Review: Shadowrun Returns

And now for something completely different.

Shadowrun Returns is a PC RPG in the traditional sense.  The view is isometric and the game is very reliant on text instead of action.  There is action of course.  The action is in the vein of a turn based strategy game not unlike that found in XCOM or a Final Fantasy Tactics.

The text, however, is quite good.  It’s among the best writing I’ve ever come across in a video game and I mean that with all sincerity.  It’s not unlike writing which you might find in a well written cyberpunk novel.  I understand there actually are Shadowrun novels out there so maybe some of the staff is the same.  Regardless of who wrote it, I’m grateful the writing is just plain excellent.

The story goes like this: A friend of your’s has been murdered and there’s a bounty on the head of the killer.  Your friend actually calls you from the grave (I think from a chip in his head) and asks you to avenge his death.  You set out to collect that bounty.  You spend a lot of time visiting relevant locations, asking people questions, trying to find out anything that you can about the killer.  Story progression is handled very well, with each crime scene getting you a little bit more information without straight up revealing who did it.

The game is a joy to look at.  While the console gamer in me at least partially wishes the graphics were fully 3D, I can totally get into the 2D isometric graphics style.  Enjoyably, there is a lot of hand drawn art, which is obviously something that gets lost the more polygons you throw at a video game.  The Shadowrun aesthetic is cyberpunk, meaning there’s a lot of neon and things like futuristic computer terminals.  This is one of the most consistent looking games I’ve played.  You don’t enter into a gorgeously drawn room only to enter one that looks terrible.  It’s all quite nice to look at.

The combat is something that grew on me.  Part of the problem is that I didn’t fully understand how the combat worked until later in the game.  I chose a street samurai for the character I rolled, which is the type that enters a fight guns blazing.  What I came to appreciate later in the game are the support characters, who can do things like control robots or give you an extra Action Point (a turn, basically) for a number of rounds.  Balance is the key to a good crew in Shadowrun Returns.

The game doesn’t overstay it’s welcome (I played for 16 hours), but I found myself constantly wanting to play more.  As someone who never played a PC RPG before (except Torchlight, which is really it’s own thing), this makes me want to see more from the genre.  I’m glad we’re in the midst of a revival, and am curious to check Pillars of Eternity.  Harebrained Schemes gets an A+ in my book for Shadowrun Returns though.  Between the writing, the visuals, and the gameplay, this is a game for PC RPG fans and newcomers alike.



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