dystopian setting.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System version of Shadowrun was released on November 1, 1993. Developed by Beam Software and published by Data East, the game is entirely different from its Sega Genesis and Sega CD counterparts of the same name. All three are based on the pen-and-paper role-playing game, released by FASA. This version of the game was fairly well-received critically, but did not sell well enough to reflect this.
Several beta versions of Shadowrun exist, and ROM images of them are available on the internet (something that is fairly uncommon for a game of the time). These beta versions reflect a much more uncensored version of Shadowrun, with sexually suggestive lines, violently suggestive lines, and alcoholic references (replaced with "iced tea" in the actual game). Interestingly enough, the Japanese version of the game actually uses the same script, but subtitles the game in Japanese.
Shadowrun is a blend of several different genres. At its core, it is an isometric action role-playing game, with elements of point-and-click adventure. In order to do any action in the game, the player must move the cursor to do this (e.g. aiming a gun at an enemy and firing, selecting items, opening doors, talking to non-player characters, etc).
Many elements also take inspiration from the tabletop origins. Almost every action in the game is a combination of statistic and luck, with a Firearms statistic lending to accuracy, a Computer statistic lending to hacking ability, and Magic ability lending to spell strength. Enemies throughout the city also appear at random, requiring quick reflexes despite the point-and-click interface.
A gameplay device known as "Jacking" allows Jake access to a computer network known as the "Matrix" (pre-dating the film of the same name). The Matrix is analogous to a secure intranet in most respects, though users are represented by avatars that may be harmed by damage. The user must avoid and neutralize security programs, in order to obtain information and funds. This carries some risk, as death in this virtual world also means death in real life.
The dialogue system in the game is based around keywords. When discussing things with non-player characters, the player has three options: Exit, Talk, or Ask About. Talk gives a recycled line of dialogue, while Ask About gives a list of keywords that the player has already collected. This dialogue system is integral to progressing in the main game, triggering actions, and even purchasing or selling items.
Using money (the currency in Shadowrun is nuyen), players are able to hire mercenaries known as shadowrunners. The main character, Jake Armitage, himself is a shadowrunner. Shadowrunners are computer controlled allies, typically possessing magical abilities and pre-equipped weaponry and armor. However, shadowrunners can also die in battle, and once they die they cannot be revived.
The leveling system in Shadowrun is different from more traditional role-playing games. Instead of gathering a set amount of experience from each battle, killing a certain amount of enemies earns Jake karma. Sleeping in a bed allows Jake to allocate this Karma accordingly. Each statistic has its own "level," and an equal amount of karma is required to level it up again. For example, if the health statistic is at level 10, another 10 karma is required to level it up to level 11.
Shadowrun takes place in Seattle, Washington in the year 2050. The player takes control of Jake Armitage, who in the opening of the game is shot and killed. A mage comes and revives him with magic as he is being carried off to the morgue. The game opens with Jake falling out of the morgue, groggy and confused. The rest of the game is his quest to find out who tried to kill him and why.
The story progression is fairly non-linear, with much of the background plot and information given through the usage of data files found in the MATRIX. These files are in the form of communication between Jake's hitmen, information on key events, transactions, etc. There are set story events, but many of these do not occur until the end of the game.
Through much investigation, Jake finds that the person who ordered his hit is a mysterious man named Drake. He tracks Drake down to a volcano base, where Jake discovers that Drake is, in reality, a dragon. Being held captive by Drake is a man named Pushkin. Apparently, he was supposed to be the recipient of an anti-AI program in Jake's head computer (a biomechanics device which stores information, located in Jake's brain). This anti-AI program was the reason behind Jake's death.
The anti-AI program is able to neutralize Drake's employers, the Aneki Corporation. They are attempting to build a program to control the entire MATRIX. Jake and Pushkin escape the volcano, and travel to the Aneki headquarters. Located on the top floor is a supercomputer housing the malicious program. After inputting the anti-AI program, Jake escapes in a helicopter as the credits roll.