Like a core rulebook for a tabletop RPG, Shadowrun Returns packs in both a good adventure and the promise of more to come.
By Adrian Forest 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.
- 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
- 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.