Welcome Back to Seattle, Chummer
To understand why I love this game, you must first understand that Shadowrun has been a part of my life for nineteen years. It was handed down to me from my father, who ran our first tabletop session of it for myself and a few of my friends when I was around fourteen or fifteen. I’ve watched the IP of the franchise grow and evolve. I’ve seen it go through several publishers. I’ve read the books, I’ve played the tabletop games, I played the Genesis game, hell, I even played the shitty FPS shooter that Microsoft released (the only occasion in which Shadowrun let me down).
Shadowrun Returns has not let me down.
I Kickstarted the shit out of this project, and thank god I did. I got my codes last Monday, downloaded it Thursday afternoon and didn’t stop playing until Sunday. I have not had a videogame experience like this since Fallout 3 (Borderlands 2 was close). I’ve been thoroughly immersed since the first steps.
Shadowrun Returns is a turn-based, isometric RPG game that emulates the IP of the long storied and well respected tabletop RPG Shadowrun which I’ve written about on the site as seen here. The game begins with a call from a dead man who has posthumously hired you via a ‘Dead Man Switch.’ Upon the death of your newest patron, you’re offered one hundred thousand Nuyen to find his killer and avenge his death. However, in the mean streets of Seattle in 2050, nothing is ever easy, and you soon find yourself up to your eyeballs in deceit, blood, magic, and expended ammunition.
The game is turn based – a refreshing change from what I see in many RPG titles today that go in for some kind of real-time chicanery. Being a point and click title, you’ll find that it has similar feel to strategy based RPG games such as XCOM. You have a certain number of action points each turn that can be spent in any order between movement, attacks, spellcasting, decking, drone control, or conjurations. The different sides take turns back and forth until combats are resolved (usually by killing each other). It’s simple, but complex as well, giving just the right level of old-school gaming crunch and difficulty.
There are also points in the game where you can have conversations that fall back on skills or even etiquettes (a la Fallout or Mass Effect) though it doesn’t appear to change storylines so much as they allow options for you to make a quick Nuyen, avoid combats or circumnavigate an obstacle. It becomes apparent a few scenes of the game in that it’s not all going to be about burning your opponents to cinders or putting round after round into corporate shamans. You’re going to have to invest in charisma and intelligence to get the most out of your runs.
And, speaking of skills, the system is versatile in letting you make your own runners. While you may select from many types of runners (more on this later), you can also choose to do none of those things and make your own runner to the spec you desire. Likewise, as you grow, you can transcend the limitations of your initial class. Want a street sam who can punch deck? Buy the skill and the hardware to do it if you want to spend the karma points on it, chummer. You don’t ‘have’ to be an anything in Shadowrun Returns – it’ll let you roll your own.
Okay. Gonna gush here for a second. You’ll get used to it.
Oh man, does this game take me back. Not just to the roots of turn-based RPG goodness, but just back to the property when it was a lot simpler. Shadowrun has grown and changed since the early nineties. It has nigh unto twenty-five years of history as of the time of writing, and after a while, it can all get very complex for the outside observer. This will bring people back into the fold from the beginning, where it’s still possible to take everything in a little more easily – or as easily as a world like Shadowrun’s can be.
The first thing I noticed was the attention to the principles behind the game that were sorely lacking in the crap-fest that was Shadowrun for the 360. The game stays true to most of the ethos of the tabletop game. If you’re gonna be a magic user, keep cyberware out of your body or your workings will suffer for it. Kill the mage, lose your support enchantments. Kill the shaman, goodbye summoned spirit. Deckers get three full rounds jacked into the Matrix for each round that happens in realspace, and if they try to jack out, they get dumpshock. Black IC damages the decker’s body, not his persona. There are a few differences – no access to astral space, summoned spirits can be damaged by guns – but compared to the 360 game, this was canonical bliss. I can react on old principles I learned in my teens playing the tabletop game to great effect. Let it never be said that my slavish devotion to my favorite tabletop game did not gain me favorable results in my online life.
The game also is, strategically speaking, difficult. And that’s a good thing. The game is not something that can be played by your character alone – you’ll need to hire other runners to go on bigger runs. It’s handled through a local fixer in the shadowrunner bar you come to frequent in game, and if you need that little something extra – a little support magic, a good decker, or just more muscle – you hire them and build your team from an assembled cast. Fail your last run? Try rewinding a bit and picking a different team. Each environment is meant for a different mix of skills, and even if one type of mage didn’t work out, they have others that you can use to balance out your build. It’s a game that lets you get super customizable.
Likewise, you can go all out on your own character. It has an experience system akin to the Mass Effect series where you can select the things you want to be good at as you play. There’s six default loadouts: Street Sams (cyberware and guns – long range offense), Mages (Combat with spells), Shaman (Controllers/Support), Riggers (Combat/Support), Deckers (support) and Adepts (close combat magic). If none of those grab your fancy though, make something unique. The game will give you enough Karma points to improve your basic loadout and get into the shadows.
Short list – nothing’s really bothered me yet, but I did note a few things on the horizon that could use some work.
There’s only one studio generated content pack for now. There’s a second one to be set in Germany but that won’t be out for a bit. Beyond that, it’s all user driven content. Now admittedly, user-driven content is not always a bad thing. Try Little Big Planet if you have doubts. But, this is an RPG game. Lots of reading. Lots of depth. Lots of places to screw up and take you out of the experience. A simple typo can be enough to drop you out, and a little studio polish goes a long way. User driven content will only be as good as the user submitting them, and it could make for crap expansions created via the included game editor.
Second is that I’d love to see multiplayer content for this but… I don’t think it’s in the cards. Usually, I could give two craps about multiplayer, but for me, Shadowrun has always been a multiplayer game because that’s how tabletop RPGs roll. I’d love to get back together with my old crew and take on a run against Aztechnology. Sure, I get multiple runners to bring on my team, but they’re all cookie cutter templates – no customization. If I could get Tommy Dredd, the Claw Man, Hart, and Slash back together, I’d do it in a heart beat. But, alas, that functionality is not there.
Other than that? It’s difficult at times. But, it should be. Shadowrunning has a high fatality rate. The good news is that it never feels like a grind. Even when I’m having my ass handed to me, it’s still awesome.
The Sum Up
Slot it chummer. Buy this fragging game.
Final Score: 5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux; Publisher: Harebrained Schemes; Developer: Harebrained Schemes: Released: July, 25th 2013 ; ESRB: M; MSRP: $19.99