It appears that Shadowrun games are a lot like buses – you wait ages for one, then three turn up at the same time.
As part of the snappily named Shadowrun Trilogy, freshly released on Game Pass as well as in the Xbox Store, Shadowrun Returns is the first of three titles chronologically, and so will be the focus of this review. Stay tuned for reviews of the other two games in the package.
First released on PC way back in 2013, Shadowrun Returns is a single player, turn based tactical RPG, featuring guns, magic and more cyberpunk elements than you can shake a katana at. The question is, can a nine year old game still cut the mustard these days? Let’s jack in and find out.
As I mentioned in the intro, Shadowrun Returns is set in a cyberpunk universe, where humans and meta-humans (orcs, dwarves and elves) have learned to, if not get along, at least rub along without too much friction. Mostly. The story of these games matters a great deal, and can be the difference between success and failure, and luckily here it is the former. We are a Shadowrunner, and we have a friend by the name of Sam. More to the point, we had a friend called Sam, who is now no longer among the living. He employed a device called a Dead Man’s Switch, and when he died it sent us a message asking us to find his killer and bring them to justice. Knowing that nothing is free in this world, he did also ensure a reasonable sum of money to be paid to us upon our success.
This is only the start however, and with more twists and turns than a stage of the Tour de France, the story belts along at a great pace, and is compelling enough to keep us playing. Any entomophobics out there might want to be a bit careful however, that’s all I’m going to say.
Presentation wise, Shadowrun Returns is very much of its time, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The game is presented from a top down, three quarter perspective, and the camera can be moved around, and zoomed in and out, but not panned, which can be a bit upsetting, especially when enemies hide in the blind spot and fill you in when you walk around a corner.
Sound wise it is all pretty good too, with some lovely music that fits the action perfectly, and booming shotguns and whooshing spells all bang on. The game’s story is presented with a text based interface, and this also works perfectly well. Although those of us who are aging may find it hard to read some of the smaller writing. All in all, Shadowrun Returns is a bit like a time capsule back to the earlier days, and while things have moved on, it still works perfectly well.
Now, it’s time to look at the game itself and how it plays out. There are a plethora of choices to be made here, and while not all of them will have a direct impact on the game, you can make your character fit the way that you want to play. First choice is the class you want to be; do you want to be a Decker, adept at running around in the Matrix (not that one) and triggering events in virtual space, a Shaman who can call on the spirits for help, a Mage with magic at your fingertips, or just a brawler like a Street Samurai. Obviously the class you play as then further feeds into the weapons you use, and while magic is nice, I have found that a shotgun to the face makes a much more compelling argument.
There are other classes to choose from, and then the choice of how your runner looks, and finally how you spend the points you begin with in the skill trees, of which there are several. All in all, the character creator and the ongoing development as you earn karma is very well done, especially as pouring points into the right skill trees can help turn you into a killing machine. And this isn’t even mentioning the ability to have various bits of your anatomy replaced with cybernetic implants to improve your chances of surviving.
The gameplay itself is familiar to anyone who has played one of these games before. You have a set number of AP to spend, and can use them in attacking, interacting with the environment, or moving. Only when you have used all the available AP, can you move to the next member of your crew and so on. As you get further in the game, you do get more AP to spend, and right now my Samurai, Derp, is a killing machine if she gets close, with a shotgun (all the gear you have can be sold in the hub area, allowing you to buy better gear) shredding enemies. Putting karma points into the firearm trees, in my case, has made Derp a better shot, with a much improved chance to hit (although she can be stood on an enemy’s bunions, with an 86% chance to hit, and still miss).
The runners that you can hire (up to a maximum of four runners can be in your squad at any one time) are best if they have complementary skills, so a Mage with healing magic and aim improving spells paired with a Gunner is a good match, and having a Decker makes some fights easier by turning enemy turrets against them, for instance – experimentation with the composition of your team will pay off. Quite often it’s down to who you can afford, however.
Shadowrun Returns is a very solid game, with a few minor niggles. There have been occasions where I have been unable to finish a mission because I couldn’t get through a door I had just opened. I was literally unable to run through an open door, and it took a reset of the game to allow me to finish that run. Running in general is more difficult than you think in fact, with constant hanging on the scenery happening. Finally, the enemy sometimes takes what seems like forever to finish their turn, to the point that I think the game has crashed. Patience is usually rewarded, however, and sitting tight will see us carry on, but often multiple minutes later.
Other than this, Shadowrun Returns is a solid tactical RPG with a good story; one which you will certainly enjoy.
Shadowrun Returns is on the Xbox Store