Shadowrun Returns - faithful to the source, but lacking in some ways.
Shadowrun Returns skews a little old-school with its strict adherence to a top-down isometric point-of-view, and no ability to rotate the camera or zoom-in very far. This keeps the sprites quite simplistic and the character models are rendered against some painstakingly hand-crafted backdrops. The result is a sort of visual fusion of the SNES "Shadowrun" game, Baldur's Gate, and more modern crafting tools. While the graphics are suitable for the intent conveyed, this is far from a High-Def title and it is just quite difficult to pick out key elements given the lack of a real zoom feature. This results in more than a couple instances of "find-the-sprite" for a key terminal or locker.
Oddly enough there is no voice acting in this game, at all. Perhaps this was a conscious decision to keep costs down. Perhaps it was an overlooked (but incredibly common) feature of modern gaming. Perhaps Harebrained Schemes wants the focus to be on the story and leave it to the consumer's imagination. Regardless, the lack of sound along with the very bland music, does not do much to express the atmosphere that the graphics create.
Where I think Shadowrun Returns both shines and falls, is in the actual gameplay. The customization of "The Runner" is quite easy and there are a multitude of options to explore on subsequent playthroughs. The methods of combat will vary based on the character choices in terms of skills and attributes, and this is faithful to the source game. The actual combat harkens back to turn-based shooters such as Fallout with its strong emphasis on providing hit-miss percentages to the gamer. The player must also consider elements of line-of-sight, character conditions and cover. Playing a magic-based class is much more satisfying as those classes present a number of options for engaging an enemy – tossing a fireball is always a hoot – whereas melee is difficult and simplistic. Decking is sadly not a lot of fun, and it is more of a chore to muddle through in the storyline. This part of the game feels a little half-finished, and I hope that it will be improved with patches or user-generated content.
Probably the largest complaint most gamers will have is due to the linear nature of the game. There is no opportunity to actually explore the environs of Seattle, circa 2050. The Shadowrun universe is a very interesting and dangerous neo-noir future, and a gamer could not help but feel that a sandbox version would be a huge success. Harebrained Schemes is clearly banking on user-created scenarios to flesh out the opportunities for the exploration, and we must not forget this is not a full-priced AAA game.
Despite the setbacks, Shadowrun Returns has a very steady and appropriate level-of-difficulty throughout. As well, the storyline is interesting enough to make a gamer keep playing for the first run through. I must confess that I was a big fan of the Shadowrun game on the Super Nintendo long ago in my youth. Perhaps I am examining this game through the eyes of nostalgia - maybe it is because I have read many of the sourcebooks and fiction novels taking place in the Shadowrun universe - but I had very high hopes and expectations for this game. I cannot say that Shadowrun Returns crushed those hopes, but I cannot call it a true success. Yet.