Review

Shadowrun: Hong Kong Review

  • First Released Aug 20, 2015
    released
  • PC

Big trouble in future China

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Shadowrun, as a universe, is already a great marriage of two very separate, very Western fantasy scenarios; one part D&D-inspired elves-and-dwarves witchcraft and wizardry, one part William Gibson-brand gritty, street-level cyberpunk. The series has done a fantastic job exploring both of these aspects through several games now, but with Shadowrun: Hong Kong, the series adopts an Eastern flavor, incorporating a classic facet of the cyberpunk genre for the first time in its nearly 30 year tenure.

The change-up is welcome, in part because not much else about Shadowrun has changed since 2013’s well-received Shadowrun Returns. The focus in Shadowrun Hong Kong is exactly where it belongs, and that’s on the storytelling. Narrative, character development, and world-building are king here. The plotting is a little uninspiring: You’re an ex-con, recently released, now trying to make an honest living in Seattle, when you get a call from your estranged foster father to return to China. Not even five minutes after stepping onto Chinese soil, you find out your foster father is missing, presumed dead, and there’s an APB out to arrest you, your brother, and anyone seen with you that evening. And by “arrest,” of course, they mean “brutally murder on sight.”

Just when you thought it was safe to walk down a back alley alone again.
Just when you thought it was safe to walk down a back alley alone again.

So begins the tale of how you became a Shadowrunner, a member of the vast, unstoppable network of scrappy cybercriminal underdogs fighting the questionably good fight against the cabal of mega corporations running the world’s lower classes even deeper into the dirt. In another universe, this could very easily be the futuristic brother of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, yet another tale of a low-level underling killing their way into the mantle of boss in the name of revenge, just with the twist of being able to create your own character out of the multiple fantasy races and RPG classes offered at the outset. For occasionally long swaths of the game, that’s exactly what it is. But Shadowrun has far too weighty a pedigree to make it that simple.

The focus in Shadowrun Hong Kong is exactly where it belongs, and that’s on the storytelling.

Asking me to be your right hand man? Oh, no, ma’am, I’ve played Streets of Rage.
Asking me to be your right hand man? Oh, no, ma’am, I’ve played Streets of Rage.

Most of your time in Shadowrun is spent playing it strictly as a point-and-click adventure, running messy errands for your Triad boss, a badass old buzzard named Kindly Cheng. Missions involve no small amount of investigation, collecting clues from crime scenes, interviewing eyewitnesses, organizing thefts, making back-alley deals for information, negotiating trades and delivering messages, in ink or blood, to the worst brand of scumbag on the planet.When words won’t do the trick—though quite often, they can—you turn to the sword. The turn-based isometric gameplay of Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s predecessors is back, unchanged, and things get tense and brutal from the very first fight, when two potential allies take a bullet to the head before you even remember their names. It’s actually a bit unforgiving for folks jumping into the series for the first time, which is a possibility, considering this is a complete disconnect story-wise from the previous titles. The “surely, you’ve done this before” expectation is jarring when you get thrown in at the deep end.

There’s a small tutorial for basic combat, and anyone who’s played XCOM will pick up on things quickly; it’s more or less the same system, with some melee combat and magical summoning thrown in for good measure. Combat puts you on an invisible grid, with each character in your crew free to attack, heal, move around a specified distance each turn at the cost of Ability Points the more elaborate the maneuver. The mix of fantasy and cyberpunk comes into play here too. A shotgun-wielding orc might find himself facing off against a human casting a fire spell, providing a distraction so a katana-wielding samurai can slip behind the enemy and get critical melee damage. Winning depends entirely on tactical prowess, getting characters to cover, getting damage bonuses for flanking, slowing your enemies before they even manage to get their turn. The reward, regardless: money and Karma points, which can be spent upgrading your main character’s abilities.

The Matrix has you…
The Matrix has you…

Even then, it’s both blessing and curse that, more often than not, you’re spending your time reading and talking to NPCs rather than killing street punks and corporate stooges. Many of the game’s missions involve making your Shadowrunner talk their way out of a situation instead of fighting their way out.

It wouldn’t be cyberpunk without some measure of hacking, however, and the Matrix-- the system by which Shadowrunners can hack into computer systems—does fill a little bit of the gap there for action, though not necessarily in the most accessible and enjoyable of ways. It’s an isometric stealth mini-game, essentially, where your avatar in the Matrix must sneak past security systems to get to a specific node of information or a killswitch for a computer system. The actual gameplay in these sections is given a quick splash screen explanation, and then you’re on your own. It gets easier once you level up, but the game is notoriously stingy with the Karma points required to do so, even after the game’s most hectic fights. It’s almost universally better figuring out the non-hacking alternative, of which one always exists.

The turn-based isometric gameplay of Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s predecessors is back, unchanged, and things get tense and brutal from the very first fight.

Saints Row: Orc Out Of Hell
Saints Row: Orc Out Of Hell

It might seem counter-intuitive for a game trying to be engaging for 15–20 hours not to break up the reading with a fight--and without a doubt, to some people, that’s exactly what may happen--but not when the writing is this good. Evil men and women will often earn pity or at least grudging respect, and you are given the options through dialogue to respond to those emotions in kind. Mysteries often have several alternative solutions, depending on who you talk to and just how down and dirty you want to get. Sometimes, it’s worth talking to an NPC just to hear their story. Much of the playtime depends less on how many side missions you take on, and more on how much time you spend getting to know the people around you, even though it’s possible you may never meet them again. Fleeting as these interactions may be, they offer some of the best storytelling moments in the game. One of my favorites is told by an Irish elf who leaves their faction to create a new Tir Na Nog--a realm of eternal youth. Her purpose is really just to hand you a key to a sewer, and yet I spent 10 minutes chatting with her about her dealings with the new IRA, and how some of the creatures of Irish legend happen to be real.

The story streamlines after some time when the real plot presents itself, though this introduces a scary new element of the citizenry of Hong Kong all experiencing the same terrifying nightmare, and falling victim to homicidal insanity. It uses Chinese myth and spirituality in an interesting way, albeit with a few predictable elements. Players who have already taken this trip with Shadowrun Returns and its expansion may find themselves wanting a bit with the gameplay, and newbies will have quite the learning curve to surmount, but if you see the gameplay as an adequate means to experience the more satisfying narrative end, Shadowrun: Hong Kong more than earns your attention.

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The Good
Stellar art direction, even with limitations
Rock solid cyberpunk storytelling
Gameplay is satisfyingly brutal with time
One of the better examples of morality systems
The Bad
Building characters is frustratingly slow
Not terribly friendly to novices
Hacking mechanic is a bit tedious
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Most of Justin Clark’s Shadowrun experience was on SNES and Genesis. Most of that time was spent getting shot to death by dudes with pink mohawks. He is glad to see things haven’t changed much.
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Zaphod83

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Just finished Dragonfall (just...WOW) and I'm installing this right now.

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Hurvl

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Another Kickstarter success leading to another great game, Harebrained definitely doesn't pull any hit and (Shadow)run Schemes.

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Pierce_Sparrow

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It's a really excellent addition to the series and the redone Matrix running is pretty welcome. While I didn't find the game all that different, even in terms of character and storytelling (and I still think Dragonfall has the best narrative thus far), it is highly enjoyable. It feels like they made peaceful solutions more of an option, which is nice. Overall very pleasing and demonstrates that HBS has a great grasp on what makes Shadowrun so fantastic. I really can't wait to see what they have planned for Battletech.

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velcroboy

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I had given up on a review from GS. I'm pleased you guys got around to it. It's such a good series. I would love for Harebrained to be the next CDPR in terms of success. They certainly are in tune with and listen carefully to their fans in much the same fashion.

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Etagloc

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the story and mission setup lacks abit compared to Dragonfall.

but it is a great addition to the series, and between 7-8 would be my vote for a score.

(I felt insanely overpowered in this game compared to the other 2)

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IJONOI

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Dear gamespot. All them pointless videos you make are resources that could be used on things people actually want. Such as reviews.

Anyway.

Good review. Game looks interesting!

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Godlikan

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Good game, nice writing.

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ArunabhaGoswami

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Personally I'll take talking my way out over fighting my way out every time. This seems perfect for me.

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Hurvl

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@ArunabhaGoswami: That's my preferred playstyle as well, especially as the combat usually is the weakest link in RPG's. It's also more satisfying to get out of a situation peacefully than just killing everyone every time and I'm a sucker for voice acting and/or alternative dialogue choices.

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DangdoutX

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i keep crashing every couple minute, is something wrong with my PC? or does anyone else experience the same problems?

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WereCatf

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@DangdoutX: A quick look around the Internets says the game is pretty buggy at this point, so it could totally be a bug. Though, I didn't notice anyone complaining about it crashing; the bugs were more about in-game stuffs. On the other hand, we have no way of knowing if there is something wrong with your PC or if you've gotten yourself malware or viruses on your system -- such things can totally render things unstable when you least expect it. I'd say your best bet is to check your own PC first, update all the drivers and the OS and quit any extra apps you may have running in the background and seeing if the problem persists.

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DangdoutX

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@WereCatf: its possible because of virus, coz when i say crash i dont meant the game, but the whole PC, i have to force restart my PC every time it crash and not by soft restart either, everything freeze so i have to used the power button and hold it for a long time till the power is out, since even the restart button is not even working, thats how bad the freeze are

but it only happen for this game and this game alone, i play super hardcore game that require lots of processing power like total war in 4K res and not a single glitch happen, only this game and this game alone, even when i try to uninstall it my PC crash, so i just delete the entire folder

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RogerioFM

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Edited By RogerioFM

Amazing game the best of the trilogy by far, even if the main plot of the first one was better, this one is an improvement all around, just be warned, for some reason there are a few people that thought that there was too much dialogue in the game, although I don't agree, since this is an RPG after and most of the dialogue is world building be warned.

The main story isn't all that great or at least it takes too long to be really important in the game, but the companions and the universe are amazing, even the vendors are great and have some interesting side story to tell, really, very recommended. I have my hopes up for Battletech which is being made by the same people

If you love cyberpunk, if you love rpgs, if you love characters, get this game.

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apolloooo

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@RogerioFMi love all the characters. all the vendors and side characters are awesome too. my favorite member is probalby ratcher or gaichu, and the vendors are ka fai family and ambrose:

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deactivated-58ce94803a170

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O snaps, Shadow Run is back.

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BuzzLiteBeer

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I enjoyed the previous two Shadowruns primarily for the cyberpunk setting and general aesthetic and game-play. My major gripe with this revived franchise is the lack of depth and un-inspired linearity. I understand that it's low budget indie material, but I wish it would receive some attention in terms of complexity.

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apolloooo

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@BuzzLiteBeer: well the mission settings makes sense because you're a runner, not an explorer/adventurer that move town to town. but yeah, one thing this game improves is how you can tackle any mission anytime after you get it.

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nuclearbomb2000

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I tried to like this game.

But the characters are ugly as sin.

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TxuZai

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@nuclearbomb2000: Really...that why you don't play.....kinda makes you stupid.

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nuclearbomb2000

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@txuzai:

Well you didn't have to be rude about it.

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velcroboy

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@nuclearbomb2000@txuzai: I wouldn't call him stupid but that is a pretty lame excuse to write off the game. I mean the rest of Hong Kong and the music are beautiful. And also it's super fun.

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Shadowrun: Hong Kong More Info

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  • First Released Aug 20, 2015
    released
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    7.9
    Average Rating30 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Shadowrun: Hong Kong
    Developed by:
    Harebrained Schemes LLC
    Published by:
    Harebrained Schemes LLC
    Genre(s):
    Role-Playing