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Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun Returns

ESRB: Teen - T
Platform: PC Games
Category: RPG

It's a dark night in downtown Seattle, and my run is going south. I'm almost bleeding out, and there's still enough gangers here to cause me serious trouble. The Halloweeners have a troll with more muscle than me, and, to make things worse, a wiz-ganger... And, oddly, my thoughts are “Well, crap, now I'm going to have to restart the 'level'...”

Shadowrun Returns, ladies and gents... It's different to what you were expecting, but that doesn't mean it's not good. Let's discuss that.


If you've played a modern isometric RPG, you're going to be right at home with Shadowrun Returns. Dialogue pops up from the right, your equipment, skills, and the like pop from the top left, and combat options pop from the bottom, leaving the whole thing uncluttered, and kinda pretty for the most part. Clicking on certain items too quickly will net you patches of unreadable text (because the other text stays on screen for a bit), but, overall, the art is of good quality, everything's clear... I can even guess what some things do just from their icons... Like the time I used a fellow runner's ability to “Spray and Pray”, without even looking at the text, to help mow down multiple goons at the same time. It didn't work, because I was unlucky, but I didn't actually need to look to have a rough idea of what that skill did. So it's pretty nice, graphically.


The core campaign, “Dead Man's Switch”, doesn't have any VA that I noticed, and the music for it is... Well, a little generic, but the sound effects are solid, so that's something at least. If you're into the audio part of games, though, this isn't anything special. Hopefully, we'll be able to introduce our own music at some point in the future (although uploading content requires that you aren't breaking copyright, so be aware of this!)


For those who don't know the Shadowrun setting, it's a cyberpunk future (You know: Amoral corporations, japanese speaking americans everywhere, gangs, the Matrix), but it's mashed up with fantasy (Elves, Trolls, Hellhounds, Wizards, Shamans, that sort of thing). It sounds silly, and sometimes it is, but it's actually quite an involved setting, and, if you like interesting settings, I'd definitely recommend looking up the tabletop game and attendant novels. The year is 2054 (putting it at around 2nd or 3rd edition, and before some... interesting events that will have no bearing whatsoever on the given campaign's plotline, no sir!) The place is Seattle, and you are a Shadowrunner, a deniable pawn in the game of corporate politics and wetworks. What you're doing really depends on if you're playing a third-party adventure, or the campaign that comes with the game, Dead Man's Switch. More on both of those later.

Now, I'm going to get one thing clear right now: If you were expecting lovingly taking an hour or so spending 400 Build Points on your abilities, you're sadly mistaken. Building a character takes, at most, twenty minutes. And that's if you go for custom stat builds and agonise over everything. This is, rules wise, more Fallout-lite than Shadowrun tabletop, with simple geometric cost progression for everything,the minimum amount of skills you'd need to make a character, and no Knowledges.

But, while this is going to disappoint some Shadowrun players (specifically, the tabletop crew), it still has the right feel: You still can't level up specialties more than your skill-group level, you still can't level skill-groups more than your stats... Even the fact that there are special abilities for many skills, kind of like Fallout perks, still feels right. So save the nerdrage, guys... It still feels like Shadowrun.

Combat appears relatively friendly, giving you two actions a turn per character (more with... certain things), and a fair selection of weapons (mostly ranged) with which to horrifically murder whoever the hell is in the way of mission completion... or vice-versa. I am a little... iffy about the fact that the game uses an area checkpoint system, as opposed to a “save when you want” system, but I can certainly understand and respect the thoughts behind that decision (no savescumming for YOU, young gamer!) Areas generally appear to be pretty small, so it's not nearly as bad as it seems. Of course, it's going to be a different story depending on whether you play the campaign they give you, make one yourself for others, or play something made by other people, so let's deal with each of those cases in order.

Dead Man's Switch is the story of Insert Name Here, your very own digital avatar. He, she, or it has received a message from one of their old Shadowrunning buddies, Sam Watts, who has, sadly, kicked the bucket. But he's offering you one hundred thousand nuyen (post-mortem) to find out who killed him, and kill them with extreme prejudice. Things go from there, both good and bad (as is usual for a Shadowrun).

If you like open worlds, with multiple places to visit, you can forget this campaign; It's quite soft with its railroading and handholding, but it's definitely not subtle, as there are areas you can never go back to from the word go, at least until the plot mandates that you do. The difficulty curve, along with the pacing, is well balanced, but despite side missions in each area, it's a very linear experience. Still, the writing is excellent, and the feel of both the Shadowrunner's life, the inherent craziness of the setting, and the city of Seattle are all well presented there, and, if I were to find this as a pre-written adventure for the tabletop version of Shadowrun, I would not be disappointed with my purchase. Of course, this is a computer game, and so the experience feels a little more hollow... But I'm rambling on, and I should really give an example.

I'm playing a friend's character, Uguu, the animu troll on this particular run. Of course, because not everything from the tabletop game has been put into SRR, and the rules are different, I have to wing it a little, but in any case, he's a decker who likes hitting things very hard, making cash for his Sentai simsense collection, and the Matrix, in that order. Social graces? Yeahno. But I still pick the polite option when talking with certain people, because even the most awkward troll in the world still knows you don't screw with the kind of people who can have you killed, or lose you leads. But at the present time, I'm breaking into a drug-runner's den with a ganger, to save his girlfriend. Why am I doing this? Because there might be money in it, and there's definitely a lead on Sam Watts' killer (the Emerald Coast Ripper) here... The woman I'm rescuing.

Thing is, if we go in the front, we're probably going to have to deal with more than a few fights, and I want to be quick. So I talk to a nearby hobo. He confirms that the woman we're looking for is inside, she's in trouble, and that he can't help us anymore than that, because he's terrified of the dealer in the building. Damn.

Luckily for me, because I'm a big, strong lad, I can just threaten to rip his arms off, and he happily gives me an alternate route in. We make it, sprint to the holding cell we can hear her in, and... Great, there's a pair of Hellhounds (fire-breathing dogs... not actually satanic, just fire-breathing) blocking our only route in. They're locked in, but we can't open the door without a fight... Or can we?

Basically, there's a fair few choices in each encounter, whether in dialogue, or combat. The only problem I've had so far is that there's not really a lot for a Decker (hacker) to do in the first two hours, but I have a sideline in hitting things, so that's fine. As a PS... expect to have to fight, and create your character accordingly. So, the campaign is very well written, but a little railroady, and somewhat light on equipment. Thankfully though, there are other options. Specifically, the editor.

The editor for SRR is where the meat is: A script and tile based campaign editor where you can not only create your own missions, campaigns, and set pieces... You can edit the main campaign to your heart's content. It's relatively simple to learn (the team have tutorials up on the official forums, and there'll likely be more on the web already), and, what's more, you can add some things to it, like building tiles and portraits. Sadly, it's a bit limited in that you can't currently add music, sounds, or models without having a copy of Unity Pro handy, and you can't add character types or edit rules, but for what it is (an adventure maker), it's not bad at all, and Harebrained have promised more content for it in the future, starting with a tileset for Berlin (and possibly an adventure too!)

Frankly, with the low price they're asking for what is essentially a decent Fallout-style RPG with Neverwinter Nights level customisation, and a good, if linear campaign out of the box that's going to take you around 10 hours to complete anyway, I don't really see why not. Shadowrun fans won't be disappointed with the campaign's whistle-stop tour, although they might moan a little about the rules light nature of the game and limited equipment. RPG fans will find a solid toolkit and a good campaign, and Cyberpunk fans will encounter something that they may enjoy, if they try it. Heck, even newbies to RPGs would not go amiss giving this a go. It's a solid product, and it deserves some love, from both the players and the developers.

Shadowrun Returns: MADNESS!

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