Shadowrun Returns reviewed: A solid game and a powerful toolkit all in one

Shadowrun Returns

By on July 30, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Like every veteran street samurai, Shadowrun Returns is a cyborg, a melding of a meaty singleplayer campaign and the machinery of its editor. Taken together, they create something more powerful than either alone — something that punches well above its weight.

If you’re a veteran tabletop RPG player, this mixture should be an old friend to you, the same hybrid of story and system you’ll find in most core game books: a pre-packaged campaign, as well as the tools to create your own campaign or play those made by others. And if you’ve never heard of Shadowrun before, well… it’s cyberpunk with orcs and elves and magic. There’s a lot of complicated backstory that explains how this situation came about, but that’s all you really need to know. You can jump straight in and play your own elven hacker or cyberdwarf mage, and go on to come up with adventures of your own for them later on.

The pre-packaged singleplayer campaign is no slouch: it’s generally well-written, has some moments where the dialogue really shines, and characters you’ll grow quite attached to, even if you don’t already have nostalgic attachments to some of the familiar faces who show up.

The story is everything you’d want from Shadowrun: dark magic, dirty deals, etc. And the visuals are fantastic, beautifully-rendered cyberpunk backdrops, and 3D character models that are less detailed, but still pack in a lot of, well, character. It’s a good all-round game experience that harks back to the isometric RPGs of yore, while also acknowledging that times and tastes have changed in some ways.

But while the writing has moments of greatness, it’s not consistently great, and the nature of the game system means the writing takes centre-stage more than in most video games. Likewise, because the focus is on the system, the places where the machinery is a little rusty show all the more. Combat is very similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Action Points are a more natural fit with Shadowrun, but the tutorials are a bit lacking on certain details (especially for those who aren’t tabletop veterans).

Camera rotation is an understandable impossibility given the way the game system works, but the workarounds are somewhat lacking on occasion. I’m okay with checkpoint saves, but the checkpoints could be more well-placed. And there are definitely still bugs to be worked out here and there.

I’m loath to review a video game as a product rather than an entertainment experience, but where the level editor is concerned, Shadowrun Returns demands it. The power of the editor is immediately evident just from playing the campaign, which also serves as a solid tour of the system, and the available art assets. There are good tutorials on how to get started with the level editor, but some are still a little rough. It really needs its own review, but I’m only being paid for one, so this will have to do.

Shadowrun Returns definitely stands up on its own. But what you’ll get out of it beyond the included campaign depends on the editor, and what the community — or you, if you’re especially adventurous — can make from it.

Good:

  • Exceptional writing, beautiful art, and a solid combat system
  • Powerful editor, with an already burgeoning community
  • Potentially years of gaming goodness in this one package, just like a tabletop RPG core book

Bad:

  • UI is a little unwieldy, and tutorials aren’t ideal for non-veterans
  • Fixed 2D isometric perspective still has unresolved issues

Shadowrun Returns is available on Steam for $19.99.

This review copy was supplied by the publisher.

19 comments (Leave your own)

The checkpoint saves is so annoying! I understand that it’s easier to save the game state at these points, but it makes it so frustrating at times.

 

I was completely blindsided by it’s linerarity and checkpoint only save system (Checkpoints..? In 2013..? in an RPG..?)

I guess I had expectations of this being a more traditional, free and open Baldur’s gate/Fallout style affair when I backed this way back when.

Ah well, Great story and writing which are the important things anyway, along with awesome remixed music tracks from the earlier games =). I’m eagerly eyeing off the SNES Shadowrun game custom campaign that is sitting in Alpha on the Steam workshop and looking forward to the free bit of DLC campaign and upcoming custom stories that the community make.

Hopefully Wasteland 2/Divinity/Project Eternity/Torment will fill that void of the type of classic isometric open Rpg I’m after.

 

@Stoibs you might be interested in Satellite Reign then, http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/5livesstudios/satellite-reign

Can still fund with PayPal, check their site.

 

Cheers, already backed it day one of it’s Kickstarter. Be sure to hunt down and kill the “Stoibs” npc who should be wandering around as a citizen :D

 

I feel somewhat the same as Stoibs based on my playtime so far, I’ve always been a big Shadowrun fan and i was hoping for something a little more open world. Shadowrun is one of those IP’s that pretty much DEMANDS an open world where you can actually be a runner.

 

It’s about as linear as most of the old-school isometric RPGs are. Maybe slightly more. There’s a few optional missions, but yeah, largely linear. I agree that the setting demands an open-world game, but this was never going to be it. That kind of thing is far, far too ambitious for anything like this project.

 

I haven’t played it, but I find the idea of checkpoints quite appealing.

What is the point of a game which lets you restart exactly where you die with all your stuff? That’s basically just an interactive movie, not a game.

 

I am also a kickstarter backer and this game is disappointing. I think the style is very nice but the lack of open world, the check point save, the shortness for being an RPG is a joke. I didn’t contribute to this game for its editor and other people to design the content. Also the lack of branching and depth to the game is very evident.

HB will not be getting any of my funds in the future for any kickstarter items.

 

caitsith01,

It’s less to do with save scumming and more to do with placing arbitrary restrictions upon the player. Lost some progress – and had to replay entire sections – in games like this and Bioshock Infinite who hold me at the game dev’s mercy as to where and when I can get up and go when real life stuff arises.
You can hear the frustration in Total Biscuit’s video at having to redo that bar section he opens up with after already apparently going through the majority of it once. Theres just no need for that in this day and age.

 

I really wanted to comment on the Kickstarter aspect of this game in the review, but that’s a whole other article. The short version is this:

People like to look at Kickstarter as preordering. They like to look at it as investment. They like to look at it as having some kind of stake in a project, having some kind of say even. At the very least, they expect a funded project to deliver the promised backer rewards.

The truth is, Kickstarter is none of those things, and those who receive funding from Kickstarter are under absolutely no legal obligation to do or produce or deliver anything. That’s legally. In terms of social obligations, obviously there’s a lot of incentive to deliver on promises. Most do, at some point, and that’s great. Those who find they need to change the project are usually good about informing backers, which is nice. Those who run into trouble and have to cancel are sometimes good about refunding the money where possible. That’s better than nothing, I guess.

The truth is, Kickstarter is begging. Project creators put on a show on the project page, pitching you, persuading you to give up your cash. They might even say they’re promising to deliver X, Y or Z. You give money to a Kickstarter project, and maybe you get some kind of back reward at some point. But at no stage is there ever any binding agreement entered into on the part of project creators. They don’t have to deliver anything, let alone the project you gave them money for, let alone backer rewards (including copies of a game) that meet your expectations.

I really think there’s a problem with the way Kickstarter communicates the risks and the terms of backing. I think they let projects get away with making it look like you’re investing, or preordering, or whatever, even though this isn’t the case at all. I think they make a lot of money by letting projects promise the moon and taking a cut of what backers throw in the hat.

I personally think that Shadowrun Returns delivered on a lot of what was promised, which is about the best you can hope for with Kickstarter. I think the toolset is fantastic, and even if you don’t use it yourself to build things, it looks like there’s going to be a lot of content that you can use without having to do so. Is it going to be exactly what every backer wanted? No, because that’s impossible. But in any case, backers of Kickstarter projects should understand that there are no actual guarantees they’ll get anything, so getting anything at all is really a win on that front.

This is all completely aside from my assessment of Shadowrun Returns as an entertainment experience, and of the toolset it provides as a software product. I’ve already written a review, above.

And yes, that was the short version.

 

I’m not sorry I backed it. Really enjoyed playing through it on the weekend and I liked that they didn’t do things the same as similar RPGs. Less focus on loot, a different and facinating world and some conversations where you had to consider the context with consequences for saying the right/wrong things.
All the save system really needs is a save on exit feature. The checkpoints I actually liked because I generally had no idea when they were occuring so it forced me to mostly push on and deal with the consequences of my actions. I used my consumables instead of hoarding them like I do in every single other RPG.

Although like others have said, I’d have liked it more if the world were a little more open and I had a little more choice in how I did things in it. I only got a little taste of the setting and I wanted so much more.

 

For $20 I’m really enjoying it. Put more hours into it than any of the AAA titles I’ve purchased recently. Really looking forward to the user created stuff as well.

 

The game would be bargain at twice the price. I didn’t mind the checkpoint system too much as it made the game a bit more intense and I felt it suited the licence better not being able to undo any bad move you make.

Animations leave a bit to be desired but the writing makes up for it being better then I see in most AAA titles. The ending especially was amazingly well done.

No regrets whatsoever. A solid game IMO.

 

adrianforest:
The truth is, Kickstarter is none of those things, and those who receive funding from Kickstarter are under absolutely no legal obligation to do or produce or deliver anything.

Well, that’s just flat out wrong.

Is a creator legally obligated to fulfill the promises of their project?

Yes. Kickstarter’s Terms of Use require creators to fulfill all rewards of their project or refund any backer whose reward they do not or cannot fulfill. (This is what creators see before they launch.) We crafted these terms to create a legal requirement for creators to follow through on their projects, and to give backers a recourse if they don’t. We hope that backers will consider using this provision only in cases where they feel that a creator has not made a good faith effort to complete the project and fulfill.

And that’s just the terms and conditions between KS and the people running the project. There would also be a classic contract between a backer and the project (I will give you $X if you deliver Y) and common law and statutory trade practices issues (making false or misleading representations about what is going to be delivered).

 

If you read that carefully, what it actually says is that Kickstarter’s Terms of Use create a legal obligation between project creators and Kickstarter itself. Not between creators and backers exactly. Kickstarter also says in their accountability section that, “Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project”, meaning they take an entirely hands-off approach to accountability. They say themselves that it’s almost entirely down to the project creator’s reputation. That’s primarily what’s on the line. You’d have a pretty hard time going after a project creator through legal channels in any case. A class action suit or other legal recourse is unlikely to be worth the trouble, even where it’s possible, so the reality is that creators have little fear of legal consequences.

You’d also be surprised what common law and statutory trade practices don’t apply in the US, especially in a case like Kickstarter, where funding is contributed to a project, rather than exchanged for goods or the promise of goods.

The track record of Kickstarter projects speaks for itself, and reinforces my core point: backers should count themselves lucky to get anything, let alone what Shadowrun Returns has delivered. They’ve built a great game, and a great toolset, and done it less than six months behind schedule. That’s more than a lot of Kickstarter projects can say.

 

adrianforest: You’d also be surprised what common law and statutory trade practices don’t apply in the US, especially in a case like Kickstarter, where funding is contributed to a project, rather than exchanged for goods or the promise of goods.

Are you a lawyer? By the sounds of it you’d be surprised how difficult it is for a foreign person or company dealing with Australian customers in Australia to avoid the jurisdiction of our courts.

Jurisdictional questions are complex but, in general, if part of a commercial transaction takes place in Australia you can probably take action in Australia under Australian law. This can be modified in some respects, but not in other respects, by the agreement between the parties. But a US entity which deals directly with consumers in Australia via the internet isn’t magically immune from Australian law, and you are perfectly entitled to sue someone not currently located in Australia in an Australian court.

The fact that it would be disproportionately expensive to sue someone over a Kickstarter project doesn’t mean you don’t have legal rights.

 

I’m not going to have a discussion about jurisdictional questions of trade practices law as applied to a crowdfunding site in the comments section of a video game review. My point still stands: the reality of Kickstarter is that creators have little to fear legally, or in any regard save their own reputation, if they don’t deliver on what was promised. There’s a well-established track record of failed Kickstarter projects that demonstrate this, even while the majority of funded projects do deliver something, eventually. Consequently, backers should consider themselves lucky to get anything, let alone a game like this.

 

adrianforest:
I’m not going to have a discussion about jurisdictional questions of trade practices lawas applied to a crowdfunding site in the comments section of a video game review. My point still stands: the reality of Kickstarter is that creators have little to fear legally, or in any regard save their own reputation, if they don’t deliver on what was promised. There’s a well-established track record of failed Kickstarter projects that demonstrate this, even while the majority of funded projects do deliver something, eventually. Consequently, backers should consider themselves lucky to get anything, let alone a game like this.

You didn’t say they have “little fear” of the consequences, you said

those who receive funding from Kickstarter are under absolutely no legal obligation to do or produce or deliver anything

Which is absolutely clear, and absolutely wrong.

If you don’t want to have the debate, I sugget not making wildly inaccurate assertions.

FWIW, I agree with the position that for practical purposes one must regard backing a project on Kickstarter as a gamble of sorts due to the impracticality of pursuing any remedy if it all goes pear shaped (e.g. right now I would quite like my money back from Godus… damn you Molyneux!). But that’s not what you said.

 

I really like this game, this and XCom show that old school game design can work in a modern environment IMO.

I’m actually playing two games of this at the moment, a Rigger on my home machine and a Troll Street Samurai on my Surface Pro. Works great with the Surface too, apart from typing the name of your character when starting a new game works perfectly well with just the touchscreen.

 
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