Game Name: Shadowrun Returns
Developer & Publisher: Harebrained Schemes
I’m pretty excited about this next game. Ever since Kickstarter surged into the limelight with the massive success of the Double Fine project, the old veterans of the industry have stirred and realized that there was a place to feature the dream projects that AAA producers wouldn’t deign to wave a stack of money at. The most popular of these projects were, what I consider, the Big Four CRPGs: Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns, Project Eternity, and Torment: Tides of Numenera. Each of these games achieved an astonishing amount of money from people demanding a return to the classic style of RPGs. Isometric views, long sweeping stories, and a dialogue script you could break tables with.
Though not the first to be funded, Shadowrun Returns stampeded through production and was the first of the Big Four to be released. Hitting the Steam shelves on July 25th, Shadowrun quickly leaped to the top of the Top Sellers list as old and new fans alike scrambled for a chance to see if the Kickstarter gamble would pay off.
Despite being a backer for all four of the games, I haven’t paid much attention to the progress reports they send out in emails outside of prospective delivery dates. I prefer to be surprised. Shadowrun certainly delivered on the surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t quite what I got.
Now that is not bad at all. As much as I would have enjoyed a Baldur’s Gate clone with a cyberpunk setting, it’s nice to see something with it’s own flavor and approach to the genre. Shadowrun isn’t an actual CRPG as many would understand it. The game has many more tactical aspects such as cover-based ranged attacks, action points, and to hit percentages.
The world of Shadowrun is an interesting one. The basic idea being that while humans were super happy being all top of the food chain, magic reasserted itself into the world. Dragons and other magical beings pop their heads out of their hidey holes, humans “goblinize” into orks and trolls, and new generations of humans are born as dwarves, elves, and other beings entirely. Decades later, corporations stand as untouchable entities employing slummers to run the shadows, doing dirty deeds (though they’re rarely done dirty cheap).
In the main campaign you start off the game as a down on your luck shadowrunner (because if you were at the top of your game you wouldn’t have an adversities to overcome, and where’ the fun in that?) who gets a call from an old partner with a job for you. The job? Find his killer (DUH DUH DUUUUH). So you set out to the Emerald City to find who killed your old partner. Whether you do it for justice, for revenge, or for the cash reward, that’s up to you. But nobody’s going to be making it easy for you and you’ll soon find yourself pulled into a sinister plot of psychotic serial killers and world domination plots. Just another day when you run the shadows.
Character generation is a fairly detailed experience. You’re given one of five races to choose from, each with their own beginning bonuses and detractors. Then you decide which class they can be. There are six generic classes from the battle-ready street samurai to the spirit handling shamans. Granted you can toss those right out the window and just assign whatever skills you desire into your character and create a wholly unique class of your design.
One of the more interesting mechanics in Shadowrun Returns is the Matrix (insert imaginary spoon joke here). Characters with a datajack implant have the ability to jack into the mainframe of a computer system in order to collect data or control specialized systems (lovely turrets you have there, I think I’ll take them). Now hacking into the mainframe actually places your character’s avatar into the Matrix where you can summon up defensive and offensive programs to burst through the security defenses and hope that your teammates can adequately protect your fragile meatsuit.
Critics so far have claimed that one of Shadowrun’s flaws is a combat system that is just too easy and you can practically traipse through from room to room without any real threat. Now, that’s partly true. But only if you’re playing on Normal or Easy difficulty. The game has two increased levels of difficulty for the Dark Souls junkies who need to punish themselves (praise the sun). Personally? I suck at tactical games. So I stuck with the Normal setting on my playthrough and felt fairly challenged without it becoming frustrating. That is until the last boss fight where the game seems to take on an incredibly sharp difficulty increase. But this might have just been me and my ineptitude.
More than anything, Shadowrun Returns has been criticized for its save system, or lack thereof. Adverse to your typical RPG, Shadowrun instead disallows you from creating your own save files, forcing you to rely on checkpoints. Yes, I already hear your cries of anguish. Though it’s really not that terrible of a system. Though I agree that it’s a bit chafing not to have the freedom to save your game whenever you want in an RPG, it does serve a function. By restricting your ability to save, Shadowrun forces you to really stop and consider your actions both in combat and while talking to NPCs. The checkpoints are also fairly evenly spaced, taking place every fifteen minutes or so. I will admit it gets a bit annoying when you’re called away in the middle of combat and you can’t save the game, forcing you to retrace your steps. Regardless, there’s been such a backlash that it’s possible the save system could be changed in a later patch, so if the idea of checkpoints turns your crank in an uncomfortable way, give it some time and see what happens.
The standard campaign for the game isn’t very long; maybe fourteen hours if you take your time with it and read through every dialogue option. But where it lacks in length, it makes up for in depth and tone. The main campaign’s story itself is great, giving you a bit of a classic noir style that complements the game’s setting. I might also claim some bias for being such a fan of the game’s setting considering I used to live in the Seattle area. But the game creators really did a bangup job artistically capturing the feel of a Seattle torn asunder and put back together by magic and tech.
The short campaign isn’t really a big issue for the game though. What really makes this beauty shine is the packaging of the modding tools along with the standard game. The tools appear fairly intricate (from the standpoint of a non-modder) and are available to upload and download from the Steam Workshop. Already there are folks working on putting together a reboot from the classic SNES Shadowrun on this new engine. There are also a fleet of other modders out there creating campaigns based on the pen and paper Shadowrun books.
As it stands now, Shadowrun Returns is a damn fine game for the price tag. But what really gets me excited is what the future holds for it. Between the talented developers promising more and better improvements as the game goes on to the swarms of modders already chomping at the bit to churn out fresh expansions and add-ons Shadowrun Returns has an incredible amount of potential.
I give Shadowrun Returns for the PC 5/6
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