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Shadowrun Returns Review (PC)

Shadowrun ReturnsI got a chance to try the release version of Shadowrun Returns this morning and found it to be the same as the Beta I had been playing, so this review is in large part a reworking of our preview.

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? What’s 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 ReturnsShadowrun 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)?

Shadowrun Returns ships with a single campaign as well as an editor to make your own stories. This editor is powerful and complex, but the promise of a toolkit to create Shadowrun adventures of your own is far more exciting than whats available right now. The community all been waiting a long time to play a game like this, and all that pent up energy can now be expended by creating new stories and adventures and sharing them. There’s even a big button right there on the game interface to find user-created adventures. If the community embraces Shadowrun Returns fully, this will be the most important aspect of the whole game.

Shadowrun ReturnsThe 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.

Shadowrun ReturnsIn 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.

Sadly the included game is also too easy. The challenge it presents is low, and in comparison to the brutal combat in something like XCOM, its sad that you don’t need to use more strategy to succeed. The lines of site are also a bit too generous, with little need to find good lines of site. Perhaps this is for the best in the pixel generated levels where you (obviously) can’t move a camera to find the best angles, but it also means that tactics take a back seat to efficiency as you focus on completing a level as fast as possible rather than struggle to survive.

Harebrained Schemes have done a good job on the whole, but I can’t shake the feeling that the game seems a little too streamlined and that features were maybe missed out. 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. The interface is simple and easy to use, but it also seems to be missing basic RPG functions. Using a medkit to heal a team mate outside of combat requires far too many steps, and inventory management is very clumsy and non-intiutive.

Shadowrun ReturnsMost worryingly, the autosave system is poor and the game saves so infrequently that you can lose a lot of progress. I found myself playing through whole sections, sometimes rushing through dialogue without taking it in when I was worried I wouldn’t make it to a save point. Autosaves trigger as you transition from environments, so in any big area it can take a long time to get to your next save point.

Despite these niggles, I still really enjoyed Shadowrun Returns. Its atmosphere, writing and style are spot on. It’s probably going to appeal more to those who remember the original, or love the Shadowrun universe, but anyone who likes turn based strategy in weird retro-futuristic worlds will enjoy it. It will be the community and the user created adventures that will determine whether Shadowrun Returns is a brief diversion or an all consuming passion. And it will be Harebrained Schemes job to nurture and support that community.

4 Cyborg Samurai Sorcerors out of 5

Shadowrun Returns Review (PC), 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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