Shadowrun has remained one of the most popular tabletop RPG series since its introduction in the late 1980s. Shadowrun Returns takes the franchise back to its roots. Funded partially through Kickstarter, it drew a lot of attention. Shadowrun Returns appeared to revitalize a genre that has long been neglected.
Shadowrun Returns is a tactical RPG set in the same sci-fi world as the tabletop franchise it is based on. In a dystopian future, corporations engage in constant warfare with each other. They attempt to carry out industrial espionage to steal the best technology available. Shadowrun Returns takes that premise and adds a murder mystery into the proceedings. The result is an engrossing story that will leave you incredibly satisfied.
Without a doubt, the best part of Shadowrun Returns is the fantastic writing. The plot is watertight for the most part, although the narrative does lose a bit of focus toward the end.
Players take on the role of a Decker, a type of hacker, whom they can customize to make their own. The Decker receives a message from a friend after his death. A reward awaits if you can expose his killer and ensure he faces justice. Along the way, you will run into some familiar characters from the older games. And you will uncover a mystery bigger than the death of one man.
Thankfully, characters are given genuine motives for their actions. You can understand the choices they make through the slick dialogue presented to you in each conversation. But nothing is ever given too much of an explanation either. The characters you meet and the locations you find yourself in have an air of mystery about them. You leave each encounter feeling as if you never truly understand everything that is going on.
The visuals are simply outstanding. A cyberpunk film noir setting allows for some truly stunning environments to be shown on screen. You will rarely be disappointed with the look of Shadowrun Returns. This high quality is carried on with the characters themselves, with the attention to detail in their portraits as they talk demonstrating just how much work the developers have put into making this as beautiful as it could be.
The soundtrack is almost as impressive, immersing you in the world and striking exactly the right tone to match the sinister future that you find yourself in. Fans of the classic Shadowrun games might also recognize a few of the themes used in certain tracks as well.
The main element of this title in terms of gameplay is definitely the combat. A turn-based system is used that is very similar to the XCOM series. You move your units around the field and extensively plan out attacks. Taking careful note of your enemy’s position is vital to come out on top in these encounters, as is a keen tactical sense. There is a lot of depth to the different types of weapons and ammo you can use, as well as special skills or stats that could make all the difference. However, what is most important to be aware of is whether your characters are in cover. This not only protects them from enemies but ensures they can get move around without being put at risk.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the combat in Shadowrun Returns, yet it is refined down to a near-perfect formula that few games of this type manage to achieve. In contrast, the role-playing aspects are disappointing. Although there is some room for exploration, only a very small number of objects and NPCs offer any interaction. With such a small budget, the developers have obviously had to make some hard decisions about where to focus their efforts, and the immersion of the world takes a hit because of it.
Shadowrun Returns is not that long of a game, especially for an RPG. You can quite easily get through the main campaign in around 10 hours without too much difficulty. The lack of real side quests makes it far too linear as well, stopping you from stretching your legs and going away from the beaten path. Other problems come from the fact that you cannot manually save your progress and have to rely on an autosave feature that doesn’t work as obviously as you might like.
Some of these problems might be fixed with user created content, as the game provides the tools for interested players to develop their own stories and campaigns. This still doesn’t shake the feeling that Shadowrun Returns is lacking compared to its predecessors.
It is clear that the people working on Shadowrun Returns chose to go with the approach of favoring quality over quantity. In truth, there is not that much content here. It can feel sparse even at the low price it is sold for. However, almost everything that is in the game is done incredibly well. The combat is fine-tuned, the visuals stunning, and the writing superb. I just can’t help thinking how much promise has been wasted when this could have been a truly standout game rather than just a very good one.