Shadowrun started off as a cyberpunk tabletop RPG, an alternative future where magic has come back into the world and humans live alongside fantasy races and creatures, the mega corporations rule the world and everyone else just tries to make a living. Then there are the Shadow runners; mercs, hackers and thieves for hire, this is the character you will be playing as. For gamers Shadowrun is likely remembered for the RPG games that it spawned on the SNES and Genesis. It has been awhile since there has been a video game based on the franchise worthy of the name (that means you first-person shooter Shadowrun), but due to a successful kickstarter campaign the original creator has been able to license a game using his property again and Shadowrun Returns (SRR) is the product of that.
When start a new game in SRR, initially you can open up the campaign that comes with the game, called 'Dead Man's Trigger'. This campaign lasts for about 15-20 hours and quickly immerses you back into the Shadowrun fiction of 2054. It's loaded with slang and fantasy races such as Elves, Trolls and Dwarves and it's easy to get drawn into this world as you're mixing shooting guns with summoning elementals and delving into the matrix (a term coined in this series long before the movies existed). Unlike the older games, Dead Man's Trigger is very linear for an RPG and there is very little to do in the way of side quests, and the only interaction you have with people is story progression or to buy and sell. One problem brought my experience down was that non-combat skills like charisma were almost entirely useless (unfortunate for me given I had sunk so many points into it). Every now and then a conversation would come along that you would have optional dialogue options, but so often all they would do is reward you with a little extra money or save you spending more of it, and ultimately for all my charisma points nothing I said had any impact on the story. While the story isn't groundbreaking, it handles the cyberpunk fantasy world with a healthy serving of noir and magic so well that you'll want to see where it goes. It also made me want a longer, deeper story set in this world.
The combat is turn based and will usually have you keeping cover using a cover system very similar to one used recently in XCOM Enemy Unknown; you can even set your character and allies to an overwatch mode. For characters that specialise in guns and grenades you'll want to utilize the cover so you can get close enough to the enemies and make it harder for them to hit back. For those using blades and fists you'll likely be exposed as you're beating some troll mercs head in. There's also summoning 'fetishes' or creatures just using plain ol' magic while trying to keep out of harm's way well away from battle.
Included with SRR is an editor, this allows you to add user-made content and create your own using the tools provided with the game. For fans of tabletop gaming or telling your own stories this provides a great opportunity to craft an ever evolving story and game to share with friends. Since its release there has been a bunch of content released by the community (including a remake of the SNES game in the new engine) and I also found that people have been creating model and weapon packs from the tabletop game to provide people with the resources to build their own campaigns. For people who are new to making their own content using a game editor, the Dead Man's Trigger content is available to use to modify or add into your own campaign. At times it feels like the included game was to give users a wide view of what they can do with the resources provided. For those with more skill in editing and programming triggers and designing game worlds there is a lot more that can be done with the editor than the main game suggests, and I look forward to seeing what can be done when users really push what this game can do.
The visuals are pretty average for an isometric RPG in 2013, but I have the feeling that it's intentional given that the community will be using the engine to make content and it needs to be accessible for people to create their own resources. Being a Kickstarter project likely limits the amount of money and time that could do towards the graphics when RPGs live or die based on working mechanics and story. Regardless SRR looks fine for the game it is. There are also some pretty cool profile images that are 2D art that capture the look of the game world and make it feel like playing an old school RPG.
Missing from SRR is any voice work besides grunts and cries of pain. There is no shortage of written dialogue though. Given the amount of text thrown at you it would involve a lot of voice work (especially if you factor in different genders and builds), and the style of writing present in the game probably would drag on too much if you waited around for it all to be said. I never missed hearing what someone would say and the writing does plenty to immerse you in the world.
Shadowrun is back and in the genre that best suits it, Dead Man's Switch is a good but flawed start. At the moment Shadowrun Returns is full of untapped potential that is just waiting for the community to make their own stories, and there are no doubt plenty of fans willing to do the lore justice. But I can't review a game based off of its potential future. At the moment it is still worth the purchase for cyberpunk fans and even RPG fans will find a good story here, even better there is the ability to make your own story to share with everyone. But be warned Dead Man's Trigger is still a fairly linear experience, for those expecting a game just like the SNES and Genesis versions will come away disappointed. Looking at the community made content there is already some interesting content on the way and in time there should be many, many hours of content waiting to be explored.