mon 08/08/2022

Shadowrun Returns | reviews, news & interviews

Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun Returns

This decent slice of retro-flavoured RPGing has the potential to be much more

'Shadowrun Returns': old school adventuring

It feels odd to consider cyberpunk - once the very bleeding edge of science fiction - as nostalgia, but what was once seen by some as an almost credible future is now to be found in the cultural dump-bin marked NINETIES, alongside the Tamagotchi, platform trainers and clamshell mobile phones.

The world of Shadowrun is niche even with cyberpunk. Originally a tabletop RPG, the game mixes the latter's standard palette of hackers, corporate warriors and neon-noir, with the magic and monsters of urban fantasy. Elves and Orks (note spelling: these are not Tolkien's brutish Orcs but rather a tech-savvy monster-about-town) exchange gunfire on dark, rain-washed streets and the term “internet troll” has an entirely literal meaning. 

Shadowrun Returns: retro gameplay but good looking for all that

Shadowrun Returns is a Kickstarter-backed attempt to turn the original paper-based game into an isometric 3D RPG, much in the style of the classic BioWare games like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Like Neverwinter, it is also intended to be an open-ended game engine with which player can add their own adventures.

It mostly works. That BioWare-style of adventure is of a similar vintage to the setting but it is still a solid way to build a game. You move your character and (eventually) party around the lovingly drawn environs with mouse clicks, chatting to NPCs through well written dialogue trees and gathering evidence to solve the mystery of “The Deadman's Switch”, the first Shadowrun adventure to be built with the new engine. When combat occurs (as it does frequently) you switch to a turn-based mechanic in which characters must expend Action Points to move and the game plays rather like a squad-based tactical war game.

The game's simple interface hides a lot of backstage dice rolling and stats based on the original game's rules. Character skill scores can modify these rolls and may be upgraded through the expenditure of Karma, the game's equivalent to experience points. All of the above is resolutely old school in RPG terms but it is playable and thankfully the quality of the writing and plot is good enough that the game remains engrossing.

The engine does have a couple of unfortunate limitations though. Each map area is a self-contained space with marked exits and the entire "world" is quite linear - you just hop about to different locations according to the story, at least in the included campaign. The way you interact with the environment is very basic too. Where something like Baldur's Gate would show you, say, a book on a table that would glow when moused-over to indicate you could examine or use it, in Shadowrun Returns you just get one of a handful of “this is interactive” icons to indicate when something can be grabbed or examined. What's more, these are usually evident as soon as you walk into a new area, removing the need to closely explore the new environment.

Despite this, the game engine and the included campaign are pretty entertaining if you can get into the back-story, and for fans of isometric RPGs, cyberpunk/urban fantasy and retro adventures in general this is definitely worth a look. What will be interesting to watch is whether the bundled editor captures the imagination of fans and leads to a community of modders and game builders. As it stands, Shadowrun Returns is a decent few hours of entertainment, but if it catches that spark it could expand into something much more.

  • Shadowrun Returns  is available now on PC & Mac. Linux and iOS/Android ports to follow. Published by Harebrained Schemes.
Elves and Orks exchange gunfire on dark, rain-washed streets and the term 'internet troll' has an entirely literal meaning


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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