Should I be excited about… Shadowrun Returns (PC)
Our full review of Shadowrun Returns is now available here.
Oh, you want more. Ok, but there’s really no need. If you are vaguely interested in turn-based strategy or pen and paper RPG’s, or the original Shadow Run game, all you need to know is that you need this. Go pre-order it now. If it’s already released by the time you read this, just buy it.
Still here? Ok, let me try to convince you Mr Fence-sitter!
Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk with a neo-noir detective story. Cyberpunk with a neo-noir detective story in a world of technology and magic. Cyberpunk with a neo-noir detective story in a world of technology and magic where you hunt a futuristic incarnation of Jack the Ripper. Have you bought it yet? Whats wrong with you!
The original SNES Shadowrun RPG is one of those mythic titles that defined many gamers childhoods. I missed it the first time round, but I was a fan of FASA’s tabletop roleplaying game and the universe they created has fascinated me ever since. Combining magic, science and technology, the tabletop game depicted a version of cyber-space that pre-dated the matrix and took heavy inspiration from William Gibson. If you like Blade Runner, Neuromancer and Hackers, this was the game you had to play. What? Everyone likes Hackers, right?
This new version of Shadowrun looks visually similar to the old SNES title, albeit re-imagined at a higher resolution and polished to a sheen. It’s not a gorgeous game, but its visuals accurately convey this quirky version of the future, where a Dwarf coroner is berated by an Ork detective over the death of a cyborg private detective’s former partner. It’s genre and niche and lovely.
Shadowrun Return feels like a game out of time. It’s high detail pixel art charms me, while it’s deep and well designed stats based RPG elements intrigue me. While the interface and menus are very simple and intuitive, this game takes the pen and paper Shadowrun and reproduces it in game form, making it initially intimidating for the casual player. The different character classes and races are so interesting though that you won’t give up. Who doesn’t want to try out every class, including choices like a street samurai, or a “Decker” (someone who can jack in to a virtual computer world and affect machines in the real world)?
At present the game is in Beta, and it includes a campaign as well as a number of other bits and pieces for designing your own stories. It also has some rough user-made efforts created to show how this system works. The prospect of creating my own stories and campaigns is terrifying as I consider how much of my time it could consume.
The included campaign is light on presentation but has some great genre writing. The characters are gritty, the rules of this universe feel consistent and the world building is perfect. Everything that happens feels like a small part of a big, well realised version of the future.
The actual gameplay is split into RPG exploration and looting and turn-based combat. In each area you click around the game world, chatting with resident (who are brilliantly weird). At one point you chat with a beggar who is despised by locals because he has no SIN (serial identification number), and as such can’t get real work. He explains that he feels more free without one, and you’re given a glimpse into a world with real social and political issues, just like you see in all the best Sci-fi. Dialogue options can be affected by your character stats. In this example, if your strength is high enough you will unlock a dialogue option to intimidate, while if you chose the Ganger background you could use your streetwise nature to get what you want.
In combat it’s pure XCOM, and I mean XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The cover system with the little floating shields, the movement and the skills and shooting work almost exactly the same. In other words, it’s a slick and intuitive combat system that allows rewards strategy and forward planning while being accessible. It’s great, and the rich variety of character types, skills and abilities make for dynamic combat where you are rewarded for exploring the different options available. A mage and a street samurai versus an adept and a decker will make for a spectacular, pyrotechnic clash of science, technology, magic and cold steel.
In the Beta there are some issues for Harebrained Schemes to sort out though. The character models don’t look as good as the environments, especially when zoomed in when you look at their character profile. Presentation is basic (although like I said before the writing is strong) and the soundtrack is weak and incidental when I had hoped for thudding synths and epic retro-futurism.
Despite these niggles, I would still buy this game without a second thought. It’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy your strategy divided and portioned into turns, and if you are interested in the cyber-magic world of Shadowrun at all, I can unreservedly recommend you check this out.