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Published July 26, 2013

Shadowrun Returns is the game that proves Kickstarter-funded studio games work.

The success of Double Fine's campaign for their adventure game (now called Broken Age) back in March of last year seemed to spur a while bunch of established developers to come out of the woodwork looking for crowd funding for various projects. Shadowrun Returns is the first one of those seeing the light of day. There have been other Kickstarter funded games like FTL and Star Command, but this is the first one released with a full development team behind it instead of one or two coders. That it's come out at all goes some way to alleviating the sudden panic I had back in November of last year when I realised I'd thrown getting on for $100 at various projects that I suddenly realised I hadn't pre-ordered. I'd just handed over money to help make something. SR isn't vapourware, Jordan Weisman and co haven't taken the money and run, it's here, and I've had the chance to sit down and play it - which fills me with a lot more confidence about the other things I backed.

As someone who hasn't played the SNES, Megadrive, or pen-and-paper Shadowrun games, my interest in backing this came more from a fondness for the old Fallout and Infinity Engine games that I sunk a lot of hours into back in the late 90s and early 00s. SR is absolutely perfect in that regard. It isn't fair to say it takes nods from them or pays homage to them though; it looks and feels exactly like those games. Yes, the graphics are higher resolution, and the presentation is a little bit slicker, but it's all tilesets, text conversations (no voice acting here) and turn-based. It is entirely designed to cater to a demographic that mainstream publishers have long since decided isn't worth the bother. 

The Shadowrun universe's premise is that, in 2011, an event called The Awakening causes magic to return to the world, and brings with it a host of creatures previously considered mythological. The same event caused the splintering of humanity into several different species (referred to as metahumans) that correspond to the archetypes normally seen in fantasy novels - orcs, elves, trolls, dwarves, and humans live alongside each other. On top of all that, technology has continued advancing, and corporations have grown more and more powerful, so the world of Shadowrun can accommodate scenarios as diverse as fighting the undead by summoning elemental spirits to conducting raids on secret research labs using a gun that's wired to the user's brain. 

The central story is exactly as promised during development - a murder mystery. You start out flat broke in a shoddy, rundown apartment and get a phone call from a dead friend offering you a tidy sum to find his killer. From there, you're thrown into Seattle's underworld of serial killers, corporate espionage, and gang wars. It's about four-parts science fiction to one-part noir, and as you'd probably hope, it's well written and populated with interesting characters. In the first scene in Seattle, you're introduced to a corrupt orc police officer, a good-natured dwarf coroner, and a chap hiding in a corpse locker that will be familiar to those who have played the 1993 SNES game. It does an excellent job of introducing you to the setting if you're not familiar with it, but doesn't fall into the trap of hand-holding. The first hour or so of the game also does a good job of gradually introducing the various game mechanics; by the time you're into the meat of the story you'll be more than familiar with buying and selling equipment, hiring other runners to accompany you on jobs, and combat.

Combat seems to take a lot of inspiration from 2K's recent XCOM reboot. Characters get action points (you start out with two) and can use them to move, fire, cast spells, and use other special abilities. Partial and full cover are there for your runners to hide behind, though the effect is less pronounced than in XCOM - in that title, standing out of cover is a death sentence, and here it's more of an inconvenience. As SR is all about the story, it makes sense for the combat to be less brutal - here it's fun, but you've really got to go out of your way to lose any of the encounters. In fact, the only problem with the combat being as close in style to the XCOM is that if you've played both you'll find yourself missing the ability to rotate the camera around to get a better view of the action. It's a minor inconvenience, and the combat areas are generally laid out in such a way as it isn't a problem; given the time and budget constraints it's perfectly understandable that it's not in there. The only other complaint to be had with the combat lies in how the interface shows you where you're able to move to - by default, it will show you how far you can move for one action point, but will change up to how far you can move for two or three if you move your mouse far enough away. The cursor always shows you how many action points moving to it is going to take, but it's easy enough to lose track of it and burn two points when you only meant to use one.

Fil5000
I've been writing words on the internet for years at www.tatp.org, but until I came to themittani.com, no one bothered to read them. I like robots, space and the internet and am therefore perfect for the MWO desk.

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