Shadowrun Returns review: “Geeking” Them Softly
Authored by Andrew Esposito
Originally released in 1989 as a tabletop game, Shadowrun was ahead of its time. While Dungeons and Dragons was still going strong, Shadowrun was offering players a unique, cyber punk role-playing experience. Since then, there have been numerous video game adaptations. My favorite of these was released for the Super Nintendo back in 1993. In 2007, FASA Interactive tried to bring Shadowrun into the next-generation with a first person shooter — and it was a disaster. Now, the developers of the original Shadowrun are bringing the game back to its roots (thanks to Kickstarter) with Shadowrun Returns.
Shadowrun Returns will launch with the Dead Man’s Switch campaign, a user-generated content sample, and a playground area for testing created content.
The Dead Man’s Switch campaign is a perfect introduction to the world of Shadowrun. The story is simple. A friend and former colleague of yours dies (gets “geeked”) and leaves you behind a cryptic message (a Dead Man’s Switch). In this message, he asks you to find out who killed him. What follows is a fantastic tale of mystery, espionage, and in the end, redemption. One of the reasons why I really enjoyed the campaign was because of the dialogue (and choices you make) during it. It really gave me a sense that I was playing an old school, tabletop game.
The campaign took me about eight hours to complete on the normal difficulty setting. That being said, Shadowrun Returns is tough, especially the last fourth of the game. It’s great to have a game offer up a nice challenge for a change. The game’s A.I is not cheap though. A lot of times when I found myself dying it was because of (the smallest) user error. It’s great to finally best a scenario that’s been driving you crazy for the past hour.
The sample user generated content/playground areas serve to give you an idea on what exactly you can do with the game’s editor. More on that later.
Shadowrun Returns is a tactical role-playing game. If you played last year’s stellar XCOM: Enemy Unknown, than you’ll know/be familiar with many of the gameplay systems Shadowrun Returns has to offer. However, if you haven’t played XCOM, tactical role-playing games are all about strategy, team management, and patience. One thing I enjoyed about Shadowrun was how it did a great job blending these things together into fun, fluid gameplay.
Gameplay plays out in rounds. Each character has a specific number of actions they can take. For instance, my Street Samurai was able to take three actions per turn. Different commands take up a different number of action points. If you were to use a healing spell, it might take up two of your action points, while movement and shooting only take up one.
Spells play out a little differently than in a normal RPG. There’s no mana (MP) associated with a character. Instead, each spell has a specific cool down. Take haste for example, when you cast that spell, it can’t be cast again for another couple of rounds. That being said, you may choose to spend some of your character’s hit points (HP) to perform a spell before its cool down is completed. I did this a number of times throughout the campaign. While my support mage might not have liked it, his teammates did.
You’ll have to watch your ammo consumption during combat. Each gun has a limited number of shots that it can be fired before you’ll have to reload (which takes up one action point). There’s a huge strategy element to this towards the end of the game. Knowing when to fire and when to reload is imperative and can mean the difference between life and death.
Much like XCOM, you can send your units into overwatch mode. Overwatch puts your unit into a defensive position, shooting anything that comes within its range (your range is represented with a vision cone). Balancing when to put players into overwatch and when to send them on the offensive is crucial.
User choice is abundant when it comes to Shadowrun Returns. As soon as you begin a campaign, you’re asked to select your gender, race, class, and etiquette. Each one of these factors into your characters overall stats. For example, my human Street Samurai was a mix between ranged weapons and up close melee combat. The races also impact your stats. My human was only able to go up to a maximum strength of nine . On the other hand, a troll can get a maximum strength of 14, but their highest speed value is lower than that of a humans. It’s a great balance that never makes one race/class feel more powerful than another.
There are some awesome classes available in the game. The Street Samurai for instance, focuses on ranged weapons. That doesn’t mean he can’t get up close and personal though. The Mage is great at casting spells and lending a healing hand to your party. Deckers and Riggers serve as your technology specialists. Deckers can hack into systems where they take part in a meta-game to achieve a specific goal. Riggers on the other hand, like to send drones to do their bidding. The Shaman’s pretty neat as well. I mean, summoning the undead to do your bidding…how cool is that?
The game doesn’t stop there though. You’ll also be able to choose your etiquette. These are sort of “cliques” that you’ll be associated with throughout the campaign. My Street Samurai’s etiquette was…”street” (original, I know). This played into a specific instance in the game when a gang surrounded me. Instead of having to pay them off, I was able to use my street etiquette to have them pay me. However, not having a specific etiquette will never hurt you.
Throughout the game when you’re going on “bigger” quest missions, you’ll be able to choose from a pool of contractors and hire them. These chosen contractors will make up your party (four characters total). I stuck with the same three characters every time (when allowed) and I found that worked for me. This is because I had a system in place by the end of the game that worked well with these specific characters.
One thing I disliked about Shadowrun Returns is that you don’t have the ability to save anytime you want. This can be incredibly frustrating. There are specific points in the game where I wanted to try something, but couldn’t save before I did it. Also, each area of the game is associated as being a “chapter.” This means that if you’re in the bar area and do something wrong, you’ll have to restart the whole area again. This can be frustrating at times, especially if it’s after a lot of dialogue. I also experienced quite a few frame rate problems throughout my play through of the game. It wasn’t bad enough to hinder my experience, but there was one time I had to restart, and as I discussed above, this meant I had to do that whole section again.
Shadowrun Returns gives all of its creation tools to the user. This means that anybody can use the game editor and make his or her own stories/scenarios. I dabbled with the game editor myself for a little bit. While I was able to make a few things (map, NPCs), it’s not for everyone. The user interface is a little tough to figure out and will be daunting to many. Don’t worry though, the game uses Steamworks, which makes it an absolute breeze to find and install user created content (let them do all the work). Earlier today I checked out a quick little campaign a user made about searching for a girl’s missing sister. It was enjoyable and the dialogue was well written. It makes me excited to see what else the community will do with the game.
Shadowrun Return’s presentation gets the job done. It’s not going to turn heads with how beautiful it is, but its Cyber punk aesthetic is fantastic. Between the characters, their cyberware augmentations, and the look and feel of futuristic Seattle, it’s just executed well. That goes for the music too. It’s warped, disjointed and dystopian, just the way I liked my cyber punk classics.
This is the Shadowrun game we’ve been waiting for. Going back to its roots, Shadowrun Returns is easily one of the best entries in the series. With a lengthy campaign (which deserves to be played multiple times with different classes) and the limitless possibility of user created content; Shadowrun Returns is giving you a lot for its $20 price point. Does it have flaws? Yes, but If you’re a fan of tactical role-playing games, and enjoy the dystopian, cyber punk theme, than you owe it to yourself to check out Shadowrun Returns.
Fina Score: 8/10
A code for Shadowrun Returns was given to us by Harebrained Schemes for review; I played the game on PC (Windows 7 64-bit, 8 GB Ram, GTX 670). It took me about 8 hours to complete the “main” story on normal. I hired many contractors, killed many bad guys, and helped to avenge my friends death.