Shadowrun Returns is a computer role-playing game from Harebrained Schemes, and the coolest Shadowrun adventure I never ran as a kid. Warning: nostalgia ahead.
Do you know that feeling when as a kid you got the new role-playing game and started leafing through the book – everything on those pages was just so cool, so full of adventures, ideas, stories and possibilities. Cool characters, awesome storylines, ideas just sparking in your head, rehearsing scenes from upcoming games in your mind on your way to school, doodling maps and notes when you had the time. Then you start running the game to your friends and while it’s awesome, it’s never quite as cool as it was in your head. You’re a kid and so are your friends, you’re not a master storyteller yet and not everybody takes the game too seriously – an even if they do, they insist on going to cocktail parties fully armed and shooting guests in the face for insulting them, which just wrecks your story. You’re having awesome time, definitely, but it never is quite as cool as you imagined.
I got Shadowrun pretty soon after it came out, at around 1989 and 1990, when I was 14-15 years old. The whole idea of fantasy combined with cyberpunk blew my mind, and there was something weirdly magical in the setting for me – the sum was bigger than the combination of parts. I ran a bunch of campaigns and played in a bunch of others, returning to the game a couple of times since. It’s definitely one of my favourite settings ever along with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Gamma World.
Then came the indie developer Harebrained Games with their Shadowrun Returns role-playing game, which I was delighted to see was being published for Mac as well as PC. I was cautiously optimistic about the project and backed it on Kickstarter, since it sounded like they were really doing something for the traditional Shadowrun fans, instead of trying to do their own “evolved” vision.
After the first night playing the original Dead Man’s Switch campaign that came with Shadowrun Returns it was pretty clear – this was the Shadowrun I had in my head as a kid, something that was just as cool as the box art. There was no reimagining, no modernizing, none of that nonsense – it was good old last millennium cyberpunk where wi-fi is sci-fi, internet works by plugging a cable in your head, the streets are nasty, the shadows are your friend and shooting a dragon with a surface to air missile is definitely a choice.
As a game, Shadowrun Returns is an isometric turn based role-playing game. It is text heavy, which is very good – no half-assed voiceovers here. Some modern gamers and reviewers have complained about too much text and info dumps, but… well, suck it up. Not everything needs to be fed to you by spoon. Overall the gameplay and the combat was fluid enough, although the game had that certain occasional indie clunkiness with UI and such. It was quite minor and never bothered me too much, and with the improvements the new update brought I’ve had little to complain. The character progression is also very interesting and has a plethora of options, which made me want to play the campaign through several times just to try all the different character choices. The game also comes with a scenario editor, and fan created content is starting to pop up online.
The first campaign was awesome and entertaining, but the second one that just came out a while ago – Dragonfall – blows it out of the water. It’s not only well written Shadowrun, it’s simply quality game writing. Shadowrun’s surreal mix of dwarves, elves and cyberware is something you can easily make into a bad joke, but especially Dragonfall manages to make the characters feel like real people with their stories and motives, but who just may happen to be towering two and a half meter tall trolls bristling with metal and plastic. Furthermore the plot itself is interesting with all of its twists, nuances and side-missions, which shed light to both the Shadowrun world and the anarchist Flux-State of the Free City of Berlin. All in all, the general feel of the writing is very adult. It doesn’t underestimate the player, which is a welcome feeling.
If you are at all interested in turn-based role-playing and especially if you are a Shadowrun fan, pick this one up on Steam. I am pretty damn confident that you won’t be disappointed.