Review: Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun is a pen-and-paper tabletop role-playing game (RPG) that spawned a collectible card game, a series of novels and several video games.

The last Shadowrun video game was a first-person shooter released in 2007 to lukewarm reviews. Now, Shadowrun has returned via a Kickstarter crowdfunding project to return the game back to its classic RPG roots.

In the Shadowrun universe that comprises cyberpunk and urban fantasy elements, magic has suddenly re-emerged in a futuristic world splitting humans into subtypes of elves, dwarves, orcs and trolls.

This magical renaissance is matched by technological advancements whereby human parts can be augmented or replaced with mechanical or lab-grown parts.

The Matrix, a worldwide information grid and computer network, lets users interact with security systems via direct neural interface using a brain implant known as a datajack.

This futuristic world is now dominated by mega-corporations and crime syndicates.

These entities make use of elite agents called shadowrunners to do the leg work for them.

In Shadowrun Returns, you are one such shadowrunner. You can create your own character by choosing from five races and six classes, from the melee-centric Street Samurai to the spirit-summoning Shaman.

You can customise your looks, such as hairstyle and facial hair, but there is no way to customise your face. You use Karma points, which you will earn whenever you finish quests, to increase various character statistics and raise your level. Along the way, you can customise your character based on your preferred playstyle.

The single-player plot kicks off with you receiving a message from an old friend who was murdered.

He asks you to find his killer and, in return, you get the money from his life insurance. You can hire other shadowrunners to aid you in your quest as the story progresses.

Like the old classic RPGs, this game is played via a 2-D, top-down isometric view. The environments are nicely textured, but your character looks a tad pixellated. In addition, there is no way to rotate the camera.

The soundtrack is fine initially, but it gets really repetitive after a while. Furthermore, there are no voice-overs - and this is a game with plenty of dialogue that dictates your game choices. So you are left with reading lines of dialogue.

Dialogue options are based on your skills level. If you do not have enough Charisma, for example, you will not be able to charm your way through. But if you have enough Strength, you can intimidate characters into submission.

Combat is turn-based, requiring action points to execute each action, from reloading to moving during combat. For those who played the turn-based tactical game Xcom: Enemy Unknown, the turn-based combat here is much easier.

There are statistics to show you the attack percentage and the health of your allies and enemies, for you to make informed decisions during combat.

So charging in with all guns blazing might not work, as the enemies will sometimes try to out-flank you while hidden in the fog of war.

Each quest feels unique and not repetitive, as you follow clues to find your friend's killer. Along the way, there are a few twists and turns.

On the downside, the single-player campaign is rather short and I completed it in 12 hours. The game comes with an editor for you to create your own campaign and you can probably find more user- generated content.

For those who love classic turn-based role-playing elements set in a fantasy cyberpunk universe, Shadowrun Returns is certainly one game you have to play.

Rating: 8/10

US$19.90 (S$25) (PC, version tested; Mac)


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