"Yo, Chummer. You wanna set up a run? I got what you need right here. See my crew over there? That elf ain't just fo' show. He's one of the fastest Matrix runners in the city. That boy will slice for ICs like it ain't shit. The scary bitch next to him? She slings magic like a dealer slings BTLs. You need someone ta watch their asses, you got 350lbs of orc muscle right here. So what da ya say, Mr. Johnson, gotta deal?"
-Jackson Bonebreaker, six hours before his death.
The Shadowrun universe has close to 25 years of history behind it. The pen-and-paper RPG is just as recognizable in some circles as Dungeons & Dragons. Its fans can recite the history of the sixth age from the Awakening all the way up to the "current" year of 2050. Dozens of books have expanded the universe beyond the core system and added to the already deep lore Jordan Weisman created in the late '80s.
Never stops raining in the City of Dreams.
Clearly this cyberpunk universe lends itself well to the idea of a video game and there have been a few attempts at bringing the table-top to the screen. Fans recall the SNES and Sega versions fondly while lambasting the 2007 FPS multiplayer focused remake as having no heart. Since then, the guys at Harebrained Schemes (led by original creator, Weisman) launched a Kickstarter to right the ship. Enter Shadowrun Returns, a carefully crafted throwback to those golden days of the 16-bit age.
Fans of the older games will have plenty to celebrate. Shadowrun Returns goes back to its roots with a story that tries to not only maintain the spirit of the previous games, but also tries to bring them both into the current pen-and-paper edition of Shadowrun. Weisman does a good job of trying to tie everything together in Shadowrun's ten hour campaign, packing each moment with the style and flair fans love. Sadly, this also is one of its greatest weaknesses.
Weisman tries to make sure a little bit of the entire lore toolbox makes its way into the game. The problem, however, is that to give the world the attention it deserves, it requires a game much longer thanthis one. By trying to fit everything into such a small package, nothing ever feels expanded on. I was left wanting more from the game, which is to its credit, but I also had a lot of the gaps filled in from prior knowledge. If you have never experienced anything from Shadowrun, then things will be confusing at best.
The game is NOT friendly to newcomers when it comes to the setting. Shadowrun Returns assumes the player is familiar with its world. Terms like SIN, Lone Star, and Tír Tairngire are tossed about casually with little to no explanation. For long term fans, admittedly the target audience, not having to explain itself with each time new slang is used is great and keeps the story moving along. For those not in the know, it can be extremely frustrating trying to piece together all the different terminology. There is a small glossary that explains some of it, but it could easily be five times larger to fit in everything thrown at you.
This is the 7th time I've seen this, damn right you do.
Equally aggravating is the complete lack of a manual save system. The entire game relies on autosaves. Nothing induces a keyboard-snapping rage in me faster than having to repeat the past 30 minutes of a mission because of a couple lucky blasts from a group of shotgun wielding orcs.
The combat is a lot like the also recently re-booted XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and that's a good thing. Each runner gets a set amount of action points per turn to accomplish whatever it is they need to do, be it shooting, reloading, casting, etc. The cover system is also heavily influenced by Enemy Unknown as well. The interface gives you an idea of exactly how well that rickety crate will shield you from a corporate mage's fireball. Here is a tip: Find something bigger to hide behind.
Shadowrun is a game that will get better with age. It comes with a robust level editor and Steam Workshop support for the modding community to play with. Already in the works are full conversions of the SNES and Sega games as well as several player-driven stories. While the campaign the game comes with, Dead Man's Switch, is well told and full of your typical Shadowrun intrigue, I'm personally looking forward to seeing what will be crafted by the franchise's rabid base.
Another satisfied Lone Star customer.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed Shadowrun Returns, but I have reservations about recommending it to all but the most hardcore fans of the universe. There is just too much left unsaid through out the game. From it's complex, unexplained
lore down to the inefficient tutorial Shadowrun is just not welcoming to strangers. If you are just interested in solid, turn based combat without having to worry about story or how everything works, this game is great. Those looking to draw a bit deeper from the well, however, will find themselves at a loss unless they make the effort to look outside the game for answers. Fans, however, will be pleased with just how much is packed into the experience. Shadowrun Returns is a welcome sight for sore eyes with a bright future ahead of it if the content keeps coming.