Friday, January 31, 2014

Sketched Game: Shadowrun Returns

Get out your Fetishes and Drones, we're playing Shadowrun Returns!
In the world of Shadowrun Returns, you are a Shadowrunner: someone who will do any dirty job for the right amount of money. One of your friends from way back is dead, and you have to find out who killed him for a big payoff! Can you weed out the culprit in this futuristic, fantastic, and filthy world?

Shadowrun Returns is a futuristic cyberpunk fantasy noir thriller. FUTURISTIC. CYBERPUNK. FANTASY. NOIR. THRILLER. There is no part of that that doesn't excite me. It's got Elves jacking into the matrix and Orcs summoning spirits and Dwarves controlling drones and street samurai all in a seedy underbelly noir rapport. You can bet your sweet Dwarven ass I'm interested. It's also a turn-based-strategy game, which – considering I'm usually an action/platformer/shooter kind of guy – concerned me. After playing it, though, I got completely addicted for a good couple of weeks. Man, I guess now I'll have to tryout that whole X-COM thing, huh? 

Shadowrun is a fun, enthralling game that will suck you in. It's a pretty standard noir story. You're basically a down n' out PI investigating your friend's murder. Along with the combat, you also talk to people and interview suspects, and generally think your way through adventure game-play elements. It's reminiscent of games like Mass Effect and Fallout, as there's a system for choosing how you want to respond in a given situation or conversation. I don't think it makes much of a difference in most aspects, but it's a pretty good illusion of choice and provides a solid reason to play through several times. 

You're given a huge variety of different things you can be. Along with the different races, you can choose your own specialty: control drones, jack into computers, create spells and shoot fireballs, summon beasts from 'fetishes', or just use good old-fashioned guns and swords. You can even get parts of your body augmented with machines! There's a ton of freedom in what you can be. And since it's a team-based TBS game, it allows you to pick a bunch of different characters and try out varying play styles. Probably the hardest part is picking the perfectly balanced team for a mission. For my main character I had a human drone controller, but next play-through I might try the magic stuff. 

Being a noir story, I was hoping it would lean more towards story than game, but that's sadly not the case. There's a pretty good twist-middle (not a twist-ending). I say that because you basically solve the case halfway through, but because this is a game, you spend the rest of the time hunting down and killing the big boss. Because of course it needs a big boss fight. If they really wanted a solid story, there's no reason they needed the whole second half of the game. It just needlessly extends it. Then again it's not like I didn't have fun playing that second half, it just felt like the last ten minutes of a regular noir movie extended into 10 hours. I think it could have been done much better.

Even though the story isn't as tight as I want it to be, Shadowrun gives me a better noir experience than I've received from any other game. I've never felt more like a thug who will take any dirty job just to get some quick cash. Other games try this with a morality system, but a lot of times the choices are too wildly extreme: like in the original Bioshock (however much I love it) the decision boiled down to whether you want to murder children or not. But, more than that, it doesn't give you a good enough reason to be bad. Most games don't want you to have a bad experience, so even if the evil side offers you more money, you'll still have enough if you go the way of the good. But with Shadowrun, there was a point in which I needed to complete my main quest and I was bleeding cash. Even though there was an option to go the moral route, I needed that money. Good job Shadowrun, for making me feel like a low-down scoundrel.

The only problem I have with the gameplay is how long battles can take. There's no saving except at the end of levels, and if it's an especially hard level or your enemy has a huge team, you might be looking at a couple of hours between save points. That can be steep if you don't have a lot of free time on your hands. This is not a game you can pick up and play for 15 minutes.

I love the art style. There are no voice actors or fancy pre-rendered cut-scenes, but the world is dripping with seedy noir cyberpunk gooeyness. And I can't get over how gorgeous all the character portraits are. The graphics are pretty simple and you don't need the fastest machine to run it, but the art style more than makes up for it. They've created a massive world. And it has a killer soundtrack that will get stuck in your head. In a good way. 

Shadowrun Returns is a fun game and a solid noir experience. If you like fantasy, futuristic cyberpunk, RPGs, turn-based strategy, noir, or any combination thereof, you owe it to yourself to play it. Plus, there's a level editor included and a whole mess of community-made stories to dive into, which I am deeply afraid of doing for fear of never coming out.

THE GOOD: Fun tight gameplay, beautiful art style, fantastic world, great soundtrack, great noir experience, lots of choices, FUTURISTIC CYBERPUNK FANTASY NOIR. 

THE BAD: Follows more like a game than story, requires a lot of playtime, turn-based strategy might not be for everyone.

THE VERDICT: $$$$$ Go play it! It's a bonafide noir game that will suck you in. I can't get enough of it. And it's only $20 on Steam!

GAMES LIKE IT: X-Com: Unknown Enemy, L.A. Noire, Mass Effect, Fallout 3, Phantasy Star Online, World of Warcraft

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: You make friends with a Dwarf coroner who loves his job and gives you all the inside scoops. It's a pretty fun world they created.

UPDATE: Apparently there is a "save anywhere" version coming out on February 27th? So that's cool.

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