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Review

Shadowrun Returns Review

  • First Released
    released
  • Reviewed
  • PC

Shadowrun Returns is a pleasant role-playing game with a potent setting.

Shadowrun Returns' cyberpunk vision of Seattle is simultaneously vibrant and unwelcoming. Hanging lamps and towering totems might inspire you to take a closer look, but the deeper you dig, the harsher the truth becomes. A railcar repurposed as a food truck seems quaint, but street thugs stink up the place. There's only one way to snuff out their stench, and that's to force the meatbags to soak in puddles of their own blood.

This run-down city is more of a backdrop than a focus in this strategic role-playing game, but once you've seen the central mystery through to its sinister end, it's the setting that stands above all else. The graphics engine is modest, but handsome hand-drawn backgrounds bring to life a world of remarkable style with a unique mix of past and future. In a house of ill repute, an old-fashioned upright piano and a rococo chaise lounge share space with holographic advertisements and a cybersurgery facility. Old-world rickshaws stand next to state-of-the-art motorcycles; magical talismans and bright neon signs hang on the same walls. Trolls and elves roam this world of bionic implants and crime syndicates, and these seemingly disparate parts merge into an eclectic and flavorful world. Shadowrun Returns makes you want to unlock Seattle's twisted secrets.

Unfortunately, you get the run of only a small corner of this world. Shadowrun Returns is not structurally vast, but instead ushers you down a linear path over the 12 hours or so it takes to reach its end. In fact, given the amount of time you spend speaking to Seattle's singular residents--and unraveling the murder mystery that drives the narrative--it often feels as much like a point-and-click adventure as it does an RPG. There is no voice acting, so expect to do a lot of reading, presuming the story draws you in. And there's no reason it shouldn't: your investigation has you crossing paths with a number of memorable characters with stories of their own to tell.

Even in the future, Seattle residents know to have an umbrella with them most of the time.

Among these folks is the madam Mrs. Kubota, who is fiercely protective of her girls. She chides one, accusing her of distracting her from her business, only to wipe away tears of worry the moment the girl is out of earshot. Another key character is a wide-grinning coroner who levels with you about the local cops, saying, "McKlusky wants the Ripper in a cell, sure, but he couldn't care less if it takes another dozen murders." While there are some banal lines to contend with, there is plenty of evocative dialogue like this, and few wasted words. Familiar characters and scattered allusions should make fans of the original Shadowrun video games (and the tabletop RPG) happy, but you needn't have a past relationship with this world to understand it.

As robust as the setting is, Shadowrun Returns feels like the start of something great rather than a gold mine of role-playing treasure. There are some side quests to take, but completing most of them is a matter of taking a few minutes of extra time during your main mission, or inspecting the only corner of the map there is to inspect. There's a minimum of exploration. You might find a grenade in some cranny, but there's little reason to veer off the beaten path--and few chances to do so in any case. The game guides you through its story with little fuss, leaving you to wonder what lurks within the graffiti-covered tenements, and to ponder the tensions that would lead to "Purge the Metahumans" being scrawled on the walls. Shadowrun Returns is a morsel, not a meal.

You can enter the matrix, but you can't stay there.

That isn't to say there aren't vital choices to be made. If you need to enter a warehouse, you might bribe your way in, or ask a prostitute to work her charms on a guard. There's little subtlety to these options, however. If you have enough affinity with a certain faction (corporation or gang, for instance), you choose the appropriate dialogue, and you're set; if you've got the cash, you pay the bribe, and the matter is resolved. It's a bare-bones approach to familiar role-playing tropes--so bare, in fact, that you could gain access in multiple ways in a few moments' time. Dialogue takes a similar approach. While your choices might have some effect on the outcome of the scene, your responses are more about authoring the tale of your own character than steering events toward differing destinations.

Shadowrun Returns' primary depth and replay value come from its skill tree, an intimidating array of magical abilities, hacking skills, firearm aptitudes, and more. Some of Shadowrun Returns' archetypes are understandable enough. Mages fling magic around, for instance, while riggers use mechanical drones to assist them in combat. Some skills, such as those involved with "decking," require a bit more thought, at least for those unfamiliar with the Shadowrun universe. Deckers hack into the matrix--that is, a parallel virtual universe where you fend off digital foes rather than fleshy ones. Luckily, even if you don't fancy spending karma on the related skills, the story has you exploring the digitized dimension multiple times, and you can always add a decker to your party if you prefer.

In Shadowrun Returns, the 'brothel-as-safehouse' trope is alive and well!

You can spend karma, i.e., skill points, however you like, though you'll likely home in rather quickly on how you want to build your avatar and ignore a large portion of the tree. You then put your talents to work on the battlefield, alongside a few friends the mission sends with you, or with up to three henchmen you hire to protect your backside. The turn-based combat is simple to comprehend; it's the details that make it enjoyable.

Consider this: your shaman can bring spirits to life from specified summoning points. The resulting abomination may be covered with multiple wailing heads, but more importantly, it commands the attention of nearby ghouls or guards. Given the opportunity, you can then mow down the resulting crowd of mercenaries with your shotgun, since it damages enemies adjacent to your target. (But be warned: it damages adjacent friendlies, too.) In the meanwhile, a supporting mage can improve your chances of landing shots, or grant you an additional action point per turn, while your decker rushes through the matrix, flinging energy at cyberdemons. On normal difficulty, Shadowrun Returns isn't hard, but the skill system is involved enough to give battles variety and momentum.

Like most asylums, this one is as much a prison as it is a hospital.

The challenge may be surmountable, but that doesn't mean you won't make mistakes--and in Shadowrun Returns, mistakes can be costly. In certain missions, you might spend a host of karma, engage in a litany of dialogue, and then face your foes in battle, only to lose 30 minutes or more of progress. Shadowrun Returns does not allow you to save anywhere you like, and its checkpoint system doesn't always favor your convenience or sanity. The aggravation rises if your demise is exacerbated by some odd game behavior, like a big insect refusing to budge from a doorway, or what looks like a cover spot not actually providing cover.

Shadowrun Returns is not just a role-playing game, but a creation platform, so its ongoing value isn't based only on the core content, but on promises of user-generated adventures and offerings from the development team. There are already player creations to peruse in varying states of completion, such as prop packs, tilesets, and even a remake of the SNES Shadowrun game. Intrepid imagineers will see beyond the included content and into a future of cyberpunk tales galore. But at present, Shadowrun Returns is an enjoyable role-playing game with the scent of a classic, if not the essence.

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The Good
Intriguing cyberpunk world with lots of handcrafted detail
Central mystery holds your interest
Intricate skill tree makes for diverse, entertaining combat
The Bad
Unfriendly save system
Linear structure and simplicity of exploration dull the journey
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Shadowrun Returns

About the Author

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play bass in Rock Band.
319 comments
mj1633
mj1633

it was one hell of game.reminds me old school games like Fallout 1 & 2.simple graphics but awesome story.I can't thank them enough for making such an amazing game.

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

The game is beautiful, the sound is good and the story is great, but the save system is dumb and lack of voice acting is boring, because the game is pretty well written.

suprastaruk
suprastaruk

I have been waiting for a sequel since the SNES game. After 20 years of waiting, this is the best they can come up with? oh well. Atleast it is no duke nukem.

nate1222
nate1222

I got Shadowrun Returns off Steam earlier this week. So freakin' rocks. Best RPG I've played since Divinity II Developer's Cut (GOG) or Torchlight II (Steam). I'm eagerly awaiting the Android version for my smartphone.

Telparion
Telparion

So many complaints about the save system...

The save system is part of the gameplay. It made me plan ahead, use medikits, and gave importance to my early decisions.  I even believe one could consider that as being part of the challenge of a "run". There were a few "boss fights" where I had to reload & redo it over, but overall, it made up for an even nicer experience - there was no need to end the game in one weekend, there was no need to end it up in three evenings. 

Being defeated and then trying again, made me see where I made my mistakes, better than with just quick-reloading whenever I miss an important shot.

However, because so many people complained about it... this "checkpoint" save system is likely to be removed and replaced by a traditional quick save system. 

And I am not likely to see any other checkpoint system in a RPG stuff, because of what I would describe as the "casual player's hate" about reloading and sweating, and appreciating their decisions and outcome.

With the internet vibe, complaints make more noise than congratulations. As a result, games always look to broaden their audience, and most things in ten years ago "sound" unacceptable whereas they were also here for gameplay, duration, for the decision system to shine. The save system was for me an "acceptable flaw", once I got used to it.


xGarrettThiefX
xGarrettThiefX

If only this was open world like Fallout Brotherhood Tactics and the like [sigh]

hitomo
hitomo

stan_boyd 5pts6 days ago

then go play your real games, you call of duty 22, and assassins creed 37 I'll keep playing games that do something new whether its an independent game or a big developer taking a risk.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

wtf? I played games lke this 20 years ago ... and I can make better graphics, just saying ... Looks like a mod ... I dont Need to like this ... if they dont want to invest in good graphic Artist or programmers they screwed you

I would lke to see new ideas, but not this ... the new UFO was a good start iin the right direction of bringing back good ol games, sure it was to casual and linear, but miles better then this ... seriously its 2013

Crush_Project
Crush_Project

@jampoz @hitomo whoa whoa whoa.

lemme stop you right there.  Go over to the Wasteland 2 area and look at all the features they include in that game that this game does not have, and there was less then $1m in difference for cost of their projects.

daniel4982
daniel4982

@Crush_Project @jampoz @hitomo 

It was $1.1 million which admittedly may not seem like much on its own, but when you consider it's a 61 percent difference, the fact that Wasteland 2 has more content suddenly seems a lot more reasonable.

jampoz
jampoz

@hitomo Well it's a small enterprise, the genre doesn't get lots of love. No group could do better or they would already.
At least they tried, gave us a chance to taste the genre once again.

CaptWaffle
CaptWaffle

This is in response to someone earlier that didn't like VanOrd's reviews in the past..... I usually don't check WHO the reviewer is since I usually look at like 10-20 different reviews for a given game.... that said: I don't know why game reviewing sites don't have multiple reviews per game..... have a couple different people review a given game to eliminate outliers.  I know you could just go to Metacritic and they essentially do it for you.... I just always wondered why they didn't average 5 scores instead of having a single person's opinion as the review.  That's my 2 cents (which is easily worth 10-15 bucks nowadays)

wavelength121
wavelength121

@CaptWaffle Or, you could just take the review for what it is and make your own big-boy decision about the game using good old fashioned consumer research.

666TRYME666
666TRYME666

Wow. So much different from the first. Obviously not a sequel which is a good thing.

carolino
carolino

first "indie" game i finished... can only max out 1 tree or hibrid 0.5 tree  x 2


art story and music made me go forward

gameplay  custumization and legth lack imo

jknight5422
jknight5422

I can't believe they didn't produce a 40+ hour single player campaign.  We got a long campaign for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  They really should have taken a page from the book of NWN & produced a gigantic campaign, perhaps focusing on just a few classes rather than everything.

The mods for NWN weren't all that great either.  I tried many & I think my favorite were the "bridge" modules that joined NWN 1 with 2 (not sure they made a bridge for NWN 2 to 3, but it would have been awesome I'm sure).

Can't help but feel that the game is half-baked, like Microsoft's 360 Shadowrun...just gives you a taste rather than the whole game.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

@jknight5422 well maybe it was just harder for these guys to make a long campaign since it was a much smaller team than the deus ex team, this is an indie title made with a 1.8 million dollar budget as opposed to a square enix AAA title with a 60 million dollar budget.

jknight5422
jknight5422

@stan_boyd @jknight5422 Right, but I don't think NWN's budget was that big.  Heck, even in Planescape: Torment had a pretty lengthy campaign.  I hope someone will pickup the engine & produce a large campaign with it, but I saw NWN & though there were detailed, home grown modules produced, they weren't as good.  I just don't have confidence in the community to take SRR to the next level.  Maybe they need another $1.8 mil in kickstarter money to produce a larger campaign?

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

@jknight5422 @stan_boyd well they are already working on another campaign that will take place in berlin, and with money they got from sales they can prob make it bigger. Or maybe they will just keep making more free smaller campaigns after all I got enough karma in the first campaign that I was pretty much completely decked out on my computer skills since I was a decker, and shadowrun was always a game about specialists if they had made it longer I would have been a decker/rigger/mage/shaman/streetsam which is totally not what shadowrun pnp is about.

Emraldo
Emraldo

 @jknight5422 Neverwinter Nights, the game made by Bioware of all people? As their follow-up to insanely popular titles like Planetscape Torment and the Baldur's Gate series? Neverwinter Nights had a massive budget for the time it was released.

jknight5422
jknight5422

@stan_boyd @jknight5422  

That is the biggest problem with these types of games is the min/max bit where people will power-level.  But what is it that makes the PNP game fun? Why not incorporate the answer to that question into the video game rather than maxing out the skill sets & then making the game too easy?  Otherwise, I'm trying to understand why anyone would care to play Shadowrun if it's overpowering after 12 hours & there's nothing left to do.  A 40 hour specialized campaign (possibly a string of missions) would be fine with me.  I just want to feel what a Shadowrun experience is like rather than just read about the setting.

jknight5422
jknight5422

@Emraldo @jknight5422  

Yeah...They SRR team didn't have to make a campaign to be all things to all people however.  Do one large single-player campaign for a specific role and leave the engine for other players to do something else or leave it for sequels.  This is not hard.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

@jknight5422 @Emraldo so which role should they have done then? Deckers well then all the magic users would be unhappy, Shaman, well then all the mages and riggers would be unhappy. Street Samurai well still the same problem. Thats like making a d&d game and only letting you play as a fighter or only has a rogue or only as a mage.

xGarrettThiefX
xGarrettThiefX

@jknight5422 " I can't believe they didn't produce a 40+ hour single player campaign " I know - what a total utter let down !

Urizen316
Urizen316

I can't stand your voice I can't stand your voice I can't stand your WHY DO YOU STILL REVIEW?! Your pronunciation is atrocious and your way of reviewing is outdated.

C'mon Gamespot, have a second opinion segment or something, let 2 reviewers do this job, I haven't trusted VanOrd for 6 years. All his reviews are horrible. Give him a paygrade and put a 100 ft restraining order on microphones and keyboards.

snxx
snxx

1 - You can't stand his voice? Then READ the written review! Done, his voice is magically gone! Who knew it would be so easy to solve that problem, right?

2 - His way of reviewing is outdated? Interesting... What could accomplish that feat, of making the way someone constructs a critique "outdated"? Care to elaborate?

3 - You haven't trust VanOrd reviews for 6 years? Then skip his reviews and look for your information anywhere else. Yeah, it sucks, but I don't trust Petit and McShea reviews and I don't see them going anywhere else. That or, if you care enough, actually provide constructive feedback so he may consider it and see if it'll actually improve his reviewing.

4 - Interesting fact: Kevin's review is pretty tuned to the general opinion about this game. It's not like just went around saying nonsense.

5 - Also interesting is your opinion that Kevin's reviews are horrible. General opinion around here is that he's actually the best reviewer Gamespot has to offer. If you think his reviews are horrible, so what other(s) reviewer(s) is(are) keeping you around?

Sardinar
Sardinar

Good for respite until Cyberpunk 2077. Oh, I really want for there to be more media in the cyberpunk genre - but it's really hard to pull off. 

Evilnator
Evilnator

Overall, I liked this game, except for the obvious flaws such as the save system, inventory system, as well as the lack of exploration. I am now waiting for something amazing to come out of the modding community.

Shadowrun Returns More Info

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  • First Released
    released
    • Android
    • iPhone/iPod
    • + 3 more
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    Shadowrun Returns is a 2D turn-based single player role playing game with an emphasis on storytelling and tactical combat.
    7.4
    Average Rating386 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Shadowrun Returns
    Developed by:
    Harebrained Schemes LLC
    Published by:
    Harebrained Schemes LLC
    Genre(s):
    Role-Playing