With the exception of perhaps Dungeons and Dragons, I spent more time with Shadowrun than any other tabletop RPG during my high-school yesteryears. Every weekend or so my friends and I would raid all the boardgames in the house for d6s and jump into a setting of street samurai, dragon presidents and cyber-zombies. But while Dungeons and Dragons has had countless adaptations to the videogame medium, the number of Shadowrun games could be counted on a single hand.

Flash-forward to earlier last year, and suddenly crowd funding a videogame becomes an overnight sensation with the rampant success of Double Fine Adventure, later to be titled Broken Age. After that we saw a bunch of similarly high-profile concepts get connected to their fan bases, finding a niche for games that might normally struggle to be produced otherwise. Many folks will have a close eye on Shadowrun Returns as it’s the first of that initial wave of heavily funded projects to see release. What tone will it set for future large caliber crowd funded games?

For those unfamiliar, Shadowrun mixes a dystopian cyberpunk future, where mega-corporations run rampant and cybernetics are common place, with high fantasy of magic and supernatural creatures. It’s a great kitchen sink approach that allows adventures to be anything from slow-burning corporate espionage to all-out magical gang brawls. Shadowrun Returns does a pretty decent job of giving you enough of this backstory to understand the setting – details come out naturally through conversation or can be found on loading screens that set the stage, but it’s clear that it does lean towards expecting you to be familiar with Shadowrun already.

The main campaign for Shadowrun Return‘s story is titled “Dead Man’s Switch.” It’s a sufficiently enjoyable and twist filled tale involving a fellow runner sending you a message post-death asking you to look into his untimely demise. What starts out seeming like a milk run spirals into deeper plots and conspiracies, of course. To start you’ll have to make your brand-new shadowrunner, selecting a race and class. Classes only serve as a template though, you’re free to spend your karma, the game’s experience, however you like. Fair warning, Dead Man’s Switch does not do a great job of making multiple character paths perfectly viable or balanced. You’re much better off rolling some kind of combat or magic character than a hacker, in setting referred to as deckers. There is little to no hacking to do in many missions, and even in the ones where it is required another decker is available or you can subvert it through other means, like finding clues littered around to guess a password. It feels like Dead Man’s Switch is stretched a little thin. It’s trying to introduce a setting, characters and mix of gameplay sections. The writing is sharp though, making some characters a point worth talking to even if they don’t have a mission for you and breathing a rich, if often pungent, detail into the setting.

Similar to games like Neverwinter Nights, Shadowrun Returns also includes a robust level editor in order to make your own missions and stories, and this will undoubtedly be the major draw for the game in the long run. The Steamworks section for Shadowrun Returns is already filling up with fans coming up with new stories and recreating their favorite adventures from the tabletop game. Yes, someone is already working on Food Fight – which some of you will understand. Many of these early entries are a little rough around the edges, but there is a ton of potential to be tapped here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find some great user-created content in the coming weeks.

The gameplay is about what you might expect from an isometric RPG, with Shadowrun: Returns leaning more towards the XCOM end of the spectrum. You’ll move to cover, select a weapon or spell and see a bunch of percentage chances on your opponents. It’s certainly not breaking new ground, but it feels like a solid system to resolve spells, gun fire, magically empowered melee and the hacker cyberspace Matrix. There’s also an enjoyable economy surrounding taking missions. You can blow all your freshly earned nuyen, the game’s currency, on shiny cyberware, weapons, programs and magic fetishes, but you also have to hire shadowrunners to fill out your crew on each run. So you need to balance between taking the best team with you and not making a lot of profit and chroming yourself out.

The only real downside to the combat system is that the UI looks and feels a little clunky and there are a few bugs to be found. For instance, when engaging my character’s Wired Reflexes that allows him to dodge attacks, he proceeds to dodge all actions: like reloading a weapon or diving away from that much needed medkit. Which is about as annoying as it is funny to visualize. The biggest detraction though is the checkpoint based saved system, which not only feels entirely out of date but also completely out of place in this style of game, making multiple save states is a pretty common occurrence among RPGs. Eventually you’ll get used to always moving on to the next scene before quitting, but it’s not going to sate the bad feeling the first time you have to redo a section.

Like the grimy back alleys of some dystopian future, Shadowrun Returns isn’t without its lingering issues, but the potential for future adventure is worth the danger. Fans of Shadowrun have been waiting for this kind of experience, and folks are already diving head first into the editor. Users are hard at work porting written tabletop adventures and even the 1993 SNES version of Shadowrun.

Bottom Line: Those that love or have fond memories of Shadowrun will get the most out of Shadowrun Returns, but anyone that enjoys RPGs, XCOM and cyberpunk settings could also find something to love.

Recommendation: This is the game Shadowrun fans have been waiting for.

[rating=4]

Game: Shadowrun Returns
Genre: Tactical role-playing game
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Publisher: Harebrained Schemes
Platform(s): PC

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