Shadowrun Returns

“Welcome back to the Emerald City Sprawl, chummer. I’d like to say that we’ve missed you…but then I’d be a misbegotten, Troll-shagging liar!”

~ The voice in my head of the badass Shadowrunner, DICKRAZOR, that I created when I was 17. Don’t you fucknuts judge me.

I’m going to get this out the way right up front: I love Shadowrun Returns. I love that it even exists. I love the fact that I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that made the game possible in the first place. To borrow a phrase from the (in)famous 80’s boogeyman, Freddy Kruger, “What a rush…”

Unlike most though, I have a (fairly) long relationship with this series. I actually played the pen and paper RPG when it first came out back in 1989. I also played both the Genesis and SNES games that came out in the 90’s. Shadowrun Returns plays like a long-lost sequel to the 1993 SNES game, which was fantastic, and that’s another reason why I love it. (I skipped the Xbox 360 version that came in 2007 because turning Shadowrun into a FPS, Counter-Strike clone was a horrible fucking idea.)

I'm back in the Emerald City groove...

I’m back in the Emerald City groove…

Now, for the uninitiated, the basic premise of Shadowrun is that in the not-too-distant future the magic and creatures (elves, dragons, dwarves, etc.) of the old world re-awaken and are thrown into the mix of a cyberpunk, dystopian “new” world filled with crime, cybernetic enhancements and Matrix-like computer hacking.  A “Shadowrun” is the name for the covert ops and/or adventures that take place in this world, and Shadowrunners are the folks that carry out these ops. The Shadowrunners typically come in six distinct archetypes: Street Samurais, Adepts, Deckers, Shamans, Riggers and Mages, although cross-pollination between these archetypes is frequent and welcome in the Shadowrun universe. Get it? Got it? Good.

Beyond all the cyberpunk and fantasy tropes, the most interesting element for me is that the majority of the adventures/story lines in Shadowrun have a very pulpy, crime noir feel to them. Shadowrun Returns is no different, thankfully. The scenario that comes with the game, “Dead Man’s Switch,” is pure pulp fiction goodness. You’re contacted from beyond the grave (via a pre-recorded message) by an old friend who charges you (the player) with tracking down his killer. There are many twists and turns to deal with before you’ll reach the gritty finale…and a rather large payday awaiting you at that finale. There are also a several side quests that fall into the same “hard boiled” mold. Fortunately, the writing here is razor sharp, setting the tone of each encounter and location very, very well, just as a savvy Dungeon/Game Master would. If the narrative wasn’t top drawer this would have sunk Shadowrun Returns before it even left the harbor but, as I said, it’s quality stuff, so no worries.

Nice to see that police detectives haven't changed much in the future.

Nice to see that police detectives haven’t changed much in the future.

In regard to the gameplay, Shadowrun Returns is, again, distinctly old school. It is a tactical, turn based RPG that plays out in a 3D isometric perspective. As is standard in almost all RPG’s you can boost stats (with karma points rather than experience points), collect money, armor, spells and weapons. You can also recruit other Shadowrunners of varying archetypes (for a fee, of course…) to assist on the more hazardous runs. The mechanics are solid; the game plays as you would expect with few hiccups or glitches. It’s unspectacular, sure, but satisfying and familiar…like an old pair of slippers that are perfectly molded to your feet.

The overall presentation is nicely done, as well, but I do have a few quibbles here. The 3D backgrounds (and 2D character portraits) have a painterly and/or hand-drawn quality and they are gorgeous, rendered with great detail and truly give you the “feel” of the crumbling, dystopian milieu that Shadowrun Returns is set in. The problem with these beautiful backdrops is that they are in no way interactive, something gamers of this generation have come to want and expect. Hell, even I was like, “Well, that’s kinda lame.” Another disappointment on the “current gen expectations” list is that there is no voice work in this title at all, but the kick-ass, ambient/techno-ish soundtrack more than makes up for the lack of spoken dialogue. Also, the 3D character models are kind of weak; their animations are limited and the textures are a bit muddled. With such fantastic creatures that populate this world, it’s a damn shame that there aren’t more detailed and lively models to admire and manipulate. One other thing to note:  the character models pop in and out (i.e. disappear then re-appear) as your character moves and the screen scrolls to match his/her movement. I’m not sure if this was just because my computer was set at the highest settings the game will allow, or it’s a larger issue with the game engine itself. I saw a couple other people on Twitter mention this issue as well, so I don’t think it was my system in particular.

"The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to."

“The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.”

After about ten hours of play time, I was done with Shadowrun Returns. Too soon, yes, but all good things must come to that inevitable end. There is a rather robust and complex game/level editor that comes with the game itself, so I’m really looking forward to the user generated content (and the promised expansions from Harebrained Schemes themselves) that I’m sure will be coming in the not-too-distant future and will add almost endless value and playtime to this already super cool experience.

Did I mention previously that I love Shadow Returns? I did, didn’t I? Well then, I think you’ll love it too, especially if you dig cyberpunk, fantasy and/or role-playing games of any ilk, and what gamer worth his or her salt doesn’t dig those things on some level or another? Go buy it and play it NOW!

sr smallShadowrun Returns was developed by Harebrained Schemes.

For $19.99, Shadowrun Returns will give you happy dystopian dreams filled with orcs and elves and trolls and shit in the making of this review. I obtained my copy of the game because I was a Kickstarter backer.

Shadowrun Returns is available on Steam.

Shadowrun Returns is Indie Gamer Guy Approved and now holds the third spot on the Leaderboard. igg 2

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6 Responses to Shadowrun Returns

  1. A lack of voice acting could be a plus, as most voice acting in video games is embarrassing, especially if it’s serious.

    I definitely want to play this. Reminds me of the old Fallout games, which I assume were influenced by the original Shadowrun to an extent.

  2. nirajblog says:

    Awesome. Looking so stunning

  3. xionix55 says:

    I did not knew about this, Im a big fan of this isometric RPG, with Wasteland 2 coming, I hope more indie companies take inspirations and make more games like this. This remind me of Snatcher (in the futuristic setting) for the Sega CD, one of my favorites games of all time. Will pick this one soon.

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