Shadowrun Returns
Gameplay 7
Graphics 8
Sound 8

The Shadowrun license lends itself perfectly to an in-depth and complex role-playing experience, but unfortunately, it feels like Shadowrun Returns just skims the surface. The story is interesting enough and there’s a handful of great characters to interact with, but at times it does feel like the game was dumbed down a little too much for casual audiences. The 2D artwork looks great and the soundtrack is very atmospheric, but by the end of the 12-hour campaign, we were left wanting more.

Gameplay: A lot of fun, but not as in-depth as we had hoped.

Graphics: The 2D artwork looks great, but the 3D character models could have been better.

Sound: No voice acting, but the soundtrack fits the game perfectly

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Shadowrun Returns

Developer: Harebrained Schemes | Publisher: Paradox Interactive | Release Date: 2013 | Genre: RPG / Strategy / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

With its cyberpunk, science-fiction meets fantasy world one would think that the Shadowrun license is perfectly suited for computer role-playing games. Yet, since its inception as a tabletop role-playing game in the late eighties, the best games to take advantage of its rich world and characters were 16-bit console titles. It wasn’t until 2007 that PC owners got a taste of the license and even that was in the form of a multiplayer-only online shooter. However, thanks to Kickstarter, a true Shadowrun role-playing game finally made its way to PC with the creator of the tabletop RPG, at the helm no less. The overwhelming success of the Kickstarter campaign showed just how eager fans were for a PC release, but can Shadowrun Returns live up to the hype?

The game opens with your character, a down on their luck Shadowrunner, receiving a pre-recorded message from an old acquaintance named Sam Watts. It turns out that Sam has died, which is what triggered the message requesting you to find the killer and bring them to justice. Sam promises a lot of money for your efforts, so you pack your bags and head to Seattle to figure out what is going on. It’s supposed to be a relatively simple job, but you soon discover that there is more happening there than meets the eye. Not only is an organ harvesting serial killer on the loose, but there is also a creepy cult busy recruiting the disenfranchised. It is in this setting that you have to get justice for Sam, but whether you do it out of loyalty to an old friend or for the stack of credits is up to you.

Although the game is titled Shadowrun Returns, the main campaign is actually called “Dead Man’s Switch.” This is because the developers have included a full-fledged editor with the game in the hope that players will create more content themselves. We didn’t spend too much time messing around with the editor, but while it is not that easy to use it is powerful enough to create something good if you put enough effort into it. As for the main campaign, it is a nice introduction to the world of Shadowrun, but unfortunately, it is not without some issues. Players can choose to be a human, elf, dwarf, ork or troll, and each of these has their own racial bonuses when it comes to stats. There are also six character classes on offer, namely Street Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger, and physical adept. Your character class will determine whether your character is good at shooting people from a distance, like getting in enemies’ faces with a sword, prefer drones to do your dirty work for you, and so on.

Some classes, such as the Decker also specialize in technology, which allows them to jack into the “Matrix” which is the virtual world of Shadowrun. In contrast to this, there are magic users who can use spells or summon spirits to do their bidding. No matter which class you pick you earn karma for your actions, which can then be used to improve your skills. The game doesn’t restrict you in this regard, so you are free to distribute your skill points as you like. However, it is far better to specialize in the stuff that your character is good at than trying to be a jack of all trades. The game is relatively short, by RPG standards, which means you will struggle to reach your true potential if you spread your skills too thin.

As you explore Seattle for clues about Sam’s murder you will encounter a host of other characters. Some are only useful for providing information, while others will take a more active interest in you and even join your party for certain jobs. You can have up to three other characters in your party, provided you have enough cash to hire them. It’s a bit disappointing that apart from one or two party members who have their own personality and backstory, the rest are pretty much just pawns to move around the board. The Shadowrun universe has plenty of lore to draw from for its characters, so it is a pity that selecting party members often just comes down to picking whatever class you need for the job from a list of random portraits.

It’s been a long time since we played Shadowrun on the Sega Genesis, but one thing that we remember about that game is how open it felt. Surprisingly, Shadowrun Returns actually feels a lot more restrictive as the game is quite linear and there is very little scope for exploration. The game does have a hub area where you can talk to people, buy new equipment, stock up on healing items and sometimes take on side jobs, but generally, once you are done with an area there is no turning back. Looking in every nook and cranny of each area might reward you with an extra healing item or grenade, but the odds for stumbling across something radically new or different is very low. The same goes for stats and skills that can influence dialogue options. During the dialogue, you generally have plenty of options to choose from, but the ones that require certain stats or skills are grayed out. Unfortunately, even if you can choose from one of these unique responses they generally do not alter the story or outcomes in any major way. Sometimes having access to the right dialogue option could get you access to specific areas a little faster, but an alternative solution is usually nearby. It also doesn’t help that the cast of characters that you can talk to in this game isn’t that large.

We spent a lot of time in the Sega Shadowrun game just hacking into the Matrix for fun and profit, but in Shadowrun Returns you’ll only have access to this virtual world during specific missions. Even then, if your main character is not a decker you can simply hire one for the mission and use them instead. The first character class we tried out for our main character in this game was the shaman, which allowed us to summon elemental spirits during battles. To do so we needed to have consumable items in our inventory or find special spots in the environment. After summoning a spirit you can control them in battle, but each round the chances of them breaking free and turning on you are increased. Unfortunately, this often meant that it was safer to simply stick to guns when it came to eliminating enemies. The combat sections are turn-based and each character has a pool of “Action Points” to draw from. These points determine how far you can move around the combat area and are also used for things like shooting, reloading, throwing grenades, and casting spells. Ammunition is unlimited, but reloading requires AP and some spells or abilities have cooldowns. Characters can also carry up to three weapons that you can switch between without sacrificing AP. The combat system is decent and there is some strategy involved like taking cover behind objects for a defense bonus. You’ll also want to watch where you shoot with a shotgun as you can hit your own allies if you are not careful. The Matrix sections are separate from reality, so while your team is busy fighting security you might also have to navigate your decker through a completely different virtual world where they have to battle defense systems and activate nodes. While in the Matrix their physical bodies are still vulnerable in the real world, which may require the rest of your team to prevent them from getting shot up before they can complete their objective and beat a hasty retreat.

Shadowrun Returns is not a bad looking game and makes use of hand-painted 2D artwork for its atmospheric backgrounds. The 2D character models also look great, although the character models are all 3D. This means that the characters sometimes look a little out of place compared to the backgrounds. The action is viewed from an isometric overhead perspective, but while you can zoom in or out to a limited degree it is not possible to rotate the camera. The game also doesn’t feature any type of cut-scenes and instead displays a lot of text on the loading screens to describe what you will be up against. There is a lot of reading in general in the game as it also does not feature any type of voice acting. Thankfully, the writing in the game is quite good and always interesting. The soundtrack is excellent and consists of a nice mix of synths and guitars. The sound effects are generally also good, especially the weapons as they all sound loud and dangerous.

The interface in Shadowrun Returns is very simple and straightforward as you can use your mouse to do everything. The game also has multiple difficulty settings and since it was released the ability to save or load anywhere has been added. It is quite disappointing that there is so little loot in the game and we finished the whole story with one of the earliest guns that we have bought equipped. We know that Shadowrun Returns is not a loot-based action RPG, but the option to plunder some of the corporate locations for extra loot to sell would have been a nice touch. The small inventory of your character and the limited number of outfits also saps some of the depth from the game. Even aspects such as the ability to use cybernetic implants, which can be detrimental to magic users, doesn’t feel as fleshed out as we would have liked.

Overall, Shadowrun Returns is a nice introduction to the unique license, but it does feel like it was designed with a broad audience in mind and not hardcore fans. This makes sense from a financial perspective, but can be disappointing to everyone who enjoys the depth and complexity that the license can deliver. Still, the inclusion of the editor does mean that dedicated fans should be able to come up with something interesting themselves. In total, it took us about 12 hours to complete the main campaign, which is quite short by RPG standards. Because the story is so linear and character classes not making that much of a difference there is also little incentive to do it all again. Hopefully, future campaigns in the Shadowrun universe will add a bit more depth and complexity.

System Requirements

  • OS:Windows XP SP3/Vista/Windows 7
  • Processor: x86-compatible 1.4GHz or faster processor
  • Memory:2 GB RAM
  • Graphics:DirectX compatible 3D graphics card with at least 256MB of addressable memory
  • DirectX®:9.0
  • Hard Drive:2 GB HD space
  • OS:OSX 10.6
  • Processor:Intel-based Macs only (x86-compatible, 1.4GHz or better)
  • Memory:2 GB RAM
  • Hard disk space:2 GB HD space
  • Processor: x86-compatible 1.4GHz or faster processor
  • Memory:2 GB RAM
  • Graphics:Modern 3D graphics card with at least 256MB of addressable memory
  • Hard Drive:2 GB HD space

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