‘Shadowrun Returns’ has a lot of potential and fans of the RPG genre should be quite happy

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The year is 2050… or so read the back of the first edition of the pen and paper role-playing game published by FASA in 1989. The concept behind Shadowrun was to present a world in which cybernetics and mega-corporations dominate a world which saw a re-emergence of magic in the late 20th century. It’s a cross between cyberpunk and fantasy and in this world you play, as a ‘shadowrunner’ – a type of mercenary hired by these corporations to secure a variety of ‘interests’ away from the public eye. As a brand, it was immensely popular, and has spawned various editions, a variety of novels, and video games.

The first Shadowrun video game was released for the SNES and a different one bearing the same title was created for the Sega Genesis (aka Sega Mega Drive). But that was almost 20 years ago when 16-bit graphics were the norm. Now, after a successful Kickstarter, fans of this universe are now able to jack back in and experience what Harebrained Schemes has to offer in ‘Shadowrun Returns’.

The game is presented in a isometric environment but uses 3D models and effects to present a wonderful environment where parts of the world are bathed in a glow of neon and technology. Almost symbolically, your first steps of your journey in this new world will consist of creating a character. You select a race (human, dwarf, troll, etc.) and then an occupation (street samurai, shaman, decker, etc.). You’ll have a chance to customize the look of the character and then allocate points towards attributes and skills for them.

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The main campaign in Shadowrun Returns is titled “The Dead Man’s Switch” and will take an average 10-12 hours to complete. The story starts off with your character receiving an automated message sent from a fellow runner in the event of his death. A flash-back involving this character serves as a combat-tutorial for the game and quickly allows you to come to grasps with some of the mechanics of the game – a turn-based tactical system similar to last year’s award-winning XCOM: Enemy Unknown by Firaxis. As this memory fades, a story begins and you become entwined in a series of conspiracies and plots. Of course, this campaigns main objective is to suitably introduce you to Shadowrun and does a good job of providing a wealth of information if you look for it and take it all in. The game interface is simple enough and fairly intuitive though I did run into a few issues trying to don a new outfit. As it turned out, there are only certain areas you can do this.

While playing through the adventure, you will find that not all characters will be equal to the tasks that the mission requires. Some paths will be harder than others depending on the skills and talents that make up the character. The game does give karma (experience points) for successfully completing tasks and does so frequently enough providing plenty of room to upgrade the character during the game.

For those unfamiliar with Shadowrun, the amount of information relayed to the player could be too much for some. The world and story can be a lot to take in. On the other hand, there is a lot that existing fans will appreciate and, for those who are, let’s just say that there is something of a bug hunting expedition by the end of the game.

Actually, “end of the game” is not quite the right term to be used here and this may be one of the biggest strengths for this title. An editor for the game is included to allow fans to create their own adventures and campaigns to share and play. If people embrace both the game and the editor (and many already have), there will be so much more available for people to experience for hours to come beyond the included adventure scenario.

Ultimately, Shadowrun Returns has a lot of potential and fans of the RPG genre should be quite happy. For those who have played pen and paper RPG games, there is a sense of familiarity as you begin reading various descriptions and character dialogue. The game has no voice narration and it is far from being a flashy game with a bunch of cut-scenes we typically find in a variety of AAA games and series commonly sold today. The graphics are nice and clean but certainly has that ‘retro’ vibe. However this is a fine example of a successfully produced project that grew out of Kickstarter. With $1.8 million raised, it was an immense success, but there are still a lot of things you just can’t do with a smaller budget. I think it’s fair to say that they have made the right decisions on what to and what not to include. As I played through it, and given the nature of the turn-based tactical combat which proved to be a focal point for the game, I was hooked. I also want more.

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Harebrained Schemes is releasing a Berlin Campaign DLC and, as I already mentioned, fanbased adventures and campaigns have already started to surface. There are even a couple of people that are trying to recreate the original SNES and Sega adventures for Shadowrun Returns. Others are looking towards the pen and paper RPG material and doing the same with that. The game is off to a tremendous start and doesn’t disappoint.

Shadowrun Returns is presently available on Steam for Windows and OSX for $19.99 USD with Linux, IOS, and Android versions soon to follow.

Patt Bellavance