Shadowrun was a pen and paper RPG from the 80’s, quite popular at the time it spawned a spin-off in the form of Earthdawn. Shadowrun wasn’t the first Cyberpunk set RPG, but it was one of the most interesting. The game played with the concept of a dystopian future where corporations run the world and corruption is as common as the rain. Magic has been rediscovered and in the process, the year 2050, is now filled with not only jaded gangers that live in the slums but also elves, orcs, trolls and dwarfs. Shadowrun was turned into a game for the SNES and Megadrive in the early 90’s and it has become a cult hit. If you try to buy a SNES copy in the UK with box and instructions you’re looking at around £50, just the cartridge costs around £30.
Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall’s predecessor, was a modern take on the original SNES/Megadrive games as well as the pen and paper original. There was clearly a lot of love for the source material. It starts with you creating a character, you can choose any of the races I listed above and then you work on a class. In this game you can be the all rounder Street Samurai, a Decker, who is essentially a hacker who’s vision goes all ‘Matrix’ or a magic user like a Shaman or Mage. There are other classes that show potential to be exciting like the Rigger, but for the starter like me, who maybe hasn’t played an RPG in a long time, the more recognisable classes are tempting.
Shadowrun Returns launched with a campaign creator on the PC which produced some wonderful stories from clearly talented GM’s and writers. Using their own, improved, engine Harebrained Scheme’s have come out with their first stand alone DLC in their Shadowrun catalogue, Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Set in Berlin you start the game with your character, Denvir a street samurai in my case, joining a new crew of Shadowrunners about to break into a mansion. Things go south pretty quickly and as a team member get’s her brain fried in a pretty horrific way you’re lead into the a world of chaos, grime and a dragon in neo-Berlin’s underbelly. The world of Shadowrun is run by corporations, organisations that do evil acts, but sometimes they need things doing that even they can’t be caught involved in, that’s when they turn to the mercs of the streets, Shadowrunners.When creating a character it’s worth bearing in mind that the class you choose isn’t a chain around your ankle, it’s more of a guideline. When completing objectives and gaining points to spend on your character you can put them into any area, the initial Class selection just helps with an initial set up and idea of where to take the character. A minor annoyance has returned from the first Shadowrun Returns game, the character model. You are given the option of many different pieces of art that can be your character portrait, and they all look great and the variants of each standard picture means you can get the look you want for your avatar, but then when you come to customise the 3D model that will be in field and on the screen most of the time the choices of hair and facial hair don’t quite match. It has been improved vastly since the first game but I still find this little niggle that creates a disconnect between the great avatar art and the model.
The game falls into three basic areas, the first is team management, familiar for anyone who has played a role play game before, you must keep an eye on who you’re knocking around with and make sure people are tooled up and healthy for the job at hand. Secondly there’s the combat; if you’ve played the Shadowrun Returns then you’ve familiar with this, each character has action points and each action costs a set number. Battlefield information is as essential and well presented as before with you being shown how much cover something is going to provide in a fire fight and what your percentage chance of hitting a foe is. Finally the third aspect of the game is my personal favourite and what will hopefully keep most people playing, the talking.
There’s no two ways about it, this game is text heavy, but that is not a negative, this game thrives because of its writing. Something that got me so into the first game was the humour, it may not seem like a game where everyone is poor and steps away from death should involve chuckles but when Shadowrunners get together the quips seem to fly around like a Joss Whedon dream. Through dialogue trees with your fellow runners and other NPC’s in the world you’re drip fed a whole new lexicon to get behind and without realising it you’re fully versed in deckers, cred, the matrix (not the film) and cyberjacks. It all becomes second nature, at no point does the game hold your hand, instead it points you in a direction and says ‘go have fun over there Shadowrunner’ and instead of making you read a book first or sit through training it assumes you’re smart enough to work stuff out yourself, and if you’ve ever played a game before, then you are. You may not realise but you’ve consumed a lot of Cyberpunk over the years be it in film, comic, TV or games, you just always had it distilled, Shadowrun is here to put it straight on the rocks for you.
Graphically things have had a bit of a polish between the Returns and Dragonfall, the game has also had some much-needed UI tweeks and the game now has a working and useful save system. Although at a base level the graphics haven’t changed that much the world is different, because this is set in Berlin, as opposed to Seattle, the team at Harebrained Schemes have added a joyous amount of assets to the game transforming the location from dirty neo-city to a well presented Germanic city with history behind it. Although there is no voice over for any of the characters the sound design is one of the strongest elements of this game, namely the soundtrack. Jon Everist has produced an awesome soundtrack that does just what it needs to, create tension, atmosphere and emotion without hogging the limelight from the player and the world at large. The soundtrack manages to be on loop for potentially a long time, thankfully with the tracks all feeling so ambient and an essential part of the scenery it just works wonderfully.
The game does have its couple of issues, namely problems I had with the previous installment of the series. For me the lack of pinch zoom is a nuisance in battle. Numerous times I would end a turn not realising that off-screen, but within range, an enemy was stood ready to mow me down with whatever multi-barreled and multi-bulleted device they were dragging around with them. Another problem with the inability to control zoom is trying to select an enemy. If someone is stood behind cover, shielding themselves from bullets, it actually also shields them from your tap meaning that someone with, how to put this, sausage fingers like mine, may struggle to get the game to recognise that they’d like to hurt the bad man now please. These qualms with the game are minor and only effect a small amount of the combat, overlooking the issues is easy when the rest of the experience is so good.
If you’re on the fence about this game and came looking for a review to tell you one way or another whether to buy it, the simple response I have is, yes, buy this game. For a low price you’re set for a very long and consistently well written experience. The chat between the crew of runners is funny and provocative, you feel for some characters and others you want to smack hard, with bullets, but the fact you have a feeling towards them at all is a testament to the writing. With a load of missions and locations you rarely get bored with a scenario, just be prepared for some fights to last at least 20 minutes, this isn’t a pick up and play game, this is more of a pick up before bed and realise it’s 4 in the morning game. Trust me, this game is worth being tired for.