Shadowrun has been a massively underutilised franchise when it comes to the world of video games. There are countless Dungeons and Dragons titles but only four set in the murky shadows of mega corps and monsters.
Of the four games, one of them was a Japanese only Mega CD title and another is a team based shooter which doesn’t really keep the ethos. The ones fans will remember are the excellent SNES version which saw Jake Armitage taking on a Dragon and the Genesis title that never made it to European shores. To say gamers have been starved of Shadowrun fun is somewhat of an understatement but that could all be about to change.
Shadowrun Returns is a turn based strategy game set in an isometric viewpoint and is about as old school feeling as a new game gets. It’s very close in mood and graphical style to the SNES game and benefits immensely from it. The areas of the city are dank and polluted and neon tinged signs cast light over the many citizens that walk the streets in this imagining of a dystopian future.
Conversations are carried out via dialogue trees with pictures of the characters face to the side of them. There is no voice acting or animation here but it doesn’t really detract from the game and if anything adds to the retro feel.
The story goes that your friend has been murdered and now it’s up to you find out who the killer is. At first it seems a fairly standard tale but there are a few decent twists to keep you on your toes and what starts out as a neo-noir thriller will soon go off into all sorts of strange and gruesome directions.
You can build your character from scratch from five races and a host of different class types which at least on the surface adds some depth and replay value to the game. In practice we found the classes that deal with robots or computers had their skill sets somewhat underused (especially in the beginning), with the combination of magic and guns often the best way to proceed. We’re hoping future instalments will flesh these classes out a bit more as the basic rule set is solid.
The game is split into three different sections. There’s the part where you run around the area talking to people and looking for clues, the turn based combat sections and parts where you enter the matrix. The first part plays out like a point and click adventure, all be it in a confined area. Combat can occur quickly and it’s always nest to be prepared and ready. When combat does occur your characters are given a number of action points to move, shoot and cast spells. It’s not ground breaking but it works simply and effectively enough. You also have to keep an eye on characters strengths with Trolls and Orcs better at taking damage than Elves for instance.
Most of the time you’ll have a team of four and you’re missions will generally be to get into somewhere, retrieve a person or object and get out. Sometimes you just have to kill people but it becomes a step by step process of running to cover, concentrating fire and carefully moving forward. Mistakes can be costly and if you die you’ll start the whole sequence again. This is one of the flaws of the game as missions can be around an hour in length and you’ll often have to go through all the dialogue and adventure part of the game again if you die.
A quick save would have been pretty useful as well in case you need to step away from the PC, but as it is we only have the auto save which kicks in at the start of each new area. Just make sure you are sensible with your gear as being auto-saved into a difficult place means there may be no way to get out alive if you haven’t brought the right supplies or team. This can be somewhat frustrating considering you won’t know what you need until you get there. All auto saves are stored though and players can simply go back a few steps if thigns get too bad.
The matrix sections of the game are also a little dry. They play out in much the same way as normal combat with the Decker moving around a virtual system setting up combat programmes and fighting drones. It would have been nice to distinguish this more from the normal combat but it works.
The game also comes with a detailed level editor and this is what is going to keep it going in the long term. The rule set is solid and there are already a ton of levels available that users have created. There are dedicated projects to bring both the SNES and Genesis games into the game as well. The standard game is a round twelve hours long and it’s likely you’ll be left wanting more so it’s well worth digging into some of the mission packs out there.
Overall, Shadowrun Returns is a positive return to form for the series. It’s not perfect but everything is in place for a bright future. The game as it stands now is solid, well written and will provide a good few hours of gameplay. A few more side quests and a bit more variety wouldn’t have gone a miss but it’s an easy world to get drawn into and any fan shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a streamlined turn based strategy game set in an interesting world and we can only see it getting better and better in the future.