A few years ago when I was relatively new to Kickstarter, a game called Shadowrun Returns popped up and I was intrigued. Generally I am wary about backing games from relatively unproven entities, but Jordan Wiseman, the creator of Shadowrun itself, and the head of the studio behind the game was so passionate in his pitch video I backed right away. The game came pretty much on schedule and, while not perfect, it delivered exactly what it promised and I was happy. Then came the expansion (free for backers) called Dragonfall, which was even better than the base game and finally the superb (and also free for owners) Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut. Now Harebrained Schemes has released a third entry in the Shadowrun series called Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and it is a perfected evolution of the vision they revealed years ago in their pitch video for the return of Shadowrun in video game form.
The Shadowrun series by Harebrained Schemes is a top down turn based RPG steeped with all the flavor and nuances of the pen and paper Shadowrun games. In Shadowrun: Hong Kong you start by creating your character who is the foster child of Raymond Black, an enigmatic figure who took you and your best friend Duncan Wu in off the streets of Seattle and raised you as his own. When Raymond sends you a cryptic message asking you to come to Hong Kong, you feel you have no choice and head there to meet him. Raymond is missing and your character, along with Duncan and a few new (and very interesting friends), head down a mysterious path of finding out what Raymond was up to and what happened to him. The story starts at an intimate scale revolving around lost relationships and making amends but of course spirals into conspiracies and turmoil that kept me riveted until the end.
Like many cRPGs you get to create your character using any of the races and classes available in the Shadowrun universe. This includes elves, humans, dwarves, and half orcs who can choose to be a street samurai, decker, cipher, or shaman among other class options. Once you create your character you are thrust into the story with some starting equipment and contacts to start some Shadowruns or Runs for short. These are tasks set out by your handler that you and your team need to resolve. One of the highlights of Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the sheer variety of the Runs. In one scenario I was blending into a decking convention passing off as one of the convention goers, in another I was doing a smash and grab at an unopened museum to disrupt its operation. It was refreshing to see some scenarios did not even require open violence if you handle the scenario a certain way.
Regardless of whether you are handling runs via the robust conversation system, which allows for skill or gender based interactions or engaging in combat the game is fun and engaging. When talking fails you and combat is engaged, the systems really shine as you switch to tactical mode. Ley lines appear to spell casters allowing for increased magical damage; cover is represented in a believable way and true tactics are required to survive tough odds. The turn based gameplay is full of options and possibilities especially if you have a rounded team of Shadowrunners. Nothing beats summoning spirits, sending out a rig to deal damage as your ranged attackers lay down fire into the enemy. A well planned out assault is as satisfying as you can imagine, but on the flip-side head on assaults end almost always in disaster which speaks to the well tuned mechanics in the game.
The hacking component in the Matrix has been refined for this entry as well, with added dynamic components and puzzles to complete when raiding nodes. It is a welcome change to the relatively static Matrix you accessed in the previous Shadowrun titles. The changes add a real challenge to the Matrix as well as a very different play mode. You need to avoid sentries, reduce your alert status, and hack into nodes with memory and recognition puzzles in order to get the most out of your hacks. This enhanced Matrix was a stretch goal during the Kickstarter campaign and one I am very happy was achieved.
Graphically the game is certainly not bleeding edge technology but the environments, effects, characters, and animations are all excellent and show a real passion for the source material. Characters are distinct; environments are gritty and channel a very Bladerunneresque feel, and there are subtle queues such as rain and particle effects that add depth to the experience. The different classes and races all have subtle shifts to their actions, stances, and attack animations, especially Gaichu the undead samurai. All of these touches together make this a rich nuanced experience that just fits the action and setting.
The story as mentioned is complex as you wade through the conspiracies surrounding your missing foster father. The characters have ample time to be fleshed out in the story proper, but they also all have optional character specific quests that really add to the flavor of your team. All of the characters are interesting but I have to say the ghoul Red Samurai Gaichu (who was also a stretch goal) is by far the best if only for the dialogue he generates. See he is obviously a ghoul, so every time you are on a Run where people are around you need to talk about why he looks like that, whether it is a make-up job or cosplay it is generally hilarious.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong is by far the best entrant in the series and a triumph for Harebrained Schemes. It is interesting, deep, full of character and grit, and above all just plain fun. My only minor gripe is the lack of voice acting; some of the characters just ache to be fleshed out with voices, but that is a small point and does not detract majorly from the experience. If you are a fan of Shadowrun you need this game; heck if you just plain like tactical games in a rich detailed world you should do yourself a favor and dive into Shadowrun: Hong Kong.
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