Shadowrun Returns [PC]

Discussion in 'Game Reviews' started by Smilley, Aug 21, 2013.

  1. Smilley

    Smilley Hopeless Optimist

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    Finally, a worthy game to carry the name Shadowrun. For those who don't know the franchise, it's a Pen & Paper RPG with a cyberpunk-meets-magic setting. In the 2050-s, megacorps rule a world where magic has (re-)emerged: people were irreversably turned into elves, dwarves, orcs and trolls, some of whom have discovered ways to shoot fireballs, heal themselves and others or buff their bodies for short amounts of time.
    Since governments are mere playthings of the wealthy corporate executives, and even police is run by private firms, a new type of profession has emerged: shadowrunners. People on the dark side of the law, hired by corps on by-assignment basis as "denyable assets", to steal trade secrets, abduct personnel or simply off a rival corp leader.

    In this game, you play such a runner, down on his luck with barely enough money to pay his measly apartment's rent, much less get some decent food, when you're contacted by your old friend and brother-in-crime Sam, with a 100.000 nuyen offer: you are to find his killer. Yes, it is a prerecording that's set to broadcast once he's bit the dust. By loyalty to an old friend or the lure of a small fortune, you venture to the seedy parts of Seattle to pick up his trail.

    The game was created by Harebrained Schemes, a Kickstarter-based studio brought together by Jordan Weisman, the creative head behind the original P&P Shadowrun games, as well as many others. Being no slave to publishers, developers or their ilk, they could create the Shadowrun experience exactly the way they wanted.

    System

    One of the big pulls for someone with a relic of a PC like me, Shadowrun Returns can run on any ole Dual Core PC with as little as a (non HD) Radeon X1600 for a video card and 1 GB RAM at full FPS. This is however due to game's low demands; more on that under Graphics.

    If there was one negative point, I'd like to point out that the loading time between zones can get quite long. I believe this is a bug and being worked on by the developers, though.

    Gameplay 8.5/10

    You can create any type of character you could in the P&P: any race - human, elf, dwarf, orc or troll - and any profession - a meatshield street samurai, a combat or supportive mage, a shaman calling upon the help of summoned nature spirits, a hacker to bypass security or a rigger who lets drones do the fighting for him.

    The basic gameplay is very reminiscent of the original Fallout: you control your character from an isometric view, and up until the late midgame, you will only be joined by one mandatory NPC or two.

    You can talk to certain NPCs, use skills and attributes to achieve varied results, like threatening people with high Strength, talk your way out of (or into) a fight with proper Etiquette or talk shop with a fellow hacker.

    Character development is handled surprisingly similar to the P&P roots, or if you don't know that, to Vampire The Masquerade - Bloodlines: you gain XPs, called karma, for progressing the story and completing sidequests or optional objectives. You decidedly don't get experience for needlessly creating a huge pile of bodies, though. On the contrary, using suave and guile to avoid a fight will often net you more karma.

    You can spend this Karma on attributes and skills, paying the new level's worth of karma-points, eg. 5 points to raise your Strength from 4 to 5. Attributes and skills are tiered - you can only raise your melee skill as high as your close combat skill, which is again limited by your Strength. Certain skill levels unlock additional abilities or potential to use spells or equipment.

    Combat is handled similarly to X-COM: Enemy Unknown: each character starts out with two action points. These can be used to move a given distance, fire a gun, cast a spell or use an item. Spells and certain abilities can have cooldown, but magic can be cast more often if you pay a tribute in HP.

    Hacking, or decking, as it's called, adds a whole new layer to the gameplay. Deckers upload their minds into the cyberspace, battling counter-intrusion software and other deckers with programs that are analogous to weapons, summons and spells. Being defeated in the Matrix (yes, it's called that) will only give the decker a headache, unless the attacker was a so-called Black IC or another decker; those will leave the decker's brain boiling.

    The game is divided in small self-contained zones that are played through in a linear manner, though some sidequests or events can trigger diverging story paths. For example, you want to observe a crime-scene. If you bribed a homicide officer before, you can freely enter and get a key to the place to boot. Later, a runner you befriended might invite you to join her on a vendetta-driven run.

    From the midgame, a runner bar will act as your hub, where you'll occasionally return to spend your money to upgrade your equipment - or with cyberware even your own body.

    In the later game, you can even hire a full team of up to 3 additional members to your team for a single run. They are under your full control, but will always use their own equipment (though you can give them consumables like medkits or grenades) and level on their own between runs, though.

    One major problem is saving. The game only saves after transitioning to a new zone. That not only means you have to restart a whole zone should your player character fall (not that those zones are long), but also that you'll have to wait for the aggravating time for it to load - twice, if you want to end your session. Or if you're far into a zone but can't quite reach the exit yet, but have to leave, you have no other option than to start it all over next time.

    Story 9/10

    All in all, it is well put together. You'll start off by bashing skulls with a few gangers to find the place where your pal Sam was murdered, work your way through a web of clues and befriend a colorful cast of misfits more or less similar to yourself. Most NPCs with more than a single line of dialogue to their name have a high-res portrait and a well-though-out personality to them: the handsome and caring troll bouncer, the careerist orc cop, the street-doctor who came from a family of shadowrunners and decided to use her medical degree to patch up other runners and always has an imp familiar perched on her shoulder.

    Plot-relevant background information, like BTL, or Better Than Life chips, the cybernetic equivalent of hallucinogenic drugs, along with severe side effects, are explained in enough detail that even newbies aren't lost, but some fluff dialogue will leave you scratching your head unless you know what the beef between the elven nation of Tir Tairngire and the California Free State was.

    Graphics 7/10

    Not particularly the game's strong point, but it gets the job done. The game uses static backgrounds with a mix of futuristic neons, big clustered computer screens and a rundown slum feel. The aestetics of the franchise and this game are based heavily on movies like Blade Runner with a dash of Mad Max for the ganger outfits. It's built with lot of love for detail, but also to use limited resources. The same goes for the character models. Each armor outfit looks unique and you'll always know what character holds which weapon, but the models are quite small and the animations limited in number and complexity. Every punch and shotgun blast will always look exactly the same. But for an indie studio working off Kickstarter, even this is a great achievement.

    Music/Sound 6/10

    If I'd have to use one word, it would be "forgettable". The background music is the blend of electric-trance you've come to expect from this cyberpunk-scifi genre, with a more beat-laden tune for battles. They fit the setting, but I won't whistle any of them.
    And the sound just... is. It's all you expect it to be. The rattle of machine gun fire, the warp of spells, the pounding and slashing of melee weapons. But nothing is quite above that mark. There's no voiceacting to improve or ruin your experience.

    Replayability 10/10

    Sure, there is only a single campaign of ~6-10 hours for now, and you'll know most secrets after the first run-through, but there's just so many possibilities to try all dialogue options and special answers, to hack each door or find every last secret. While playing with my Troll unarmed adept, I was already plotting my elven shaman with Etiquette skills up to his pointy ears.
    And if the premade story becomes stagnant, the game comes with a free campaign editor. Place your rooms, friends and foes, write your dialogue trees and put down your triggers. Your imagination (and the tileset) is the limit. If you've played the P&P, you might even recreate your favourite run for others to see.
    And if you're not into it, other players have created stories both easy and challenging, basic and complex for you to enjoy, leading to truly endless replay value.
    The developers also announced they'll be updating the content as well, starting with Berlin towards the end of this year.

    Overall 7.5/10

    This is the Shadowrun game the 2007 Microsoft title wasn't. It captures the aestetics, the feel and the mechanics of the franchise to a T. If you have any love for Shadowrun, or just western RPGs in general, you should definitely give this game a try.
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  3. Hard core Rikki

    Hard core Rikki Super Moderator Staff Member Award Winner!

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    What does it look like? I'm not seeing anything screenshotted.
  4. SCHUMI_4EVER

    SCHUMI_4EVER Hackin 'n Slashin Staff Member Award Winner!

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    2 things are HUGE blips against the game for me.

    The saving thing is absolutely unforgivable. You're a "lite" game from an unknown dev solely on PC and you expect me to swallow zone auto-saves? FORGET THAT. There is NO reason why the game couldn't have ACTUAL saves....or at the very least more checkpoints. LAZY LAZY LAZY.

    And the second problem is equally as sloppy. The click location detection for movement is pathetic and made worse by the isometric angle...and then it doesn't have a layover grid either. So movement in combat can be less strategy and more dumb luck or simply bad luck. I've sometimes spent 3-5 minutes flicking my mouse around trying to find out where the hell the game expects me to click to move to the position I want to...only to find myself moving next to that position instead....AAAAAARRRRRRGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
    Seriously, give me a damn grid already at the very least.

    And the game really does a pathetic job of explaining all it's intricacies. Without checking the Help section you won't know jack about the lore of the world other than "accidental" scraps the story feeds you in trying to explain the bits directly relevant to the plot at hand.

    Worst SRPG I've played so far by far. It's just extremely badly rounded and then you get areas of blatant sloppyness like those mentioned above.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2013

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