This is where my age betrays me. Despite a healthy knowledge of retro gaming accrued through a wasted youth and years of study, some games I simply wasn’t old enough to experience in their prime. When Shadowrun launched on Snes in 1993, I was no doubt too busy with childhood concerns to truly appreciate its place in gaming history.
My first real experience of Shadowrun was 2007’s Shadowrun online FPS on Xbox 360 and PC, and we all know how that one turned out. Shadowrun Returns does exactly what it says on the tin, bringing the RPG gameplay that defined the series back, and it has been worth the wait. Even having missed the series’ genesis, it’s to see the quality gameplay in Shadowrun and the fine pedigree that it comes from.
Shadowrun is a turn based RPG, similar to the likes of Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, set in an original game world. Mixing magic, shaman culture and hacking together in a way that somehow makes sense, Shadowrun is arguably the only game where you’ll see drugged up elves wielding robot drones, neural implants and lightning magic simultaneously.
"The Dead Man's Switch story that comes with the game is a delight, throwing murder mystery and neo-Noir elements into the already rich mix of genres."
The internal logic is maintained convincingly throughout, a real credit to the lore and world of Shadowrun that it can contain so many disparate fantasy and sci-fi elements without crumbling under the weight of its influences. The world is always a joy to inhabit, and its potential to spawn meaningful stories has barely been touched on in the main story.
The Dead Man’s Switch story that comes with the game is a delight, throwing murder mystery and neo-Noir elements into the already rich mix of genres. A well-paced narrative and interesting characters meld with excellent writing to create a campaign that demands your attention. It feels very linear in truth, and the lack of dialogue options makes role-playing as anything other than a goody-two-shoes quite difficult.
If you’re really intent on acting like a jerk in your RPGs, this may get you down, but the writing is solid enough that, even with limited character development options, you can still feel invested in the story. Here’s hoping the upcoming Berlin campaign currently in development will offer a less linear structure.
You begin by creating a character, and the sheer options here are staggering. You can opt for a variety of skills in melee weapons, throwing weapons and a selection of weapon types. Magic splits into conventional spells, shamanistic abilities for summoning spectres and adept spells for powerful martial arts skills.
"My only real criticism of the interface lies in the lack of sensible hotkeys. There are only a handful of keyboard controls for quick access to menus, and these can't be reassigned. "
Throw in deckers skills for hacking along with droners who can manipulate robotic drones and you have a varied selection of classes to select. You can even choose to make your own class if you feel like it. All of the skills are varied and interesting enough to warrant multiple playthroughs, making the replayability of Shadowrun Returns very high indeed.
The story segments involve you clicking your way around top down isometric environments, investigating objects and dialogue trees to forward your goals. Combat is a bit more involved, playing out like a game of Xcom on steroids. You get action points that are used to attack, move, reload and/or cast spells and abilities as you please. Movement ranges are clearly displayed, and the cover afforded by objects in the environment is also clearly displayed in the simplistic user interface.
It’s easy enough to pick up, though the lack of a proper tutorial is frustrating. You’re pointed to a reference file that thumbs through the basics, but many of the nuances aren’t touched on here. It isn’t hard to pick up the more complex elements of combat on your own, but be prepared to pull up a wiki if you’re a slow learner or are new to the genre.
My only real criticism of the interface lies in the lack of sensible hotkeys. There are only a handful of keyboard controls for quick access to menus, and these can’t be reassigned. This is naturally due to the game’s intended development for tablets as well as PC and MAC but, despite the fact that there aren’t many menus to sift your way through, good keyboard shortcuts can go a long way.
Not content with reviving the gameplay of the SNES and Mega Drive RPGs we love, Shadowrun Retruns goes even further to touch on the eighties table top RPG roots of Shadowrun. The game is packaged with a robust and deep level editor that allows the community to make their own resources, maps and campaigns. Throw in full integration with Steam workshop, and you have a game with limitless potential.
"Levels are lovingly designed and details, but animations and character details are very simplistic. Having said that, in a similar vein to playing Baldur's Gate now, you only really notice the visual fidelity for about ten minutes before you get totally sucked into the game's quality writing and lore."
Only days after release there are interesting new campaigns, maps, tweaks and an alpha project for a complete remake of the SNES original. If the community continues at this rate, the £15 pounds you spent on Shadowrun will seem like even better value. The map editor is a powerful tool, but I’d argue it is only for the dedicated or technically-minded. It’s a little on the complicated side, so don’t expect to hop in and get creating straight away.
The whole thing is wrapped up in an aesthetic that is pleasant but a little unambitious. This is again part of the game’s cross platform development for tablets, but the graphics are fairly average. Levels are lovingly designed and details, but animations and character details are very simplistic. Having said that, in a similar vein to playing Baldur’s Gate now, you only really notice the visual fidelity for about ten minutes before you get totally sucked into the game’s quality writing and lore.
The soundtrack is a little on the repetitive side, but it does a fantastic job of setting the scene. The battle music in particular reflects the heart-pounding combat and sly guile of the Shadowrunners in equal measure, making for a toe-tapping tune I’m dying to load on my iPod.
My relative youth couldn’t prepare me for how impressive Shadowrun Returns is. My inexperience prevented me from having any idea of what I was in for, so I’m sure many of you won’t share my surprise at the sheer excitement I have had discovering the game.
It’s an amazing world, with a great engine and gameplay style, that I can only hope will be supported by a dedicated and prolific community. Even with just the Dead Man’s Switch story the game is worth its weight in gold but, if a strong community supports the game with awesome mods and levels, you can go ahead and change my score to a big fat ten.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Retro feel with refined gameplay, Deep but accessible mechanics, Interesting classes and skills, Fantastic world, Great writing, Lots of room for community content
Can be quite slow paced, Poor tutorial, Needs better hot keys, Map editor is complicated
Some of the best computer RPG gameplay I've experienced since Baldur's Gate, Shadowrun returns in style. A must for RPG fans
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