Hoi Chummer, pull up a seat. We’re going on a tour through the Seattle ‘plex.
Shadowrun Returns marks the first Shadowrun videogame in almost two decades (excluding the ill-fated 2007 FPS). Its return to the videogame medium has been made possible due to the small, dedicated studio, Harebrained Schemes, and their very successful Kickstarter. The world of Shadowrun is a blend of cyberpunk and fantasy elements. Magic has returned to the world alongside an unprecedented rate of technological growth. The player will experience this world through the eyes of a Shadowrunner, a class of elite criminals for hire. No two runners are alike and the game drives this point home through its character creation system.
Shadowrun Returns employs a classless skill system. The player is presented with a handful of preset builds during character creation that can be manipulated freely or ignored entirely. This creates a welcome dynamic; your early choices do not permanently fix you on any path. I began with a sliver-tongued shaman, brimming with support spells, who could barely load a gun. With a little work he became an eagle-eyed (excuse the terrible pun) marksman. However, your runner’s stats are just one aspect of character growth.
Shadowrun Returns’ most impressive feature is the strength of its role-playing. In this respect it resembles a pen and paper RPG, the game providing goals and direction but leaving the player to determine motivation. The story is driven by the death of a former teammate at the hands of a mysterious serial killer. I decided that my shaman was not the type to let a friend’s killer run free, and so loyalty came to be one of his defining characteristics. Every experience clarifies the image of the character in the player’s mind and the result is a character in whom the player is deeply invested because they have had a role in the creation process. The storytelling progresses linearly and this approach allows for Shadowrun Returns’ combat to truly shine.
The linear nature of the game allows for each combat encounter to be carefully thought out and designed for maximum impact. Every battle is crafted with its own surprises, challenges, and set pieces. I will never forget when a firefight disturbed some of the “local fauna” and turned a tactical engagement into a desperate three-way brawl. While replaying may diminish the surprise of these moments, it does little to affect their influence on the battle. If there is a fault to be found in the combat of Shadowrun Returns it is the audio. Sound effects grow repetitive and the same music is used for virtually every battle; it rarely becomes an annoyance but it also does little to stand out.
Shadowrun Returns is the best kind of throwback. It capitalizes on the lessons of the intervening years and engages with the player, encouraging them to add to the content with their own imagination. Essentially, the more you put into Shadowrun Returns, the more you will get out.
Shadowrun Returns is rated RP (Rating Pending) by the ESRB.