Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shadowrun Returns (2013) Harebrained Schemes

How do one begin a review of a game that one has been waiting two decades for?  Where does nostalgia stop and reality set in?  Does the good outweigh the bad?  How many characters are you going to make before settling on one and finishing the damned game?  And when all is said and done, "Is Shadowrun Returns a good game?"

These are all questions I've been struggling with when not worrying about bills or thinking about how to min/max stats for yet another character.  It's been making a review of this game difficult.  I've played through the first half/two-thirds of the game several times with several different character builds.  Tried different tactics, different conversation selections, difficulty levels, so on and so forth.  So does my love of Shadowrun (1993) SNES add or detract from my impressions of Returns?  Well, yes and no.

Returns is certainly a worthy successor to that old classic and I think it was well worth the wait.  The story and dialogue are great, with some particularly brilliant characters and exchanges.  It's very much a classic cyberpunk noir story but done by those led by the man who created the pen and paper game so of course it's on point.  The game is oozing with inside jokes, cameos, references that your average bear wouldn't get, and some pretty dark humor.  The score has cues from the SNES version (which made me giggle like a fat kid given free rein at a cake shop).  The graphics aren't the main focus of the experience but there's a rainy, neon-soaked familiarity and high level of detail to areas that makes me feel at home in my imagination.  It struck me as strange the other day when I was in the middle of a marathon session that I was using my imagination and playing each character slightly differently.  Instead of watching a cut scene, I saw it in my head.  In one early part of the game; my character poked a thug in the chest daring him to make a move as a feral grin played across my lips.  Another section; a tense multi-part fire fight erupted, I was covering a decker, running low on ammo as the other runners lay down suppressing fire and joking with one another.  I kept hiring the same runners for jobs, felt a rapport with them.  One mission I only brought one runner with me, a person I had developed respect and a sense of friendship for.  She asked me, "We really gonna do this?  Just us?"  I replied, "You got the nuyen to hire anyone, else go for it?"  Two runners I hired angrily whispered at one another, debating who was going to breach the door.  I said, "I'm gonna shoot the both of you if you chummers don't open that fragging door.  You want that?"

This is all coming from hours of solo play and having fun (okay, there were one or two parts where I wanted to say very very very bad words) and being surprised I'm roleplaying my characters.  Here are some of my favorites so far:

  • Puncharella: Female Troll Unarmed Combat Specialist who is dumb but has solid Charisma and is a sucker for a sob story.
  • Frank: Dwarven Technomage who might be the wimpiest Dwarf around
  • "Swingin" Johnny Shotgun:  Orc shotgun master who is just a dick and when not shotgunning people, Louisville Sluggers them.
  • La Chinga:  Sniper and drone specialist, not very charming but effective.
  • Boudreux:  Male Orc Shaman, he use swamp magic and de machete.  Nice to women, don't cotton to authority or bullies.
  • Betty:  Elven female who uses a combination of Mage and Shaman skills.
  • The Artful Dodger:  Human decker, drone specialist who is utterly useless at anything else except avoiding damage.
  • Doc-H:  Elven gunslinger with high Charisma.  Smarmy fucker who can shoot a weapon out of an enemy's hand.
  • Moxie:  Human female, Jack-of-all-trades.  Prefers avoiding conflict but uses a shotgun effectively when pushed.  Has light healing and support skills.  Uses a smoker drone for defense.  Cagey and looking for the next payday.
  • Smitty:  Elven moron with a nasty mean streak who only attacks and never asks questions.  I actually don't like him, I just made him as a lark.  Stupid knife-ears amuse me.
I don't roleplay in most RPGs or video games anymore.  With most of the big games (Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Dragon's Dogma, Final Fantasy etc etc etc) I know how the system works and know how to game it.  Stealth sniper/ranger = got it.  Or characters are "developed" so I don't have to imagine what they are like (though I really like some characters - e.g. Boone and Cass from Fallout:New Vegas, HK-47 KOTOR II, etc etc).  I'm playing a preset role, which basically comes down to am I nice or am I a dick? Shadowrun Returns has jump started my imagination and though I love the game for nostalgia reasons (along with some modern game play fun times) it's nice to be using my imagination again.

It's been almost a week since the game has come out and I've put quite a many hours into it so here comes the (I don't want to say downsides or be negative), perhaps the right term is, "short-comings" of Shadowrun Returns:

  • Outside of roleplay, dialogue decisions and points spent into Charisma don't necessarily to be influential in the rest of the campaign (at least up until where I've played).  Sure, with three Charisma Etiquette skills you can get a better price for runs and goods (and make me feel like a slick motherfucker) and Charisma is the main skill that unlocks deeper Shaman abilities.  Overall, though, it seems like my dialogue choices don't make much of a difference.  Which is a shame because I really hate Lumpy and want to stomp on his head.
  • It is difficult to really get a handle on - without looking at the forums and doing math - as to how certain skills work on dps/crits.  Certainly, the higher the skill you better you are (better gear, etc) but I haven't been able to figure out why Betty, with high Willpower and Mage skills, does fuck all for damage, even with high end magic, if she manages to hit her target.  No, I'm not dumb and know that there are many factors that math all over the place but a mage with Willpower 9 should be able to hit a target for some decent dmg.
  • There seems to be a randomness to enemy difficulty, even when replaying a mission for the umpteenth time.  This is not so much a complaint because I like being kept on my toes.  However, in one mission I whomped a Troll and then got stomped by an Elf.  In the replay, it was vice versa.
  • Shadowrun Returns will be a difficult game for "modern" players to get into.  I've read some forum posts and noticed some complaints about lack of tutorial, linear gameplay, 2LDR (Too Long, Didn't Read), hell, I imagine someone out there will be whingeing about the lack of cut scenes.  These don't factor into my enjoyment of game but from a review point I should bring it up.  Not that I really give a shit about these gamers.  I just don't want them to fuck up a good thing.

I've read all the major reviews of this game and I realized two things:
  1. This is a brilliant independent effort, created by and for fans, and the quality of the game reflects that.
  2. This is only the beginning campaign.  We've gotten used to being able to nerf the fuck out of characters pretty easily (almost without thinking).   I'm not going to whine about entering the end game without an ubermensch (actually I hate going into the end fight and just Alabama ass-kicking the boss *cough* I'm looking at you Final Fantasy VII *cough*)I have no idea what campaigns - Harebrained or user created - will bring.  And I'm excited.  This is the first time I've been interested in generating my own work.  Harebrained also included a level/campaign editor so we all can get in on the action, start our own campaigns, make the game our own.  Granted, I took one stab at the editor and went, "DERRRR, I like Baysplosions!" so it'll be a long time coming until you play a HYR campaign.
So, Shadowrun Returns.  A game of immense possibilities, with a hell of a story, might not be to the taste of some gamers but is accessible to new fans with a little bit of patience (put the game on Easy so you can enjoy the story).  It's available for PC/Mac/Tablet and doesn't require a lot of juice to run.  It's currently $20 on Steam and that's less than what you pay to go see whatever crap you're going to go see in 3D at the local multi-plex.

Well done, Harebrained, well done.  Now where the hell is my datajack?

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