Shadowrun Returns, a game that is determined to get back to its roots and to overcome the debatable Xbox 360 and pc game back in 2007. Shadowrun was originally a tabletop role-playing game back in 1989 with new editions of the game releasing up until its latest 2013 fifth edition; it also had video games alongside the tabletop version as well as traversing other media.
Shadowrun Returns was developed by Harebrained Schemes, an indie games company led by Jordan Weisman, the creator and one of the many designers of the Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game. Since it is a Shadowrun game and was made by one of the people who made the Pen and Paper version I shall try and relate what Shadowrun Returns gives to players and how well it shapes up with prior games.
Shadowrun Returns is also one of the countless projects and games funded through the site Kickstarter and one of the few to raise more than triple what they require racking up $1,400,000 more then they needed, but was this game worth the investment and over funding it got from old fans?
This game, sticking more closely to its pen and paper counterpart, is a turn based RPG, though unlike many games within this genre, you can select the company made campaign entitled “The Dead Man’s Switch” or you can browse through user made campaigns much like how you would within the tabletop adventures, likening the series to that of Dungeons and Dragons or Call of Cthulhu. Being an old time fan of the pen and paper style of playing games I had a lot of nostalgia from traversing the menus, characters and the game itself.
Upon choosing a campaign you are put into the character creation stage, sticking to the typical RPG trait of you making your own character and developing them over time and decisions. The character creation feels rather rustic in its design, showing you all the effects of your choices before you make them, showing you stat bonuses along with a little description on what you are choosing.
In customisation you can choose your gender, between male and female, one of the five races including; Human, Elf, Dwarf, Ork and Troll, with pre-set skills and abilities that include; Street Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger, Physical Adept or you can customised your own class. Once the major decisions are made you go onto creating the physical appearance of your characters, either choosing from presets in the game or going into your own custom designs.
The classes have very different starting abilities, but with enough levels you can essentially do everything that all the other classes can do within one character. The street samurai specializes in both ranged and melee combat and is the most rounded character. Mage’s have a better grasp over magic and stick to smaller guns. Decker’s and Rigger’s are the sappers of the classes, making it easy to target enemies and being the first to jack into computers. Shaman’s start with the ability to summon monsters from items and objects within the world, they are also a buffer for the party. Physical adepts are the melee class, dealing in swords and the skills attached to them.
Once the physical character is made you move onto the stat screen which can be very daunting from first glance, including so many colours, numbers and names. From one glance I was irritated that it expected me to understand so much at once. Fans of Pen and Paper games would enjoy the in-depth controllability to this, but to many gamers it could be asking a lot. Through playing the game you can get used to this screen and what skills and abilities you will want for your character, The Character stats are sectioned off depending on what each class or specification would use; strength for melee, quickness for ranged, intelligence for spells etc.
After this screen you get to choose your etiquette, a way of speech and the demeanour your character has, though none of the options give a description so it feels like you are choosing at random, as some choices seem very vague like Socialite or Gang while as Academic is more understandable. The etiquettes are used within conversation, allowing you to respond with a speech choice that gains you access to secured locations, getting more money from a mission or getting more information.
After the exhaustible character creation I finally finished my character, a Male-Human Street Samurai who uses a pistol and is a Socialite who went by the handle NapazTrix, a man who is determined to make it big within the Shadowrunner business and who is tired of all this long-winded character creation.
The story starts off with your character at the end of his last pay check, living in a less then lovely apartment waiting on the phone for more work. You’re a Shadowrunner, doing jobs where the pay is good and the risk is high, though the risk of starvation is getting higher and higher each day your fixer doesn’t get you any work.
The game begins with you in the middle of a rundown apartment room, allowing you to bask in the glow that is the sparks coming off a broken air conditioning unit. Your computer starts to flash and a drunken Sam Watts is on the other line, or so it seems, it’s a pre-recorded message from a dead Sam, setting up the story for the campaign, find his killer and get rich.
The story puts you into several roles as you go about finding Sam’s killer, having you talk to coroners and inspecting the dead bodies of victims. Searching around crime scenes for evidence, talking to witnesses and investigators for clues and leads, killing off gang’s to get information or special items you need to proceed or to sneak into privately owned property to chase down a suspect. The only job or aspect you seem to keep throughout the game is that of a Shadowrunner, performing odd jobs from finding someone’s lost blankets to killing some thugs down the road for any amount of reward.
It is hard to merit the game based on the one story campaign it has as default which it uses to ease the player into the game and its world before searching for user made ones. This is less of a game purchase and more of a game engine purchase, as when you buy the game you have the ability to make your own stories and maps and allow others to play them, much like the Pen and Paper counterpart. I couldn’t really say you will have the best experience or the worst of one from buying this game as it is all dependant on what maps and campaigns you wish to try out.
From the campaign that is available it gives the sense that the game is mainly a story being played out whilst you choose how fast it goes along, either skipping through all the detours to find the end, or going to all the dead ends and fixing all the problems that people have within the world. This game isn’t one for people who want a fast paced action game as when battle does occur you must control all of your party members and make sure you choose the best position and attack each character will use.
After some time in the campaign, you jack into the matrix, sending you into a Tron theme world, with data and blue outlines representing the floor, walls and objects within the cyberspace. Hacking into a database to get some data is a lot more exciting in this way, besides just pressing a sequence like in most games. Though this feels cool and very innovative, it still is lacking from what it could be, the music is still rather dull in this area and the battle mechanics are basically the same as they are outside of the Cyber world.
After dealing with what seems to be the main villain of the game you find out he was only working for someone with even more power. The story sets you against an entire religion called The Universal Brotherhood, a powerful and fanatic cult. The cult has a public face where it allows all humans and metahumans alike to join and that everyone is at their core the same. As well as joining together they seek to worship the “Truth”, underneath their façade is a terrible truth, one connected to the disappearance of the followers in their cult who go against the rules.
This campaign will give you around 10 hours of gameplay, including the majority of the side quests and searching to be found within the several maps. It is a very well made campaign with a tight story throwing out twists and turns where it can, making it seem like nothing is too easy and there is always something in your way.
From looking at the game, you can make comparisons to Xcom: Enemy Unknown, the movement and view are similar, though opting for a more comic book look. The first battle you have is a tutorial, showing you how to play. Moving to cover to protect yourself from fire and firing at your enemies, using up movement and action points. The gameplay is rather simplistic, having single click attacks on enemies and single clicks for movement.
Battle gets a lot more hectic during late game, when you have several enemies on screen using all the weapons at hand be they swords, guns or magic. You will have to combine all of your squad’s abilities from their own tailored weapons, magic and summons all the while keeping an eye on your ammo, health and cooldowns on spells.
The In-game menu screen allows you to look at objectives along with any mission items you have, your character sheet detailing all your stats, items and options, containing almost everything you need to know at the press of a button. Though these options aren’t too flashy, they are straight to the point.
Conversation within the game is all done by text, with no cutscenes or voices, going for a more laid back environment, though this is probably done more so that user made campaigns don’t feel overshadowed by the premade one. You can select from several replies, ranging from badass lines following the “Shut up or I’ll kill you” route to the “No reward needed” lines. Without a voice or character movement, these options don’t have much of a sense of impact or emotion.
There are some choices within the game that require certain skills or traits, either them being a strength check you have to pass, or knowing how to hack a machine. These can add some replay ability to the game as you can choose a different class and stat setup and see what would of happened if you said or did something different a second time round.
The overall speech and investigation part of the game can feel drawn out and boring at times, as you are simply reading text and pressing buttons waiting till the action starts up again. When you get to the main city the gameplay is split up between walking around, examining objects and talking to people. Quests are dotted around the map, mostly comprising of “Kill these people” which reward you with Money and Karma.
Money is pretty scarce in the beginning, I had only 300 Nuyen to my name and for a long while it seemed as I was a beacon of good in the world turning down payment for rescue, only to receive Karma from early side quests. Karma is also earned from completing missions, succeeding in conversation or finding items in searchable areas, rewarding the gamers with keen eyes and enough time to spare to look in each nook and cranny.
Karma is also the way you level up in the game, you spend points into any trait you have, being strength or other stats like intelligence, or going into specific weapon or magic abilities like pistol or shaman summoning powers, making you better at your choice of weapon. Though it can take a lot of points to level up, as for an example if you were level 5 in pistols, you would need 6 points to get to level 6.
Weapons and Armour in the game show little difference in numbers, armour separated from only 1 point higher in defence, to most gamers this may seem miniscule but within this type of game a single point can make a big difference. Fans of the Dragon Quest series will recognise how little numbers can change the tide of battle, as well as people who played Xcom.
After some time in the story, depending on what campaign you are playing, you get the ability to hire squad members for a set price. From looking at their base equipment and skills it can be hard to decide who you want on your team as they will mostly be used just for combat and little else. I went for a mixed group which included the Decker and a mage to join me as a Street Samurai and my client as a Shaman.
The gameplay is very heavily situated around its story telling aspects and telling of its background and history, not relying on its combat. You will spend the majority of the game talking to people, doing side quests and continuing on the story with only a few battles in-between. To a lot of today’s gamers it will feel as if it drags on for way too long only to have a battle that lasts 2 or 3 turns. Around halfway into the game the battles become more frequent and longer, spanning entire buildings full of enemies. Most of the battles you have don’t even seem to reward you in any way shape or form, countless battle going by with only the satisfaction of victory, gaining Karma only through speech or missions.
Travel within the game is incredibly simplistic, being very similar to that of point and click adventure games like Broken Sword. You click on the screen somewhere, depending on how far you click the faster you travel, and your character moves to that spot. You move between maps and scenes through doors, but rarely travel back to previous locations making the game feel more level based and gives a Final Hallway 13 feel to the game. Through playing the game it seems to guide you to one direction without much choice in the matter as there is normally only one doorway to be had and one route to take.
Music within the game keeps a consistent futuristic and calm electronic style of music, combining simple ambient noises and sounds similar to that of old 8-bit games. The music adds to the game and its setting, though it doesn’t have a lot of impact to the gameplay or combat, becoming nothing more than background noise whilst you go about your questing. Though not being noteworthy, the soundtrack isn’t bad; it just feels underpowered against everything else that is happening. The music also gives a slight remembrance to the old Broken Sword series as it has similar tunes within the songs, but not enough to make them exactly the same, the music fits very well within the setting of investigation which is a common trait among the two games.
End Game and Replayability
Upon finishing a campaign, you may import your character over to a new one, keeping the equipped items, outfit and skills that your character had, though any Nuyen or stashed items will be lost. Depending on the campaigns you subscribe to you will have a choice between starting a fresh character, importing over characters you have saved or choosing a preset hero for that story. This “New Game+” feature is great if you want to go back through the campaigns and choose any options you couldn’t choose before due to low skills.
The Shadowrun editor within the game is pretty in-depth, containing all the resources shown within the base campaign, allowing you to recreate the campaign building for building or make an entirely new map of your own. The editor itself is rather simple and basic in its design, allowing you to drag and drop in any asset you want from walls to generators. The editor allows for you to input your own stories, dialogue choices and decide what you want npcs to say to you giving a very similar feel to game making software like RPG Maker.
From the several campaigns on the steam community, you can tell that people are having fun with and are finding it easy to use this editor as there are several long campaigns to choose from. Though until new patches and assets come out, there will be a lot of the same looking environments and items making the editor feel rather small for the time being. The community is rather huge in this respect, adding in campaigns, icons, weapons, characters and assets ready for you to download and try for yourself.
Overall Thoughts and Feelings
Shadowrun Returns is an amazing alternative to that of the Pen and Paper tabletop game, but as a standalone game it just doesn’t seem to have enough oomph in it to get much excitement. Heavily relying on its story, the game can be either very good or very boring to gamers, as it is totally up to the Dungeon Masters or creators of the campaigns and I would never be able to vouch for them.
The game tries to replace human interactivity with AI with the squad system, but this type of game, especially since it is based on the tabletop version, really needs other people around to talk and argue with to get the best enjoyment out of it. The lack of Co-op and multiplayer really hits this game’s score, even though they have stated they wish to add that feature at one point but without it the game just seems empty.
I would have to give Shadowrun Returns a 3/5, bringing a single player aspect to a game which is normally only playable with others whilst still maintaining the world and its lore. I feel the game would only appeal to a small amount of gamers, though with the price it is definitely worth a purchase since you can get a lot of gaming hours out of it.
That rating is only for the game as it is now; it can only get bigger and better from this point on. No matter what, this game is a huge improvement on what was released back in 2007.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.