Rarely do you come across a game that lives up to everything you hoped it would be. The process of reading about a game on Kickstarter, deciding to back the game, and then waiting for it to arrive, is one that makes room for a huge amount of inordinate expectations. We see the concepts that the developers entice us with, and we fill the spaces in with our own imaginations. I have a good friend who has spent good time and money doing this with the Kickstarted Star Citizen. I, on the other hand, find myself needing to ignore the games that I have backed. I will fill the spaces with my totally unreasonable imagination. No game could hope to live up to those dreams.
But Shadowrun Returns somehow managed it. The mid-90’s style isometric cyberpunk RPG is a welcome return to a simpler, but not less engaging, time for RPG’s. Given the limited scope of the project, Harebrained Schemes raised just over $1.8, the game ignores the modern standards of open world, voice acting, and seeming limitless side quests. Instead, Shadowrun Returns is a lean game with a main story that drives straight forward, allowing only a few side steps along the way. But what it lacks in breadth, it makes up for in a tale that scratches an itch most of us didn’t know we had. The neon-lit streets might remind us of Blade Runner, but Rick Deckard never ran into Elves and shamanistic powers.
The world of Shadowrun is well established, with several games appearing over the years on the SNES, Genesis, and even the Xbox 360. The story is perhaps not the best introduction to the world for someone who has never jacked in to the Matrix before, but it’s a great refresher for those of us whose Decker skills are a bit rusty. The player is treated to seedy bars full of metahumans, evil corps and their security forces, and the neon-blue of the cyber world of the Matrix.
Play is real-time until combat starts. Then the turn based, tactical shooting and spell casting begins. Shadowrun Returns presents players with some interesting combat scenarios in which taking advantage of the maps’ layouts is essential to survival. The combat, which is surprisingly enjoyable for its simplicity, involves both the masses of the player’s enemies and his or her companions. Either some of your new friends from the story or hired guns will join the player on the field of combat, making the game a squad based tactical shooter most of the time.
The drawbacks of this game are few, but real. The game has a help menu to get you going, but it is not well integrated into the game’s opening hour. It sets you off walking and fighting, but after that there isn’t much assistance along the way. For example, Riggers, who have drones with them, must activate those drones for them to take part in the action. This information might be somewhere in the game’s help file, but I wasn’t able to find it. As well, the checkpointing system is simply bad. Checkpoints only happen when the player moves from one game map to the next. While this didn’t present any great hurdles for my play-through of the game, there was real tension when a fight had gone on for quite some time and the threat of defeat loomed. To die was to have to play the encounter again from the beginning.
But the worst thing about Shadowrun Returns is that it’s too damn good to be this short. The twelve hours I spent in the first campaign released, “Dead Man’s Switch”, were too short. But one need not despair. For the game comes with developer tools that allow for the creation of new content by both amateurs and professionals. (As of this writing, there are multiple projects already underway to recreate the SNES and Genesis games in the new engine). As well, the Berlin campaign, a much less linear experience, is in the works by Harebrained Schemes. So there is definitely more Shadowrun on the way, and I honestly can’t wait to get my Decker, IzUpH3r3e, back into the action.
As a last word, it is somewhat hard to determine where to distinguish between the game as a set of rules and the campaign that shipped with Shadowrun Returns. The story is a nice piece of mystical-cyberpunk noire. But the potential of the system to bring us on even more adventures is incredibly exciting. Thus, the campaign seems to be fairly neutral with a slight positive leaning when it comes to the Roman Catholic Church. But anyone who learns the toolset could write anything they wanted. So it’s a bit hard to evaluate the theological side of this game. Instead, perhaps, the theology lies in the accomplishment, the setting, and the creative space that the game provides.
Title: Shadowrun Returns
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Time Played: 12 Hours
We backed the Kickstarter of this game.