Shadowrun Returns Review

Justin Clouse | 7 Aug 2013 13:00
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With the exception of perhaps Dungeons and Dragons, I spent more time with Shadowrun than any other tabletop RPG during my high-school yesteryears. Every weekend or so my friends and I would raid all the boardgames in the house for d6s and jump into a setting of street samurai, dragon presidents and cyber-zombies. But while Dungeons and Dragons has had countless adaptations to the videogame medium, the number of Shadowrun games could be counted on a single hand.

Flash-forward to earlier last year, and suddenly crowd funding a videogame becomes an overnight sensation with the rampant success of Double Fine Adventure, later to be titled Broken Age. After that we saw a bunch of similarly high-profile concepts get connected to their fan bases, finding a niche for games that might normally struggle to be produced otherwise. Many folks will have a close eye on Shadowrun Returns as it's the first of that initial wave of heavily funded projects to see release. What tone will it set for future large caliber crowd funded games?

For those unfamiliar, Shadowrun mixes a dystopian cyberpunk future, where mega-corporations run rampant and cybernetics are common place, with high fantasy of magic and supernatural creatures. It's a great kitchen sink approach that allows adventures to be anything from slow-burning corporate espionage to all-out magical gang brawls. Shadowrun Returns does a pretty decent job of giving you enough of this backstory to understand the setting - details come out naturally through conversation or can be found on loading screens that set the stage, but it's clear that it does lean towards expecting you to be familiar with Shadowrun already.

The main campaign for Shadowrun Return's story is titled "Dead Man's Switch." It's a sufficiently enjoyable and twist filled tale involving a fellow runner sending you a message post-death asking you to look into his untimely demise. What starts out seeming like a milk run spirals into deeper plots and conspiracies, of course. To start you'll have to make your brand-new shadowrunner, selecting a race and class. Classes only serve as a template though, you're free to spend your karma, the game's experience, however you like. Fair warning, Dead Man's Switch does not do a great job of making multiple character paths perfectly viable or balanced. You're much better off rolling some kind of combat or magic character than a hacker, in setting referred to as deckers. There is little to no hacking to do in many missions, and even in the ones where it is required another decker is available or you can subvert it through other means, like finding clues littered around to guess a password. It feels like Dead Man's Switch is stretched a little thin. It's trying to introduce a setting, characters and mix of gameplay sections. The writing is sharp though, making some characters a point worth talking to even if they don't have a mission for you and breathing a rich, if often pungent, detail into the setting.

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