Shadowrun Returns, but is it everything we expected it to be?
Shadowrun Returns is a game that has been almost two decades in the making. Harebrained Schemes has brought back the classic role-playing series from obscurity combining both classic gameplay with modern flourishes. That's not to say that Shadowrun Returns doesn't suffer from a few issues, but the overall experience is a positive one. Those who love classic RPGs with turn based strategy elements will enjoy the experience.
For those unaware of the Shadowrun lineage, it started as a tabletop role-playing game at the tail end of the 80s. The universe mixes technology, magic, and fantasy melding them into a steampunk future where you have the likes of elves, trolls, dwarves, and other fantastical characters. Shadowrun Returns does a good job of throwing you into this world and from the character creation process you can see the multitude of ways to play your character. What race are you going to be? Human? Kind of boring, dude! Think outside the box! Be an elf or a massive troll! Not only do you have the option to pick what race your character is you also get to pick a class such as the street samurai, who is a weapons master whether it be blades or guns, or a decker looking to hack the planet. There are a lot of options in choosing your main aspects of your character but also the abilities that your character has. This completely changes the way you play and the options open to you. The example used above with the street samurai is one where you can have an advantage with whatever weapons you choose to focus on, even if those weapons are your fists. This provides many different combinations to keep you coming back and trying out new characters.
Shadowrun Returns uses the same modernized strategic combat that XCOM: Enemy Unknown used last year, and it still works even in a completely different setting. You'll want to make sure your team has the right amount of cover to keep them safe from bullets as well as make sure you're in the right range or line of sight to make moves against your enemies. This builds on the XCOM model a bit by adding in magic from the mages, summons from the shamans, and some melee combat. All of these things work well within the setting even if they don't necessarily feel new or fresh. I did like the addition of jacking into The Matrix which is a better way of doing a hacking sequence. You basically hack into a virtual world while your team has to defend you in the real world so that you don't get killed while hacking. Once in the virtual world, you combat enemy programs designed to keep out intruders. You can also purchase your own programs and powers to help you out in The Matrix. There are even more brutal enemy programs that do damage to you in the outside world from inside the simulation. This is used for many different things in the game - such as shutting down mind-control chips, unlocking certain doors, or obtaining sensitive information. It's a creative way to hack a console and much more welcomed than some hackneyed mini-game.
Shadowrun Returns takes place in Seattle, and it's much different than you probably remembered it. This Seattle is filled with guns, drugs, cybernetic implants, and espionage on a grand scale. Your character is tasked with finding out who killed your friend Sam Watts; a man who hired you from beyond the grave using a dead man's switch. You find out he was killed by a serial killer, but you also discover a bigger conspiracy is afoot. You'll meet plenty of interesting characters along the way all of whom have their own issues for you to help with. The overall story is enjoyable and has a lot of twists and turns along while being deeper than you'd expect. However, it mostly provides an extremely linear experience. You certainly follow a single path with only one side mission that you don't really have to complete. That side mission is kind of cool though, adding a different enemy type to fight. You also never really get attached to other characters during combat. Most of the missions have you hire from a list of shadowrunners who each have different skills, but no personalities. That is a shame, because games like Baldur's Gate have shown you can have a large number of companions with which to build a relationship. I wish you got more interactions with some of these characters, and that you could hire more characters you know when looking for a team.
Shadowrun Returns has brought with it a contingency plan, and I can't wait to see what the community comes up with. They have released an entire editing suite to the game, which even allows you to edit the main campaign of the game. This means the game will have endless possibilities for years to come as I'm sure we will see great content from the community. There are already a couple interesting scenarios available on the Steam Workshop for you to check out from the get go. The editor itself seems simple to use, but incredibly deep to get into. I have never really been much of a creator, but I know that a game like this will have a strong community to keep bringing us great content. Potentially, I could see myself coming back every few months just to see what new campaigns have been created by the community.
At the end of the day, Shadowrun Returns is a great experience. It throws you into a world that you might already be familiar with or are learning about. The overall story is good, even if the character interaction can be a bit lacking for a game like this. I do wish there was more to do outside of the main story as it's just too linear. The gameplay is solid even though it doesn't really do anything new, but I did like what they did with the The Matrix and it made those parts enjoyable to play through. However, the possibilities with the editor will keep me coming back to the game for years. It's a game worth checking out.
This game was reviewed using a Steam code provided by the developer, Harebrained Schemes. Trevor Osz is the Editor-in-Chief for the Spiderduck Network and you can contact him on Twitter @TrevorOsz. You can also comment at the bottom of this article and voice your opinion of the game.