Saturday, 27 July 2013

Whiskey Reviews: Shadowrun: Returns wearing odd socks

Platform: PC
Release Date:25 July 2013
Developer: Hairbrained Schemes
Publisher: Hairbrained Schemes
Where to get it: Steam
Price: £14.99

Shadowrun has been one of my earliest experiences in gaming on multiple fronts. It was my earliest tabletop RPG (back in 2nd Edition Shadowrun), it was also my first SNES RPG and my only Mega Drive (Genesis) RPG. Shadowrun was my introduction to cyberpunk and my never-ending love for the genre that's lasted all these years since I was first introduced to the concept.

Shadowrun: Returns however is slightly more complex, normally a cyberpunk game would fall right into my 'love' category and be cherished forever but while the game itself is a solid representation of Shadowrun's rules and systems it's just not a very good representation of what being a chrome-head digital ninja is like.

To explain I'm going to have to quote some lines from the game itself - which will be given out of context to maintain a spoiler-free review for those who still haven't played it.

Firstly the game feels like it was written by someone who has had Shadowrun explained to them, and maybe even read the core rulebooks but hasn't actually experienced a Shadowrun campaign. You're free to build your character however you want but in the end the choices only really affect how you're going to play in very confined situations and the overall character is a predetermined good guy who just feels so completely out of place in the Sixth World.

Talking of feeling out of place, a lot of the characters feel like they were written by someone who just couldn't bring themselves to write a truly terrible person. The character Cherry Bomb comes to mind, a bartender/waitress at your seedy home/hub of operations the Seamstresses Union - she comes across too naive and even childish despite the world she's supposed to live in. If it was only one character it would be acceptable but apart from a few (Mr Quoth, Aldjernon, Sam Watts, Detective Aguire and Coyote come to mind instantly of good, fitting characters) they all feel completely out of
place and not nearly as grimy and corrupted as they should.

The trademark Shadowrun slang like drek, gutterpunk, chrome, novahot, etc. has also made a notable appearance and is used in all the right ways despite often feeling jammed in for the sake of making an appearance in some pieces of dialogue.

That said; the world itself feels absolutely spot on. Bars are grimy, offices are shiny and opulent and the world itself is both simultaneously clean cut and corrupted at the same time. The art style also does an incredibly good job of portraying the world and characters in the right light for their roles even if the world feels massively empty and devoid of life due to the sparse number of NPCs present (most of which aren't even interactive). Characters from other Shadowrun sources also make an appearance (Jake Armitage being the obvious one, but Dodger and Justin Case amongst others stand out) which is a nice little homage for fans.

One outstanding point is that Decking (hacking essentially) has been handled wonderfully with a few rounds playing out in virtual space before jumping back to meat-space for a few rounds of combat there and cycling back and forth until either your objective is complete or you jack out or die.

Even with all these complaints the game is slick; requiring only a single mouse button to control almost all of the game's functions and a clear, easy to navigate UI that does an adequate job of providing you with information without being overwhelming or confusing. Combat is also slick and flows nicely from round to round, feeling very reminiscent of the latest XCOM game with it's initial two action point system and various attack modes which makes it instantly familiar to someone who has played that, even if you're not a walking Shadowrun encyclopedia or not even familiar with the rules you can easily pick up and play Shadowrun: Returns.

Finally, before giving a verdict I'd like to add that the game has shipped with a comprehensive editor that will allow users to create their own campaigns and storylines and already there's a remake of the SNES Shadowrun game appeared on the Steam Workshop in alpha form that looks incredibly promising.

The verdict then - the game is easily accessible and the story runs at a decent clip despite feeling like you're being railroaded into clicking everything in the world and sparse conversation trees. Difficulty is low enough for the most part that it doesn't feel frustrating or oppressive but also doesn't feel entirely like a cakewalk in the encounters that matter. It hits the right notes in having Shadowrun names of characters, locations and gear as well as slang but the core experience has been let down by writing that has left the world feeling just enough off-piste of true Shadowrun to be a fully engaging experience for hardcore cyberpunk fans.

Score: 6 out of 10 corp wageslaves geeked.

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