I’ve been on a Cyberpunk Kick this year, and a Shadowrun kick as a subset of that. And Shadowrun Returns was on sale on steam, and I played it, and here we are. I would say that, going in, I don’t know too much about the setting, and haven’t played the (tabletop) game extensively, but I have read enough to know the basics, and I looked forward to it.
Shadowrun Returns is fun; I enjoyed all my time with it and would not play through it again. There is definitely a feeling at the end that I have discovered all there is to discover. This game is an experience, not a world. I don’t think it was overly difficult, and the most trouble I had was early in the game. By the time I could afford to hire the “advanced” Shadowrunners on my team, I never bothered, and I think it was the last mission that I even looked through them, and wound up not using them. As an RPG, the mechanics were new but simple to understand, and I felt there were a lot of viable character builds (most of them as long as you specialize). Guns are a lot of fun and melee felt very underpowered. Combat is slow paced and I enjoyed it, and while I found it easy I did have to always think. The art style is pretty, and differentiates itself from similar titles. The game is pretty linear and there seems to be a rather straightforward path the conclusion, which was very satisfying to me.
If you like isometric RPGs, play it if you’ve already played Baulder’s gate and the other best three or so.
What I am going to spend the rest of this post talking about is the game’s relationship with cyberpunk stories, it’s story, and setting. I would say that the story is serviceable and I don’t have any complains about it. It is fun. It is definitely Shadowrun and it feels Shadowrun-y from reading my reading of those sourcebooks. It is good but doesn’t rise to the level of say, KOTOR (either one) or Planescape. Rather than quality of story (it’s adequate), have you played Alpha Protocol? The really buggy obsidian game? There is nothing that I can point to in Alpha Protocol that is “good,” per se, but when I played that game I felt like a spy. Everything was very spy-ish at a time where no spy games existed. Even now, most of those are highly stylized; Alpha Protocol made me feel like I was Michal Weston in burn notice. The story of Shadowrun Returns nails that feeling; I am in the cyber-future, I am this mercenary, I am doing mercenary things. I’m “in the Shadows,” and that’s the feeling that was maintained until the finale (which is the “I am a hero” that you feel in all video games). This sort of feeling is something where I can’t point the cause out; rather it is getting enough small things right and not screwing any part of the game out too drastically.
The story is serviceable.
It’s fun; there are no major plot holes, there is nothing cringe inducing, I can’t find any major complains. The characters are interesting and each of them feels like the belong in the setting; they all have their quirks, basic motivations, things they want. None of them are deep, even your companions, which was a bit disappointing; who is in your party never really matters, or at least I didn’t feel that way, and this becomes more true as the story progresses.
I think that it is rare that I come across a story that takes no risks yet makes no mistakes; it has the markings of competence but none of the markings of excellence. It is a cyberpunk story, and beyond that very much a Shadowrun story, without having much to say about either. This is the first Shadowrun video game in a decade, and it needed to deliver that: a good Shadowrun game, first and foremost. The relationship it has with genre is backwards; all the individual elements of the game come together to create something quintessentially cyberpunk, instead of taking all the cyberpunk values and ascetic to create something else. I would compare this maybe to Transistor, though I don’t know if I could make a fair comparison right now.
This makes it seem that I’m ragging on the story, and I’m not. I like it. There is a twist at the end I didn’t see coming but felt that I should have, which is the best kind of twist. The first arc has a Villain that has a dark and edge vibe without doing it for the sake of being gritty, rather than it just feeling right in the setting. There is horror, adventure, and little character moments. It’s very popcornish, but that’s fine, because it was going for; reminds me of the Avengers or something like it. I was interested in where it was going, and it kept me on my toes, and didn’t get predictable or boring. I wanted to know where things were heading at all times, and it introduced new parts of the world at a rate that didn’t make anything seem overwhelming, rather just natural. It’s a fun game and I would recommend it.