Shadowrun is a world where you’re as likely to run into a spell-slinging Dwarf as you are an Elf with cybernetic limbs. Shadowrun has always had one of the most unique setting around. Whether you’re sitting down for a pen and paper role-playing session of it, or booting up your SNES for some classic game time, Shadowrun has an ambiance unlike any other game. It’s this unique feeling of techno fantasy scummery that Hairbrained Schemes was hoping to capture with their kickstarted game, Shadowrun Returns.
So, did they manage to capture that special something that has kept Shadowrun a cult favorite for so many years? YES! From the moment I started playing this game I was flung back into the days of shadowrunning with my friends around the table. It’s no surprise that the game is so reflective of the tabletop rpg it’s based on considering the company is led by Jordan Weisman, the creator of the Shadowrun tabletop game. While I can’t say the game has made a seamless transition, it’s hard to see anyone doing a whole lot better.
One thing you’ll notice about Shadowrun Returns right when you start it up are the visuals. Everything is dark, but has that cyberpunk light glow that edges out the darkness just enough to seem like something is luring around every corner. Everything looks just awesome, from the buildings in the city, to the incredible character portraits. I was amused when character models didn’t match up to the portraits quite right though. There may be a hulking Orc of a game model in front of you, but his picture shows a much smaller framed character. It isn’t something I had a problem with, so much as something I found amusing. The soundtrack for Shadowrun Returns is also exceptional. It’s often easy to overlook soundtracks on games, but Shadowrun Returns’ does a great job setting the right mood.
Shadowrun is set in a fictional 2012 when the world is run by huge megacorporations, and magic has returned to the world. You take on the role of a runner, someone hired to handle the shadier operations of the mega corps and anyone else that will pay well enough. The options for creating your runner are far more impressive than I was expecting them to be. You choose from 5 different races that run the standard fantasy gauntlet of dwarves, trolls, etc. When it comes to choosing a class, things become a little more interesting.
Classes in the traditional sense don’t really exist in Shadowrun. When you choose one of the six classes, you’re really just picking what skills you want (similar to Elder Scrolls). If you’re feeling especially confident, you can choose to free build you character how ever you want. As a seasoned Shadowrun player this was definitely the option I dove head into. While I can’t describe the skill list as extensive, I will say there is plenty there to warrant creating multiple characters.
One of the coolest things about the skills and classes is that you do truly feel unique from other character builds. Take rigging and get to control combat drones, be a Shaman and summon monstrous spirits from the terrain, if you take decking you’re able to enter a cyber world. In general I would say that everything is pretty well balance, though the mystical martial arts characters, know as adepts, seem to be lacking some punch (ironically). As you level up you’ll get more skill points to spend in whatever way you’d like. Want to be a cybernetically enhanced Troll with summoning powers? You can do that in Shadowrun Returns.
As you make Nuyen (money) in the game, you can spend it in a number of ways to enhance your character. The plethora of upgrade options include: buying cybernetics, getting new spells, getting new weapons and armor, buying summoning totems, etc. Don’t spend all your Nuyen in one place though! You’ll also have to pay to recruit other runners for missions that you go on. While some of them come with a companion or two for plot reasons, you almost always have the option to hire more.
Gameplay takes the form of a tactical role-playing game. Each character has a number of action points that allow them to move around the grungy world and act. It’s very reminiscent of Fallout, you take turns moving and attacking, and your chance to hit is percentage based. I never really found myself getting tired of the combat. It’s tactical, engrossing, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to lure someone through a door and blast them to pieces in one shot with a shotgun. It can of course be equally dangerous for your character, as I found myself dead in one round after failing to plan my movement well.
When you’re not tossing fireballs and pistol whipping people into oblivion, you’re investigating. These instances may be you looking around a crime scene or trying to gain access to secret areas of a megacorp. These are fun segments that help break up the combat in the game. I enjoyed figuring out the different routes I could accomplish my goals with these. Much of the problem solving comes in the typical style of finding information written somewhere and remember it to input into a computer moments later. While it’s not the deepest portion of the game, it could certainly be developed into something great.
Shadowrun Returns comes with a single module that serves as the main story. It’s not particularly long, and it’s very linear. I did enjoy some of the interesting plot points along the way though. It’s definitely fun to play through though, and is clearly designed to show off what can be done with the options available. See, Shadowrun Returns comes with all the tools you need to create all new material. Someone is already recreating the old SNES game on the Steam Workshop. I think this is going to be where Shadowrun Returns really shines. It has a dedicated following and is a setting flush with potential thanks to its years as a tabletop game.
All in all, Shadowrun Returns is a hell of a game for $20. Even if you just base it on the standard module alone. Take into account the fact that Hairbrained Schemes has given full access to editing with it’s easy to use content creator, and it’s an amazing deal. In reality, its only true issue is the save system. It’s checkpoint based, which can end up being a pain if you keep losing boss fights. Shadowrun Returns is worth picking up for any Shadowrun fan, or anyone just looking for a great game.