Shadowrun Returns


Been a while since I've put up anything at all. I figure it's high time we get some content posted; what better than another review for a game that none of the unfortunate souls who've found their way here will ever play? And shame on them, as well, because it's a pretty decent one.

This short review is about the recent Shadowrun CRPG, Shadowrun Returns, released in 2013 for Windows, Mac and (eventually) Linux. Possibly Android and maybe iOS as well, if the design of the UI is any indication. It's available right now on Steam, so if you're using any of the main three desktop operating systems, give it a look:

It's a good CRPG and it costs $20. If you're into somewhat old-school CRPGs and have the cash, go buy it. It does have its issues, however.

First, the story: Good, and it suits the atmosphere very nicely. I won't spoil things here, but from the beginning you're foisted into a position that's very Shadowrunnery (it's a word, look it up), and the situation scales into something a tad more dramatic as you continue along your brief quest. There aren't a hell of a lot of twists, and you'll probably predict most of everything that happens, but it's all good fun and the attention to detail is impressive.

The graphics are good for what they are, but you won't be blown away by their fidelity. The 'backdrops' are pre-rendered and look decent, while the characters are three-dimensional. It reminds me of the more recent Temple of Elemental Evil game, if you've played that -- though honestly, not as good-looking (but a bit cleaner). It's your classic top-down isometric dealie, familiar to anyone who's played any of the great CRPGs of the last decade or so (Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Fallout, etc.). As mentioned, the graphics aren't top of the line but they serve their purpose very well, and the aesthetic of it all manages to look impressive without taxing your hardware too much. This should run well on just about anything made in the past five or six years.

Shadowrun Returns Jake Armitage screenshot

The sound in this game is excellent-- the sound effects are perfectly serviceable and the music is damn good. You'll get nerd chills when you notice the tracks taking musical cues from the SNES Shadowrun game released two decades ago, and the wholly-original music fits the mood of the game perfectly.

Touching on the attention to detail again: The impression this game gives you can be a bit mixed. On the one hand, things such as the dialog, character descriptions, scenery and backstory all serve to leave you knowing that the people who crafted this experience did so lovingly. There is no voice acting, and having played the game, I wouldn't want it any other way; I can't imagine getting the same experience if they would have had to funnel the dialog and descriptions through a narrow voice-acting budget.

Shadowrun Returns dialog screenshot

On the other hand, there are a good number of ways where it seems the design team took the lazy way out. The save system in this game, if you can call it that, is absolute garbage. It would have sucked 15 years ago on a console, and it has no place on the PC whatsoever. It consists of checkpoints, where the game saves for you automatically, and... that's it.

The game also seems to sorely lack any sense of exploration. It looks like a free-roaming game, and it seems like it wants to be one, but it definitely isn't. You're shuffled along the quest railroad with no room to maneuver at all; you go straight from one quest location to another, automatically and when the plot demands it. Only once did I find what seemed to be a side-quest, and it was basically just one long combat sequence. If anything in the game ever seems incidental, you can be almost entirely assured that it isn't, and is in some way relevant to the main quest. It has a very 'rushed' feel to it.

Shadowrun Returns street screenshot

Speaking of combat, it's good but also has its drawbacks. It's turn-based and grid-based with a bit of strategy thrown in, and when you're actually exchanging gunfire (or magic, or whatever) with your enemies it's a good time. But the big problem I had with quite a lot of the game is that the fucking combat mode just won't end for the longest goddamn times. You'll kill a room full of enemies and then have to slowly point-and-click your entire squad over to the next room, bearing in mind that each member of your squad has a limited number of turns and a limited number of spaces they can move per turn. Clearing out an entire floor of corporate hired guns consists of five minutes of fun combat and twenty minutes of pointless, tedious-as-fuck busywork.

Granted, it's possible that I just missed the 'end combat' button somewhere, but I don't think so.

Shadowrun Returns matrix screenshot

Overall, the game is still quite good. The main quest (that is to say, its one and only quest) is satisfying but seemed very brief to me. This would-be disappointment is offset somewhat by the fact that the game ships with a no-bullshit, full-on editor that allows anyone to build their own levels, runs, quests, campaigns, whatever. For $20, you could do a lot worse.