Jordan Weisman, the creator of Shadowrun, Crimson Skies, BattleTech, and MechWarrior, has gone one step further in his own career in establishing himself as a top developer with a real passion for his craft. Shadowrun, the popular top-down RPG originally created for the SNES and based on the pen and paper game of the same name, finally has its own sequel in Shadowrun Returns! Now with his own studio, Harebrained Schemes, Weisman is able to create the games that will showcase his personal vision in game design in a market already over-saturated with the fat of others with a goal and a dream.
Shadowrun Returns blends in elements from various games, but focuses on telling an engaging murder mystery in a cyberpunk setting. There are touches of X-COM‘s turn-based tactical combat system, familiar character build by race (Races include: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Ork, and Troll) and job skills (Classes include: Street Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger, and Physical Adept). Those familiar with pen and paper RPG schematics will also have the option to customize their own characters, creating mixtures of job skills to tailor the gameplay to their own liking.
ThoughShadowrun Returns combat may seem familar to players ofX-Com: Enemy Unknown, it executes it in a way that differentiates itself from the latter. There are battles in the game where there may be minimum to no cover, and players will have to take a few hits in order to survive. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no strategy involved, as it may be necessary to put all your players into one room and force the enemy through a single doorway, picking them off one by one. Or, sacrificing the health of one in order to group the enemy together for the next turn, where you can use splash damage from grenades to kill them. There are also magic attacks, for those willing to embrace Tolkienesque qualities in a futuristic cyberpunk utopia.
The writing in this episode is extremely gratifying, providing atmosphere while supplying enough twist and gore in a futuristic film noire narrative. It screams in silence, pitting assassins in a conspiracy plot that eschews forth with a combination of atmosphere and storytelling that is reminiscent of a Phillip K. Dick novel, and horror similar to Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter. It is also a commentary on cult behavior and possibly even Scientology and religion. Because of its theme and inherent plot devices, I was also somewhat reminded of the short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by one of my favorite authors, Harlan Ellison (also another amazing PC game with great writing).
With all that being said, I have yet to figure out how to rotate the camera in order to get a better view of the battlefield. Hiding behind columns or buildings may be an annoyance for some, as some characters may be obscured by walls. Shading becomes a problem in lower settings and makes it hard to tell whether friend or foe is hiding behind the column. Save states are automated and start players at the beginning of each level, which may be annoying if you have to restart for whatever reason, forcing you to click through dialogue options and exposition (as is the norm with video game RPG’s).
This game deserves glowing praise for its ambition, and we hope to see more titles to come from the new indie development studio soon!