Posted: October 8, 2014
Hype and expectation are funny things. They can invite even the most rational and level-headed into wish fulfulment FAR beyond the truth, and we all know how prevalent that is in video gaming. I honestly believe that this game's reputation absolutely suffers from precisely this, especially from the view of some players.
So, Shadowrun Returns - the question is "does it", or rather "does it REALLY warrant the return?"
Let's start with the expectation part I mentioned. When this game was proposed, those that were fans of the old tabletop RPG and the old SNES classic sat up and took notice, and for good reason. Nostalgia aside, both are truly excellent games in their own rights. The downside to this is that it tends to set the bar VERY high, expectation-wise.
Fast forward to the game's release, and there were certainly mixed views; much of the criticism dealt with there being less on the action and more on the text and story. Also, length was cited too, or rather, lack of it. On the face of it, very valid criticisms, except that many of these either forgot or didn't understand WHAT the game was achieving - a new version of the classic games, adhering closely to the rules - in short, Shadowrun RETURNS. The clue's in the name. It does what it says on the tin.
So, there's an abundance of text and story, and less of the action itself, and yes, it is a bit short. While they are valid concerns EVERY game buyer should consider before dropping their cash, context is also equally important. Apologies for this slightly overblown introduction, but I felt it valid to lay this down at the outset. Let's get on with the review.
If you know what Shadowrun is (or was), then there's little point in going over this and you can skim to the last paragraph. If you don't, then as I've already said, there's the classic tabletop "D&D style" game - a pure, unadulterated old-school pencil and paper RPG. The hook here is that elves, orcs, goblins and all the staples of fantasy exist, but the one major difference is everything is a futuristic sci-fi bent. It probably sounds completely at odds with one another, but it works so very, very well, both in lore and in combat ... ESPECIALLY in combat. You can still hack 'n' slash if you want to, you can still use magic if you want to, but add to the mix firearms and a complete veneer of futuristic and modern tech, and you have Shadowrun.
It rather goes without saying that anyone who has spent any time playing old-school tabletop RPG knows that story and text are perhaps the premier parts, and that is the case here, naturally. But the question to the critics remains "ah, but it is any good?" Thankfully, the answer is "yes, it is".
I confess I'm a little jaded. I've been around gaming since the very start, and have never had a period when I've not been involved. I've seen a lot, played a lot, own a lot, and have even worked in the industry (albeit relatively briefly). For the most part, I care little for story in games - most times I'm merely concerned with the mechanics over everything else. I couldn't tell you the story of Halo, for example, as it never gripped me in any way. So, why on earth am I saying this game's story is good? Because it DID grip me right from the off. It works. You know the story's working on you when you can start to identify and remember the characters. So, being heavy on the story is an ASSET to this game, and in no way a hindrance. I shan't spoil it in any way, but it's a fairly standard story, but it does it pretty well, so in summary I don't see the critique of "too much story, too little action" in any way a bad thing unless it's REALLY not your thing.
Now, onto length. Yes, it IS relatively short. However, you should at least consider the reasoning behind the game's existence - it would never have seen the light of day AT ALL were it not for crowd-funding. Sure, you can claim they made big promises and ran out of resources and/or time, but the conclusion here is that putting all those aside the end product is pretty damned good. As stated before, it very much does what it says on the tin. So, if you don't mind quantity being less if the quality's good or reasonable, then there is no issue here. What does render the length argument completely invalid is one thing - WORKSHOP support. There's TONS of user-generated content out there which not only mimics what tabletop RPGs are all about, but the inclusion of mod tools (which I haven't tried) ensure that it's pretty easy to dole out a good scenario, and it certainly shows. So, if you finish the game and want more, you won't be disappointed at all.
The combat is best described as being very similar to XCOM. It's turn-based with the dual-turn set of movement/action phases per character, or a mixture of those: you move, you shoot/swing/etc, and your turn's over. Your playfield is peppered with objects that you can utilize as cover, with the shield icon offering how good that cover is. This all offers a lovely tactical play where you don't just consider dumping your character up against the enemy and swing away at them, but you have to consider balancing cover with line of sight, flanking, and a number of other little tricks to make the best use of the battle.
Character skills are great. As you'd rightly expect from a combination fantasy/sci-fi, it lends you a VERY wide palette of things to mess around with. Fire-based magic attacks? Sure. Rifles, pistols, or SMGs? Yup, have at them. Fire-based attacks WITH your pistol? Yup, that too. It does the Shadowrun rules well, and the interface is clear and intuitive and you'll have no issues picking it up quickly.
Visually, the game offers a very nice art-style that does the medium justice. Backgrounds are all pre-rendered and hand-drawn (or at least they LOOK hand-drawn) in a graphic novel style which suits perfectly. Nothing I can fault here at all. Musically, the soundstrack is really good. I'm not a big fan of music soundtracks - I'm not one who will listen to them outside of the game. To me, they're a background that serves to provide ingredient to the recipe. They should illustrate without hindering the game in any way. Not only does the style and mood of the music suit perfectly, but it's not repetitive, and remains interesting without hindering in ANY way. If you're someone who does listen to game music absent of the game, you might well find this one very appealing.
So, final summary time. Is it worth purchasing? Yes. If you are expecting a good turn-based old-shool RPG, it's worth it. Steam Workshop really underlines this, value-wise. The only caveat I would make is that if you're either not sure whether this sort of game's for you, or the length of the official game really is an issue for you, I'd thoroughly recommend waiting for a sale - it's still worth picking up.
Final note I'm doing with all my reviews now: I'm giving a "what do I think the game's worth?" instead of any score or other metric, as I think that's the most valuable metric anyone could have. I'd say this deserves a £9 (or your regional equivalent).