22 August 2013

Shadowrun Returns review

I never played any of the pen & paper versions of Shadowrun, but I did play the SNES version way back when I was a kid. Since then the universe has been pretty much forgotten up until this year when Shadowrun Returns was released. It's very nice to see Kickstarter being used for  this kind of project, sponsored by fans who want a specific product the studio was able to work on a game which may have been very hard - if not impossible - to create with the help of a big studio backing with its economic muscles. There are couple of other games in the making that are direct results of Kickstarter campaigns, which I look forward to, "Project Eternity" which is a game similar to Icewind Dale and "Torment: Tides of Numenara" which is set in the same world as Planescape Torment. Both those games got more support and bigger funds than Shadowrun however, and the small budget for Shadowrun certainly shows.

First of all, this is an RPG game with a lot of character customization, classes and choices for upgrades. The combat system is based heavily on the combat system from X-com: Enemy unknown, with each character having 2 action points to use for movement and fighting and everything using a percentile to show the chance of success.  The artwork of the backgrounds takes some time to get used to, but once you do it is pretty nice. There are however some flaws, the 3D models of characters are pretty poor, with animations being very limited and stiff. The character models also interact very poorly with the cover, where soldiers would clearly hug the wall in X-com: Enemy Unknown, the characters in Shadowrun Returns remain two feet away from the wall, which sometimes make it look as if they aren't using the cover at all. Bodies and blood disappear, and there is no battlefield damage, which is a missed opportunity since that made the combat so dynamic in X-com. Blowing up walls to reveal enemies, or having your cover reduced to splinters by heavy enemy fire made everything more tense and immersive. The combat in Shadowrun isn't it's strong point.

The main strength of Shadowrun is the dialogue, the setting and the characters. It's like a fantasy version of Blade Runner, with classic fantasy races as well as humans sharing the world. I like when you take the classic fantasy world and use the races in a completely different setting like that, something similar was done in Arcanum which was a fantasy version of the 19th century that blended technology and magic. In many ways Shadowrun forces the player to make the same choices as Arcanum did, if you want to be a mage you must limit your technological body upgrades, that makes you pretty weak but your range of powers and their strength will be greater. If you completely invest in being a combat oriented gunslinger/hacker type you can swap out body parts for improved mechanical eyes, legs or metal implants etc. It's a very interesting world which revolves a lot around the so called "Matrix", which is a computer world that has more common with the concepts of Tron than the movie the Matrix.

Characters called Deckers are able to hook themselves up through implants into computers and are transported into this weird computer world where they fight firewalls and access stored data which is used in the real world. This is a relatively central part of the game, but it's not the main focus of the campaign. It's just one of the many immersive and creative ideas that the Shadowrun universe has to offer. And like in all true RPG games the main character can unlock additional dialogue options depending on his personal stats or knowledge of several subcultures that can be found in the Shadowrun universe.

Despite the great setting and good dialogue there are sadly flaws here as well. It is worth mentioning that there is absolutely zero voice acting, all text has to be read - so if that is not your cup of tea you have been warned. The soundtrack is on the other hand really good and sounds like a mix between the X-com: Enemy unknown and Deus Ex: Human revolution soundtrack.  And there is a lot of text in each conversation, simply clicking past it will have you miss out on a lot. The other main problem with the RPG elements of the campaign is that it is extremely linear. There is pretty much no possibility for exploration, and all secondary quests that you may pick up along the way you are able to solve by just progressing through the main campaign and require as such no extra effort from your side. The campaign shuffles you around from hub to hub, there is no coherent world that allows you to travel from point A to point B in real time. I think this was a wasted opportunity, as this could have been something similar to Deus Ex: Human revolution, which rewarded exploration of the small areas, especially if you revisited them with an upgraded character later on.

Shadowrun has a lot of good ideas and intentions, it's obvious that the creators love the universe and know their stuff. But I'm afraid  that they simply stressed the plot and the campaign, as the plot is just half interesting and the campaign being very short and linear. The redeeming part of this game is that it comes with a set of tools so that player can create their own adventures and share them easily with each other. So there will be a lot of user created content freely available while fans await more official campaigns to be released as add-on content.

And despite its short length, linear campaign and all other flaws, this game bodes well for Kickstarter funded projects. And if it takes Kickstarter to fund games that people want but would otherwise not be able to get, and at the same time allow fans to provide their own feedback and input - we may well look at some really interesting "indie" projects in the future and a revival of games that have been crushed beneath the gaming studio AAA budget requirements.

7.5/10, the score would have been higher with a longer and more open ended campaign.


  1. I enjoyed the campaign, but as you say... it has lots and lots of flaws, both in the modelling and overall coding. I found some of the load times worrying. At one point I thought the game had locked up it took so long to lad the level.

    Hopefully the expansion in January will update/resolve some of the issues.

  2. I missed the KS, what is the website? I'd like to look at the price and perhaps buy it. I loved the old RPG and had many long hours logged playing it and had a blast!

    1. It's sold through Steam http://store.steampowered.com/app/234650/

  3. Its $20 bucks on steam. I think the campaign was really a way to show the users what was possible to make as far as UGC. There are more than a dozen games being created using the SR:R Editor which are showing a lot of potential. I too look forward to the Berlin expansion and hope they can polish what the created a bit more.


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