Shadowrun Returns review: classic RPG reborn

Shadowrun Returns is a triumphant return to the classic days of old-school computer RPGs.

26

The Kickstarter for Shadowrun Returns blasted through its goals on the back of an audience that loved the pen & paper franchise, and had fond memories of the SNES and Sega Genesis adaptations from the early 1990s. Developer Harebrained Schemes faced a daunting task of keeping those fans happy by delivering a game that stayed true to the lore and the rules of the P&P game, while rekindling what made the old games great. The result is a triumphant return to the classic days of old-school computer RPGs.

It's been some time since I played in the Shadowrun world, but it didn't take long to get re-acquainted with the rules because of the simple way character creation is handled. It is easy to jump in and begin a session: make a few basic decisions about how you want to play the game and you are immediately dumped into a gritty, seedy cyberpunk Seattle to investigate the death of a former Shadowrunner pal.

This game brings back memories of Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment--some of the best RPGs of the late 1990s--with a text-heavy story and a combat style similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. There is plenty of dialogue, so if you want a lot of action before the late game, you will probably be disappointed. However, Shadowrun Returns gives the player a feeling of interaction with a game master, which is a must for any game trying to simulate a pen & paper experience. It helps that many of the developers worked on the original Shadowrun for then-developer FASA, including creator Jordan Weisman, so the game is definitely true to its roots.

The game offers multiple avenues to get to the ending based on play style. While action RPGs use the in-your-face run-and-gun vs. a stealthy approach, this requires more thoughtful planning. Being an asshole in dialog options can cut off certain avenues for solving a scenario, while always being the good guy will get the job done, but perhaps not earn as much spending money as if a harder stance was taken. It hits that sweet spot that forces you to really think about an action before you take it instead of taking a tunnel-vision mentality with every situation.

One of the more memorable areas in the game was a run-down warehouse where my partner and I were hunting for her relative. The place was filthy, and housed a group of thugs pedaling Better Than Life chips (BTLs), Shadowrun's drug du jour that allows people to experience other people's memories through programs sent directly to the brain. It highlighted one of the core aspects of the Shadowrun universe--just how integrated technology was in this cyberpunk world. The resulting scenario could play out with different outcomes, but either way, I ended up with a new potential group member for future missions.

I could bribe or sweet talk cops for information. In one situation, it was as simple as bringing an officer a donut. One particular scenario required me to infiltrate a cult headquarters. I stole a key card by distracting a receptionist, then was able to print my own card through a few well-placed lies. I could have also disguised myself as a cultist or hacked some security, but the choices felt entirely logical instead of forced.

Combat is a turn-based tactical exercise revolving around action points. If you played XCOM, you will have a feel for it right away. If not, movement is intuitive, offering visual cues for cover and how many action points are being used. You are also forced to pay close attention to ammo for timing reloads, making sure you also have the right weapon equipped. There were a few times where I entered a new scenario and the game switched me to a melee weapon instead of the rifle I had used previously. It is fairly precise, and an accidental click during movement or firing can waste a point and put you out of position without the ability to undo it.

This brings up perhaps the biggest frustration with the game, and one that Harebrained Schemes acknowledged going in--there is no quick save system. If you screw up, you need to go back to the last auto save and start over, which can mean replaying numerous discussions and skirmishes before getting to the part you actually want to replay. Even knowing quick saves were not going to be there, it seems that auto saves could have been implemented a bit more often. Of course, some players may enjoy this as a sort of Ironman mode, so just be advised that all your actions can't be undone without some time penalty.

The story crafted for Shadowrun Returns--although somewhat on rails even with dialog options--is fairly well thought out. A friend has been murdered and throughout the course of the game, I'll meet his sister, discover how a Dr. Frankenstein-type ties in, and travel through a huge megacorp and a cultists lair to finish solving the mystery.

The ending still leaves so much more for the developer to explore down the road. A separate story set in Berlin was originally supposed to have been included, but has been held back for DLC that will be free for the original Kickstarter backers. But the addition of a level editor for wannabe GMs to create their own missions and scenarios adds an even greater layer of replay value to a core game that is already well done. It's just a shame there is no plan for multiplayer, as playing a quality RPG like this with friends would be the pièce de résistance to practically reliving the pen & paper experience.

Given that the game was funded by fans eager for a Shadowrun game, backers should find this game incredibly rewarding. But any person eager for the heyday of the pen & paper days of RPGs should find this a nice blast from the past. [7]


This Shadowrun Returns review was based on PC code provided by the developer. The specs of the review machine were a quad-core i7 2600 3.4 GHz processor, 16 GB of RAM and a nVidia GTX 660 video card.

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 25, 2013 6:00 AM

    John Keefer posted a new article, Shadowrun Returns review: classic RPG reborn.

    Shadowrun Returns is a triumphant return to the classic days of old-school computer RPGs.

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 6:28 AM

      Did you get a chance to play with the editor at all?

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 6:34 AM

        I did not. But I plan to do it next week. I just played through the game a few times.

        • reply
          July 25, 2013 6:35 AM

          about how long was the full game?

          • reply
            July 25, 2013 6:40 AM

            Steam said I played 20 hours but that always seems inflated. I figure I played 13-15 hours. I went back a few times and reloaded to try different strategies.

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 6:34 AM

      No manual saves = no interest.

      I don't want to save and reload for the prime outcome. I just want to be able to play the game on my terms, and my timelines, not be beholden to when it thinks autosave is good.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 7:40 AM

        A good compromise would be checkpoint saves and save on exit (so you never lose progress).

        • reply
          July 25, 2013 8:58 AM

          Absolutely, that's the real reason for me. Sometimes, you just have to quit quickly for whatever reason, and you shouldn't be penalised for it.

          I'd be completely happy with that.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 8:43 AM

        No post editing = no interest in posting here.

        GOOD BYE CRUEL WORLD!!!!!

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 8:04 AM

      Does it 0wn?

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 9:20 AM

      PROTIP

      1. If you have previously read a conversation, or dont care to read the conversation "Tab,Enter" and "1,2,3" is a faster way to advance than clicking.
      2. Scene Transitions are where you should decide to stop playing the game or not. Yes it is not ideal, http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=30546075#item_30546075
      3. The game is pretty easy, your statistics are better than your enemy. I recommend playing on hard. "Very hard" is statistically balanced, despite being outnumbered. Hard is halfway between large advantage and no advantage.
      4. To Hit % is pretty elaborate. Range is very important so think about what gun you have. SMG at long range is poor. Factors also include the cumulatively add all cover obstacles in the way, 3 desks are harder to shoot over than one. A desk adjacent to the shooter is ignored since conceptually your arm goes over it.
      5. Heal spells only heal the "last wound" so getting hit with 3 bullets, 3HP damage each, is not worth using a heal spell to heal. Medkits heal a flat amount
      6. Spirits make great bullet shields
      7. Stun barriers can slow down everyone, especially melee guys

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 9:23 AM

        whats up with the odd release day/time? What was the reasoning behind that?

        • reply
          July 25, 2013 9:25 AM

          You find this odd Degen? Heh. It sure beats those "midnight launches", which usually pretty much mean 3am on the east coast.

          • reply
            July 25, 2013 9:28 AM

            not saying its bad, just different. Even with the spread of digital sales/downloads the industry has pretty much stayed with the Tuesday release schedule.

        • reply
          July 25, 2013 9:28 AM

          It is steam's policy for non big-budget games, so that they can be in the office.

          • reply
            July 25, 2013 9:31 AM

            As for thursday. idk. Time padding from Steam Sale?

            • reply
              July 25, 2013 1:28 PM

              That and it avoids pretty much all other releases as Tuesday is usually the day. So it's like Shadowrun Return's own private release day.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 9:26 AM

        thanks for this!

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 9:27 AM

        Awesome tips man!

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 9:27 AM

        Legit protips right here folks.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 9:33 AM

        That's cool. I found out all of these except #4 during play. #4 I speculated was the case but didn't know for sure.

        Last wound heals got annoying in late game because of some of the enemies fought and types of attacks they had but that can be a spoiler if I go into any more detail.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 9:49 AM

        Awesome gameplay tips, thanks guy!

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 9:50 AM

        Stuck on the first conversation puzzle at the computer? One of the password recovery answers is outside the bedroom by talking to Ms K

        • reply
          July 25, 2013 11:02 AM

          [deleted]

          • reply
            July 25, 2013 11:19 AM

            yep, brute force is viable, and perhaps what ~half the people will do? Just wanted to give the proper solution for those curious.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 11:11 AM

        Thanks man. Excited for this.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 11:16 AM

        Where do you change the difficulty?

        • reply
          July 25, 2013 11:21 AM

          main menu options. It is not tied to a specific save. I dont think it is changeable in game, because it affects the statistics the AI spawn with.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 11:53 AM

        Thanks for the tips, and congrats on the release! Super excited to get home tonight and dig in-

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 3:47 PM

        Nice thanks I guess I'll try on hard at first at least

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 9:53 AM

      Is there an osx version at launch?

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 10:08 AM

      unlocked gogogo

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 10:38 AM

      so anyone going to livestream this bad boy?

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 10:50 AM

        sigpro was last night for a while.

      • reply
        July 25, 2013 11:50 AM

        I can start my stream up, but I am about an hour in which really isn't very far though.

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 10:52 AM

      Streaming from the beginning for those who don't care about spoilers/plot stuff. I have the game running at 1280x720 so the text is sort of readable on the stream. I'm also on a Skype call so you'll have to put up with Twitch chat. :P

      http://www.twitch.tv/sapienstv

    • reply
      July 25, 2013 6:14 PM

      Seriously? It was THAT difficult for these geniuses to include an Auto-Save? Wow.

Hello, Meet Lola