Shadowrun Returns (PC, iOS, Android)

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Introduction

It’s 2054 and magic on Earth has woken up. Corporations have grown and acquired enough wealth to literally make them small countries. Cities sprawl into uncontrollably large steel blights, the barrens of which are rife and rampant with crime and gangs. Some humans have changed into elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls, reinvigorating racism in a whole new way. Most people are wage slaves who work for a corporation and make enough money to survive. Some people choose to be crack mercenaries who have taken to the shadows. These people are shadowrunners and you play one in Shadowrun Returns. Assemble your team, hone your skills, maybe get some cyberwear, and try to make some nuyen –the currency of the age– or die trying. Remember what they say, “Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, EVER cut a deal with a dragon.”

History

Shadowrun Returns was designed by Harebrained Schemes, a team lead by Jordan Weisman, the creator of the original table-top system. Weisman was trying to return Shadowrun to its roots after Microsoft made an appalling first person shooter based on the universe. The game was funded by a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 gathering 1.8 million dollars in pledges. It could only actually had to be funded in this way because of a weird problem with its license where it couldn’t get publisher backing — copyrights are weird, man.

Shadowrun Returns was released on July 25th, 2013. It’s competition was Dota 2 (PC), Civilization V: Brave New World (PC), and Zeno Clash II (XBLA).

Experiences

At what point is it satisfying to “call something”? When is it clever to call something early and when is disappointing? I was super excited when I called the ending of Dead Man’s Trigger campaign even though it was minutes before the conclusion. I’m not sure if it was smugness for figuring it out, assuredness because the decisions I made panned out, or a little foolish because it was so obvious.

Gameplay

Shadowrun Returns is basically an investigative point and click adventure that suddenly breaks into tactical, cover-based, turn-based combat when shit gets real. The base campaign, “Dead Man’s Switch,” depicts you as a shadowrunner who’s old running mate seems to have been killed by an up and coming Seattle serial killer with 100,000 nuyen in it if you can capture the murderer.

The character creation is very robust. You can choose your meta-type (race as in human, dwarf, ork, etc.) and can choose an archetype (Shaman, Street Samurai, or Decker– which is slick cyberpunk lingo for a hacker who goes into the internet) or you can allocate your stat points manually to make some sort of weird hybrid. There are also a lot of character portraits for meta-types and the ability to upload your own character portrait. Character appearance customizations options are a little limited but I found a body and head that matched what I wanted my character to look like.

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I’d say that it’s a pity they don’t let you play ghouls but there’s probably a mod for that.

The Gush

The music sounds like the best of the Genesis and Super Nintendo incarnations’ soundtracks and that’s a good thing — you might even make out a few dittys from the originals. The tunes match the fantasy post-cyberpunk atmosphere. Harebrained Schemes actually went as far to find the composers for those games and employ them to make the soundtrack for Shadowrun Returns.

Dead Man’s Trigger draws from the classic games and the expanded mythos. If you’ve played them or read some of the books then you might see some familiar faces. If you’re don’t know about any of that then don’t worry because all the characters are awesome even if you’re not in on the joke.

This game has got an absolutely wiz campaign creator mode. It’s got tons and tons of customization options for dialogue and decorations. There are so many campaigns out there and they’re pretty easy to install. Check them out, there’s certainly a mod out there for you.

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This building would have been fine but all this stuff on it really adds flare.

The Kvetch

The save systems in this game is incredibly frustrating. You can only save in between runs. Even if you’re not in combat if you’re in a run then you’ve gotta finish it or leave the game on. I imagine a lot of people saying, “But Mom/significant other, I just gotta finish this before we can go.”

Each of the archetypes is pretty well balanced although Technomancers are not represented. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. But adepts are kind of all weaknesses. They’ve got magical passive abilities that just don’t stack up to the cyberwear of a Street Samurai. I brought an adept on a run and never made that mistake again. If you’re going to play an adept get ready for hard mode, or maybe I just don’t get them.

There were certain abilities that were clearly not useful. I gave my Troll Street Samurai –named Brutal because he certainly was– some charisma for laughs and this scored him some etiquettes which unlocked additional dialogue options. I took the Shadowrunner and Socialite etiquettes and I can’t tell you how many times it paid to be privy to shadowrunner social code. On the other hand I can’t tell you a single time it paid to be a socialite.

It seems like accuracy is oddly skewed. Every attack has a percentage chance of hitting and sometimes it seems like high percentages hit often, low percentages hit often, and middling percentages rarely hit. I’ve missed five times consecutively with an 87% chance of hitting and it was the most frustrating thing.

Verdict

The base campaign for Shadowrun Returns certainly justifies its 15 dollar price tag. It offers a fun and competent campaign in Dead Man’s Trigger despite its annoying aspects. I can totally recommend this game to anyone who likes a little cyberpunk in their life– oh man, now I’m just imagining this little cyborg with a mohawk and a leather jacket who lives on my shoulder or something and gives me advice that always leads me to fighting the power. What a little scamp.

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