Posted by: markfender | July 31, 2013

Shadowrun Returns

Hey, a Kickstarter project produced something!

srr_screen01_pikeplaceShadowrun Returns came out last week so I played it. And beat it. It was kind of short.

Shadowrun Returns is a return to the classic isometric RPGs of yesteryear with lots of text to read and dialog options that don’t really make much difference. It’s got a X-Com-like combat system that’s less deep and strategically interesting but still works pretty well. The campaign the game shipped with was about 8-9 hours in total. It was Shadowrun-arific with lots of easter eggs for those of us who have an unhealthy obsession with Shadowrun. It was well-written too, which is handy when you’re going to spend eight hours reading. I spotted one misspelling and some sections were made up of terrible run-on sentences but overall, pretty decent.

It’s Shadowrun, so you’ve got some different character options. The game system was vaguely based on the SR RPG, but only vaguely. You’ve got access to various attributes with skill and sub-skills under them. Improving these grants new abilities over time. I made a street samurai until I realized that the cyberware options were kind of lame (Not enough options and too restrictive as to what you could buy) so I respecialized my character into decking halfway through the game. The nice thing is that when you go on ‘runs, you hire various shadowrunners so you get to mess around with all the character options during the game. So, mages cast spells, shamans summon spirits, and riggers control drones. All of these systems work very well and give you the sense of everyone having a different niche. Some of the systems were a little obtuse (what exactly is the smartlinked weapons doing? They don’t look like an improvement over regular weapons) but I liked that the essential elements of Shadowrun were all there.

However, the game managed to capture the feeling of Shadowrun better than the actual tabletop game has done. In particular, there were a few missions (far too few) that involved breaking into a facility and then having your decker hack into the Matrix to extract the paydata. This led to splitting your party, leaving one group fending off guards while the other went through the Matrix (which looked pretty cool). This led to a few situations where you’re waiting on one or the other to finish their job so that the other half could get on with their mission. It captured what the tabletop RPG has been trying to do for years but never managed to do.

I had to restart a few levels due to bugs, which is annoying. Those were the only redoes I had to do though, as I didn’t die once (and only lost one companion in the very last mission..on the last turn of that mission). There were also some audio issues throughout the game. So it’s not perfect (although I just downloaded a patch while I was typing this, which might have helped).

This is one of the first video game Kickstarter projects that blew up, so it’s interesting to actually see one of those games actually exist out in the open now. I’ve seen some people complaining that it’s not much of a game, though. The main story is only 8-9 hours and the storytelling and gameplay are very old school. But, based on an original request for $400,000, I think they gave exactly what they said they were going to provide. I will say that it doesn’t look like the $1.8 million they eventually did get ended up in the game, though. At least, I hope not. Because that makes me worried for other Kickstarter projects with much loftier ambitions. If this is the sort of game you end up with after $1.8 million, there is no way something like Planetary Annihilation or Torment: Numenera is going to hit what people are expecting. I’m not begrudging SRR for what I got: they delivered what they promised. But I’m sorta curious where that extra money went if it’s not in the game. And if it is in the game, either Harebrained Schemes has no project management skills or all those other Kickstarters are doomed.

The game shipped with the editor to make your own Shadowrun stories, which is pretty cool. Hopefully the game will have a vibrant mod community like Neverwinter Nights had back in the day. I have only looked at the editor a bit and I’m still trying to figure it out. I hear people complain about its inscrutability, but from my looks it’s already way more clear and cogent than the Neverwinter Nights editor was. And, for whatever reason, I’ve already thought of about 5 stories I’d like to mess around with making in the editor, whereas NWN left me struggling with ever coming up with one idea. I guess I just hate generic D&D fantasy, but for some reason generic D&D fantasy mixed with ’80s cyberpunk gives me tons of ideas. I don’t get that.

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