25 years ago Jordan Weisman came up with a science fantasy RPG that was set in the future where technology meshed with flesh, magic became commonplace and races evolved to create metahuman creatures such as elves, orcs, trolls and dwarves. Harebrained Schemes, an indie game company led by Jordan Weisman took Shadowrun to Kickstarter a year ago in order to reboot the franchise and what an amazing game followed.
Shadowrun Returns is the usual concept of Shadowrun. Set in 2054, magic has come about to Earth and has created creatures both great and scary, corporations have grown so big and intrusive on peoples lives that they bleed dry the poor and reward the rich creating these largely differing socio-economic levels, where there was a middle ground there is only the remnants of what life used to be like.
Starting out in this world you take on the persona of an old shadowrunner (a mercenary who lives life dangerously and deals with the desperate and dangerous). Before you become this shadowrunner however first you’re going to have to decide on gender, race and most importantly class. There are several classes; Street Samurai for those who enjoy guns and hand to hand combat, Mage for those with a penchant for magic, Decker for those who enjoy hacking peoples dirty secrets, Shaman for if you want a spiritual animal to guide you, Riggers who control and fight as robots and can control surveillance, Physical Adepts who use magic to improve their mortal form, or just None.
As the game starts out you can open up your contact list, all you’ll find however is a list of missing or deceased partners and friends, you’re down on your luck. That is until you get a message from your old pal Sam. Sam has just joined your list of `Late` friends and colleagues, however this message isn’t just a sad goodbye – it’s a job. 100K to find your friends killer. The story of Shadowrun plays out like a much more awesome, fantasy version of an already interesting crime show. The only difference being the fantasy style and the fact that you are the private investigator. The story is told through load screens that provide exposition for each level and also conversations with your fellow reprobates, this means that you have to read a lot if you want to get the full story. This is actually quite nice. Instead of an `interactive movie`, as games are so poorly described, this is more like an `interactive book` in the fact that you get more from reading that just passively watching the story play out. When talking to friends and enemies alike your given script-esque information such as “[She clenches her fist at the sound of his name]“, and allows you to choose 1 of normally 3 options when responding. I enjoy both of these mechanics as instead of showing you how the designer whats the `She` to look, you can create your own vision based on their character portrait.
Looking more at visual aspects of the game, Shadowrun Returns is an isometric game and given the cyberpunk style that it has made famous many places look downtrodden but still beautiful and distinguished through it’s beat up nature and use of neon lighting. When talking to characters you’re given a character portrait just to help show you what the characters of this world look like warts and all. It is visually captivating and part of that is probably down to the fact that the style of the game is a breath of fresh air, it isn’t an first/third person game where all you can see is either your hands holding a gun or the back of your head. It offers a picture of the entire world in it’s own stylings and that’s what sets it apart from the rest, so many games now seem to be looking at better shading and dynamic lighting and making it look more and more real. Seeings as Shadowrun is a fantasy game is has none of those trappings and is free to look however and it looks beautiful.
Poking around and asking questions can annoy people, and those people can be violent psychopaths that are involved in gangs, guns and grenades. Being a shadowrunner however you aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty. The games combat is turn based and quite simple which means it’s easy to pick up even if you’ve never played this style of game. In combat you have an action pool for each character, you can move, shoot, conjure and use magic. In small skirmishes choices may seem trivial and are probably decided by whatever is easiest or your favourite method to dispatch enemies. When faced with a larger number of foes you’d best choose your next action wisely, get into cover and fire a shot off, charge up to an enemy and melee or chuck fireballs or grenades into a densely packed area.
Looking toward leveling up and character progression you’ll need Karma (and no not from reddit). Karma is rewarded for completing objectives and side missions should you choose to take them up. When you’ve got your karma you’re then faced with an initially daunting level up mechanic. A character has 6 stats – Body, Quickness, Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Charisma. Body relates to your ability to take punishment from enemies, Quickness looks at your skills in firearms, Strength makes you more adept in hand to hand combat, Intelligence focuses more on how you handle technology, Willpower is like Quickness but based on magic not guns and Charisma allows you to handle spirits. In order to improve say your ability with a shotgun, first you’d have to improve your ability with firearms in general. It is quite elaborate but it seems to work as a mission or 2 later you can find yourself with 8 or 18 unspent karma.
Finally, moving onto the soundtrack, the score for the game is good and fast paced when it comes to combat and it all feels quite at home. The only issue for me is that after a while I found it easy to gloss over and almost zone out. It is nice and noticeable, but with so many hours of gameplay you do start to focus more on what’s on screen and the story there, than on what you can hear. It may be a backfire from not having any dialogue – that not having major points being spoken means that the player sees the audio as less important and is likely to do what I did.
Overall Shadowrun Returns is a great game to play and has a really captivating story which makes me happy it has so many gameplay hours hidden away and even user created content for those who can’t get enough of a fix.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied by Harebrained Holdings. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 9/10
Gameplay/Design – 8/10
Visuals – 8/10
Sound – 6/10
Lasting Appeal – 8/10
Overall – 8/10
(Not an average)
Platform: PC, OS X, Linux, iPad, Android Tablets
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Publisher: Harebrained Holdings