Shadowrun Returns is as much a success story in terms of justifying the Kickstarter model, as it is a fantastic product and revival of the Shadowrun brand. Funded by and for fans, the creators were free to make the game as specific and true to the nature of the franchise as possible, without being indebted to corporate sponsors. Indeed, the effort was lead by Jordan Weisman, who actually created the original tabletop game. As a successfully released product, it managed to amass a great reputation among gamers and critics alike. It is yet another solid entry in the the real-time roleplaying genre, following off of the very successful resuscitation of XCOM with Enemy Unknown.
Shadowrun Returns ships with the campaign “Dead Man's Switch,” in which the protagonist must avenge the death of a former compatriot, Sam Watts. From there, the player is given free reign to explore the Seattle of 2050, in which magic is real, and people can cybernetically modify their bodies to give themselves additional abilities. Gameplay is fairly linear, although there are several optional missions that can be undertaken to gain further experience points, known as “karma.” Eventually the plot ties into the hunt for the so-called “Emerald City Ripper,” confrontations with the Universal Brotherhood (a thinly veiled future Scientology cult), and a surprisingly complex narrative, that even features a cameo by Jake Armitage of the original SNES Shadowrun game.
SRR is an isometric turn-based RPG, featuring numerous character types as introduced by the original pen-and-paper game. Deckers are the only player type that can enter the Matrix, a simplified version of cyberspace, while the Rigger class can be used to deploy robots. Other types include Mage, Adept, Street Samurai, and Shaman, all featuring various buffs to their attack style. The player appearance can be customized at the outset using a number of preset characteristics.
No matter what character type the player chooses, they will have further access to mercenaries that open up the play style. Karma is gained by completing missions, and can be spent in a simplistic skill tree, giving players the ability to improve whichever skillset they choose. Many guns, armor types, cyberdeck upgrades, and magic spells can be bought at stores in-between missions, most notably in the hub bar, “The Seamstress Union.” This hub fills with colorful characters over the course of the campaign that will become integral to the feel of the world. Amusingly, this is where players will also encounter characters modeled after top-tier kickstarters with colorful names such as the equipment vendor, “Eric Mersmann.”
Gameplay is truly exceptional. Although seemingly simplistic, it offers a large degree of freedom in how to approach each battle, so that every play through feels uniquely different. Different character classes allow the player to truly strategize how to best lay traps, deploy grenades, summon magical creatures to aid in battle, hack turrets or other helpful devices, and interact with the environment in many fulfilling ways. In some ways cyberspace feels a bit tacked on (it wasn't originally intended to be included), and yet is presented nicely and brings its own set of challenges such as defeating AI enemies and hacking nodes.
Enemies can be brutally difficult, challenging the player to utilize all their abilities in efficient ways. The game saves only at the start of a battle, and it is highly recommended to stock up on medkits and player revival units. Overall, the pace of battle is incredibly addictive and rewarding, and makes up much of the gameplay, with some light exploration and investigation sequences. The difficulty of enemy encounters ramps considerably as it moves into the finale, with the inclusion of a new invulnerable enemy type that essentially must be killed twice.
The game's music is very catchy, composed of a soundscape that is suitably dark and forboding, as befits the dystopic future. Composers Marshall Parker and Sam Powell return from the original SNES Shadowrun release.
The art-style of SRR fits perfectly with the dark cyberpunk aesthetic, and feels detailed and personable in glorious hand-drawn 2D. There is also an option to switch on high resolution textures. Character models are simplistic, but reflect changes of armor and weapons. It feels like a lot of care went into making each character the player encounters personable and memorable. Sadly, there is no voice acting, and although there are a number of glitches in the final product, none of them truly detract from the experience, especially considering the the independent nature of the product.
The true lasting power of Shadowrun Returns will come as fans begin releasing new campaigns, using the included campaign creator. Already, fans have created a number of unique adventures, including a remake of the original SNES game using the updated engine.
Shadowrun Returns releases today on Android and iOS devices, and was previously released on PC. The game is perfectly designed for touchscreens, simply swapping out the point and click of the mouse with the touch anywhere aspect of portable devices.