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Shadowrun Returns

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By Mokman26-07-2013
Bobfish (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Shadowrun Returns

The Defence

Developer:
Harebrained Schemes
Publisher:
Harebrained Schemes
Genre:
Role playing, Indie
Release Date:
25-07-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Pentium 4 1.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD equivalent
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
2 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

 

Shadowrun. Now that's a blast from the past. For most of the younger readers, the name probably doesn't really elicit much recognition, except maybe a jolt of the 90s grim-darkness that seemed to pervade every corner of the media back then. And yet Shadowrun holds a special place in my heart. It's a special little universe, which combines two disparate and oft-overlooked genres, fantasy and cyberpunk, to form quite a unique tableau in which the game plays out. Having played both the original videogame, and the pen and paper RPGs set within the world, I can safely say that the source material is familiar to me - and that it is unarguably one of the best-crafted cyberpunk settings I have ever encountered, fitting that mix of grimy city-dwelling squalor with slick new technology - all wrapped up in the flaws of humanity. The original videogame was yet another innovator, combining this wonderful theme with the now-nearly forgotten niche of isometric tactical games, creating an instant classic. Made in the golden age of the genre, it was very much a product of that age's refinement, one of the pinnacles. Shadowrun Returns, the just-released homage to the original, thus has much to live up to.

The Trial

 

We start in a grimy little apartment. Perfect. Opening up the options, a smile cracks across my face. You know you're getting into the mood of cyberpunk when one of the camera options is listed as "orthographic". The smile is wiped off my face however, as I take in the surroundings. I knew not to expect much, especially not from an indie game, but the level of graphics is disappointingly last-gen, even by indie standards. Badly pixelated characters result in character models with features you can barely distinguish, much less relate to - a problem that I have to give credit to the game for solving in quite a smart manner.

I’ll have one Cherry Bomb please!

I’ll have one Cherry Bomb please!

You see, it seems that the game does understand its position - it stands no chance fighting with the big-boys over shiny screens and gleaming graphics, and so it doesn't. Instead, character portraits are works of art filled with personality, while the art design of the environment is thick with detail and dripping with atmosphere. Everywhere you look, there're details crammed into the setting, creating a believable but also wonderfully squalid little neighbourhood - masking the outdated graphics with quite some panache.

Controlling my character about, I immediately hit the next snag in the experience - the horrible UI. Now, I've seen some bad UIs in my time, but Shadowrun Returns does indeed try to outdo the rest in terms of sheer frustration. Bad click detection is married to indecipherable menus to provide a distinctly unpleasant process, where activating a spell to heal oneself is already an annoying matter to deal with. This clearly is a case where the designers chose style over efficiency, and they chose wrong - the game is unwieldy at best, lacking polish at crucial areas in terms of its UI.

Enter the Matrix.

Enter the Matrix.

The game itself though, brought that smile back to my face, with a vengeance and a warm rush of nostalgia. Not only was this entirely reminiscent of the old game, it seems to have been inspired by one of my favourite isometric RPGs of all time - Neverwinter Nights. Now that's a wise choice. It combined the moody music and dark streets of the original with the deeply involving systems in NWN to form something truly engaging, even riveting. The setting forms the perfect backdrop for an absolutely involving story, which caught me in its grip right from the get-go and didn't cut any slack. It just got better and better, and a wide variety of dialogue choices slowly let me grow more and more attached to my character as everythng progressed. Don't get me wrong, this is by no means a truly open-world game, but rather a tightly processed mission based campaign, such as in NWN, where there are multiple paths to one objective. Playing an anarchic hacker, I went into computer systems as I pleased, brute forcing my way past security and bypassing combat to get to the meat of my objective. It was exhilarating.

But just because I bypassed the combat, doesn't mean it isn't fun. On the contrary, it is an incredibly intellectual experience, one that is by no means easy - but rather, it is quite challenging, and extremely satisfying. I cannot stress how great an achievement it is that the designers have managed this, taking into consideration the mundane graphics and wince-inducing animations. Yet, with just the right sound effects, and the thrill of being in just the right position and scoring that perfect critical hit, everything falls perfectly into place. But it doesn't just stop there - as the game progresses, the story grew ever more engrossing. The multiple quest lines began to shine through, the crimes began to unfold and become mysteries - and lo and behold, this is where it truly amazed me.

Oh hi there Gollum.

Oh hi there Gollum.

It became exactly what I wanted, with a home base and RPG elements, building your own team of hired Shadowrunners to do dirty jobs, customizing your characters between different classes, ranging from combining a mage with a samurai to a hacker with a shaman. The sequences where you hack into the Matrix (yes, it is called that) are even more interesting, changing the game into an altogether different beast.

The Verdict

 

When I first started up Shadowrun Returns, my high hopes were dashed quite dramatically, as if it were a gang member's head being exploded into bloody pulp, my expectations for the game were shattered. Unintuitive UI, dated graphics and awkward animations immediately gave me a bad impression of the game, and that's probably still going to cost it in the scoring. But an hour later I was proven wrong. My shattered hopes were pieced back together, through a deeply engaging story, a brilliantly designed setting, masterfully crafted characters and an exciting combat system. The very fact that the developers made the visuals exciting with the extremely limited tools had awed me, hooked me into the game, and the RPG elements forced me to stay for just another mission, to play for just a little while longer and see what happens. Few games have achieved that. And fewer games have achieved that on a shoestring budget. Shadowrun Returns is truly a game greater than the sum of its parts, and that is the whole point of its release - it proves once again that crowdfunding has its purposes, that indie games belong in the industry. Yes, it has its flaws, but the game works hard at every corner to push past them, and it succeeds. An idea, determination, and innovation can replace a big budget, and this little masterpiece has proven us right.

Case Review

  • Engaging Combat System: Tough tactical decisions are merged with the good old isometric tactical RPG format that we all love.
  • Masterfully Crafted Setting: The world about you oozes with character, grimy streets offset by gleaming technological wonders - it draws you in.
  • Against the Odds: Even with bad graphics and worse animations, it somehow beats the odds and becomes a great game.
  • Decent Audio: It's pretty good, for the production values it has, but it's nothing to write home about.
  • When Was This Released, 1991?: The graphics are dated, to say the least, and so are the animations. This does not seem like a modern-day game.
4
Score: 4/5
From the get go your hopes might be shattered but give it a chance and Shadowrun Returns will shine.

Appeal

I hated it when tabletop RPGs started converting into videogames in the late 90s and early 2000s. They were so complex, requiring hours just to create a character and begin the game. What the hell is a chaotic neutral person?! Games like Neverwinter Nights made me feel dumb as all hell. If you're as thick as me, you too might be worried that you'll bite off more than you can chew if you buy Shadowrun Returns. Well, fret not. Though Shadowrun Returns is indeed a gameification of an old franchise of tabletop RPGs, it's significantly easier to swallow than older D&D games. It might leave you feeling slightly estranged in the beginning. SIN? Drek? Soykaf? But you'll quickly get a grip on what these things are thanks to the clever writing that gradually gives you a little more information to go on. If someone calls you a piece of drek, you should be able to piece together that the person in question doesn't like you very much. Though it's technically a two-dimensional game, the world and characters feel everything but. Every alley feels vibrant, every conversation feels real. It's a dark and dystopian future vision, but one you'll still want to explore.

It's not a perfect game. For a Kickstarter project that asked for $400.000 and got $1.8 million, I would have loved to hear a bit more voice acting. I'd love to hear ANY voice acting. It's something that's odd for an RPG made in 2013, but it's actually something you get used to over time. Returns is also a fairly linear game, which some might be put off by, but it's redeemed by the story that's both deep and believable. The game's biggest problem is the lack of ability to save your progress manually. I can understand why they did it - allowing players to save mid-combat can easily be exploited and make the game too easy - but I can't help but feel that the execution could've been done a lot better.

Over all, though, Shadowrun Returns is a rich game. Rich in depth, rich in life, rich in character. It's clear that we're dealing with a labour of love. The combat is simple and yet incredibly satisfying, the story is told and unraveled in a way that never makes you feel like you, as the player, are one step ahead of the game. You won't ever feel like you know exactly what's going to happen around the next corner. The implementation of a world editor that lets players create their own storylines to share online makes up for the sometimes awfully strict linearity of the main Kill Switch-storyline offered by Harebrained Schemes, but the save system doesn't get away that easy. I'll need a patch that seriously improves or overhauls it completely before I can give this game full pot.

4
Score: 4/5

Appeal

Shadowrun has a mixed history with its video game implementations – I mean, those were severely limited in comparison to the table top game. And the horrible shooter that nobody played didn't help. But through the magic of Kickstarter we finally have a cyberpunk game devoid of modern AAA trappings – enforced morality, no killings and other nonsense like that. It's fun to just draw up a character and go on an adventure in the mean streets of Seattle. The RPG mechanics are easy without being too simplistic *cough* Mass Effect 2 *cough* and you can play a role without some hackneyed morality system. In Shadowrun, the world is your oyster, and you're a troll with cybernetic arms and an axe.

The campaign is solid for its 8 hour run, even though it's quite linear, I didn't feel bad about it. It's the GM's dream railroad and it isn't as obvious as in the third part of the game about fighting giant space robot ships. Speaking about railroading, the editor seems to be quite easy and budding PC bound/absolutely socially inept GMs can fulfill their dreams of guiding runners. So the game is bound to benefit from user created content and DLCs – which could introduce us to new campaigns and to stuff to use in the editor. I like that.

4.5
Score: 4.5/5
Comments (10)
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Posts: 228

The 3D models are ok, the 2D environs are awesome - yet particle effects with guns and spells can go jump themselves. Well, if they find themselves, since all the spells look meh.

Also, Shadowrun is superior since you get both cyberpunk AND magic, and unlike in Rifts, it's playable.

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Posts: 1189

Hmm, I haven't gotten further in than maybe five hours, but I haven't really noticed any 3D things. If that's the case though, I can understand the criticism. not like you slaughtered the game anyway.

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Posts: 53

@Jenssen: Well, if it went fully 2D isometric I would actually have agreed, but as it stands they made the mistake of attempting to push it into the 3D and lost some of the sharpness in my opinion. Otherwise, stills of the game does indeed look like good art.

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Posts: 1189

Nerd.

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Posts: 2627


image

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Posts: 1189

2020?

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Posts: 2627

Cyberpunk 2020 > Shadowrun.

Just saying

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Posts: 350

I will get this someday so it looks great.

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Posts: 1494

I didn't have a problem with visuals either but the lack of voice overs is killing me.

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Posts: 1189

How are the graphics dated? They're not even graphics. Everything is like a big piece of art. It all looks incredibly sharp, incredibly detailed. I DEMAND ANSWERS!