Shadowrun Returns is a tactical role-playing game that feels undeniably old-fashioned, yet still fresh and original.
After unsuccessfully trying to revive the franchise in the form of a first-person shooter that came out on the PC and Xbox 360 in 2007, fans thought that the Shadowrun series was done. Luckily, an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign showed that thousands of players were still interested in a classic Shadowrun RPG. Enter Shadowrun Returns, a tactic role-playing game that feels undeniably old-fashioned, yet still fresh and original.
After creating your character via an editor (which let’s you select gender, race, class and other attributes,) you’re ready to immerse yourself in the single-player campaign. As soon as the adventure starts, you receive a posthumous message from your long-time pal Sam Watts. He’s been killed and you need to investigate the events that led to his murder. After meeting Sam’s sister Jessica Watts, it’s your duty to explore Seattle to find out who killed your fellow runner and why. But soon after you find out about Sam’s murder, someone informs you that a serial killer who steal his victim’s organs might be involved.
As soon as you start playing the game, its presentation immediately stands out. From a visual standpoint, everything is seen from an isometric perspective, which makes Shadowrun Returns reminiscent of classic RPGs. FMVs and voice acting are nonexistent, the characters are presented via static screens and so on and so forth. You might think that the lack of these audio/visual components can be detrimental to the experience, but on the contrary, this makes Shadowrun Return feel like a genuine and authentic rendition to the genre.
When enemies appear on the battlefield, the game adopts a traditional turn-based combat. Each of your characters has a limited number of actions that can be performed each turn (including moving, attacking, using items and so on and so forth.) Soon enough, battles become deeply strategic and you need to take into account the environment you’re in, the equipment you have and the layout of your surroundings and use that to your advantage. Usually, this means hiding behind something to minimize the chances of being hit. Interestingly, most characters are extremely fragile which makes combat more thrilling. Knowing that any of the characters in your party can perish if you make a mistake gives a unique sense of peril that encourages you to be alert at all times.
When you successfully defeat opponents, you obtain Nuyen and Karma (the game’s equivalent to currency and skill points respectively.) Nuyen can be spent on equipment such as weapons, spells, outfits, items and even crew members. Karma points, on the other hand, can be used to improve the attributes and skills of your main character. There’s a variety of attributes to take into account, but each of these attributes also has a list of sub-attributes. For instance, spending Karma points on a specific weapon not only increases the amount of damage you make with that weapon, but also unlocks new moves and special attacks.
Eventually, you’ll need to navigate the cyberspace to make progress. Only Deckers have the ability to enter the digital world known as the Matrix (a computer network that can be accessed via terminals) and this hacking minigame is quite engrossing. When they enter the matrix, Deckers are replaced by a persona who has the ability to attack virtual enemies, hack doors and so on. At times, you’ll find yourself in situations where most of your Shadowrunners are fighting in the real world, but when their turn is over, the game switches to the Matrix where a completely different battle is taking place.
But while some old-fashioned decisions work in the game’s favor, others not so much. Towards the end of the game, I had to struggle with the game’s high difficulty and switching to the casual difficulty didn’t make a difference. In addition, the game’s high difficulty is aggravated by the antiquated save system. The game auto-saves between missions, but there’s simply no way to save during a mission. Missions aren’t that long, but when you’re forced to load a previous level from the beginning, the progress you’ve made in between is lost forever.
Apart from the game itself, Shadowrun Returns features a complete level editor that let’s you create your own role-playing game. Although the Shadowrun Editor is a really complete tool, creating something playable is both complex and time-consuming. If you’re dedicated enough though, you can definitely create your own game, but take into account that the editor isn’t very intuitive. The editor allows you to add interactable items, create environments, place objects, set objectives and so on, which can be overwhelming.
Alternatively, players who don’t have a lot of time can download user created levels. Just a few of days after Shadowrun Returns’ release, the servers were filled with user generated content and taking into account that downloading and playing those modifications is remarkably easy, mods can keep you invested long after you’ve finished the main campaign.
Despite the negatives, Shadowrun Returns is a fantastic turn-based RPG that serves both as a rendition to the genre and as a new entry in the long-dormant series. If you’ve waited all these years for a Shadowrun title that goes back to basics, Shadowrun Returns was well worth the wait.