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Game Review: Shadowrun Returns

Posted on 6/17/2014 by with 0 comments

Game Review: Shadowrun Returns
Developer: Harebrained Schemes

Publisher: Harebrained Schemes (crowdfunded via Kickstarter)
Release Date: July 2013

Shadowrun Returns is an isometric turn-based strategy / RPG based on the popular fantasy sci-fi Shadowrun universe.  You play as a Shadowrunner, a gun / tech / magician for hire in a world filled with Dragons and Corporations, Dwarves and Robots.  Shadowrunners for groups to go on runs: wetwork for corporations, assasinations, espionage missions and the like.  And while the stakes are high, the pay is VERY good.

The character creation and customization system, based on the tabletop RPG of the same name, can definitely take some time to get used to.  There are a total of 6 primary stats that you have to invest your ‘Karma Points’ in, Strength, Dexterity, Body, Willpower, Intelligence and Charisma, and you’re required to level up each primary stat before investing into the minor stats.   The combat skill progression is pretty straightforward, though spellcasting can be daunting, especially when you first pick up the game.  Newer players (me included) won’t actually know what many of the spells do, and the game doesn’t really explain any of them before they’re made available to you and you are actually able to mouse over them in the shop.  This makes it harder to plan out magic characters in advance.

Uhmmm, so what do I invest my Karma Points in?

Combat is fairly enjoyable, though the map layouts offer little variety in tactics and approaches to fights.  Shadowrun does spice it up a bit by adding spirits that Shaman characters can summon, drones that Riggers can deploy and the interesting but often tedious sub-game of ‘hacking’ that the Decker class can partake in by jacking into certain computer nodes.

It sucks that most of the other Shadowrunners that you will hire for your runs don’t have any backstory at all, and the ones that do have them don’t have very compelling ones, so there’s little character development beyond a very small number of characters.  Good RPGs will find ways to make you interested in your companions, major and minor, so that you actually care about whether they live or die, the choices they make, etc.

That leads to Shadowrun Returns’ other flaw, its linear gameplay.  There are very few ‘real’ choices you can make that make you feel like you’re having an impact on the world.  While there are a few optional missions you can choose to do or not do, these still do not seem to have any bearing on the story whatsoever.

Annoyingly, I encountered a number of bugs with quicksaving in the middle of missions, where certain things I had done would not be recognized after I would quickload, forcing me to restart the WHOLE mission.  This was extremely annoying, as I had to spend double the time on certain segments of the game.  Be ready to do your runs in single sessions to avoid this.

A dark silhouette, a fluffy haired elf with blue sunglasses and a old lady with drones. Typical Shadowrunner party.

The graphics are nothing mind-blowing.  Though I will say that the character portraits and in-game illustrations are well done.  There’s a variety of races in Shadowrun; the ‘meta-humans’ (elves, dwarves, etc.) and humans, with good old humanity remaining the most populous bunch.  Seeing the usual fantasy tropes of elves and trolls in a more modern setting and twisted with military hardware and cybernetic augmentations is pretty neat, and the art team did a good job of showing that in the portraits provided for each character.

The user interface seems a bit clunky however, and I’ve had quite a few instances where I’ve misclicked the ground or another unit and wasted time or even in-combat action points because I was trying to talk to someone or pick up something specific.  Character movement also seemed a bit slow.

There’s nothing special about the in-game SFX, just the standard fare of gunfire and spellslinging.

The lack of voiceovers is really disappointing and I think hurts Shadowrun’s overall appeal.  As I mentioned earlier, Shadowrun: Returns already suffers from below average character development –having those voiceovers for the main roles would have made the personas you meet in the game all the more real, not just graphics that come with text when clicked on.

The most positive part about the game’s sound is the music, whose scores of edgy electronic beats capture the cyberpunk theme so intergral to the Shadowrun world.


I think that Shadowrun Returns has a great universe to draw material from, but the execution of the actual game could have been a bit better.  Provided, it was a Kickstarter project, but I wish it just gave a little bit more in terms of quality.  If you’re a big turn-based RPG / strategy fan, Shadowrun is definitely still worth a shot.  If you’re someone who gets bored easily though, I would skip this one.

3/5 cans for Shadowrun Returns.


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