Shadowrun Returns

I only had two days to look at Shadowrun Returns, and thus, this isn’t a “full review” in the same scope as something like my Pandaria or Dishonored reviews. I’ll call it a “First Look” because even with a comparatively modest included “main quest”, the fact that this game is built from the ground up to encourage user content to the degree that one can launch the editor from IN game and that said editor is every bit as intuitive and easy to use as the game tells me that we’re in for more content ( of varying quality of course ) than any 10 other games.

Shadowrun Returns

I am a longtime Shadowrunner. I had the original RPG ( up to third edition I believe ), the SNES game, the Genesis game, which I didn’t care for, the novels, you name it. Yeah guys, I caught the novel references from Charrette’s books ( No, I won’t spoil it beyond that! ).;">

STATS of review

Played once through the included campaign, with a human male Decker that specialized in rifles.

Game Platform and Release Stats

Game acquired on Steam direct from developer.

Spoiler Content

This particular review is spoiler free as far as the narrative is concerned. I am also not including images that contain spoilers, or anything from the final 25% or so of the campaign.

Overall Impression

As one of the first generation of true high profile Kickstarted games to actually be in our hands, it’s hard to know what to expect, but there’s nothing “indie” about it. From the emotionally resonant story to the beautiful “2D isometric but it’s really 3D” ( with 2 types of projection, which is unique ) visuals to the many “true fan” Shadowrun references this is an amazing start to what is surely years of mods and expansions.

Installing and Patching

Pretty much all of my games are Steam, and this one is very efficient with space, clocking in at a svelte 1.21GB but to be fair, it did have to download twice. Once for the client, and again to download a chapter to play.

First Impressions and “Draw”

The game drops right into a title screen, which is a static image with static menu buttons. This is fine, I might hope for more, but remember, every feature in is another feature out, and I’d rather have something useful than a pretty title menu, so in that, I say “thanks for not wasting resources”.

The music is SPOT ON Shadowrun. If you’ve played previous games, this will “feel right”.

There aren’t many options, but if you’ve got a good PC, crank it all to max, and set the view to perspective, and the scenery will move a bit when you scroll around.

Personal Story Arc

Character creation involves picking a race, either Human or Meta Human of some type, and each has pros and cons. I chose a human first time out, because that’s what I usually do.

Classes we’ll go over in more detail in the future final review, but I chose a Decker, because I thought there’d be a lot of decking to do, and that’s the way I always built the SNES character. I have played through that game literally DOZENS of times over the years, and I will catch ANY reference to it, no matter how subtle. We’ll get to more references in a moment, but back to character creation. 

Having chosen my main stuff, I got to pick from a small number of physical avatars, and a static image, which didn’t QUITE mesh with the avatar, but that’s a nit.

Throughout the story I found myself upgrading my ranged stats for combat and largely ignoring my decking, which didn’t even come into play until at least half way into the story and even then I had a better decker in my party.

In the full review later, I’ll get into all the details about weapons, upgrades, and stats, but for now, I’ll just say that you should absolutely build up body and weapon first, assuming you play through with a similar build.

The Dead Man’s Switch

In deference to the FANTASTIC job these guys did crafting a story that brings together references to the SNES and possibly GENESIS games, the source books, the novels, and filling it with something new, I am going to say exactly NOTHING about the story. Let other reviewers spoil it, I won’t do that. JUST PLAY IT.

I did not expect to be so emotionally affected by the story, but I am. Nailing around 12 hours on the nose, this campaign hits all the right notes. It is highly doubtful that many user created stories will come close, but let’s hope that there are even just a few. Even a few top quality mods will make this more than worth it.

The Interface

The first few minutes you spend in game will feel familiar to anyone playing an XCOM type game lately, and the UI is gorgeous without being obnoxious, although if you’re a minimalist you’ll find a lot to be in your way.

It’s not completely without issues. Qualifying that the game IS beta code, and IS still being worked on, I’m not going to comment more than to say that the UI can feel slow and occasionally clunky, and the interface for dialog should be the first thing that gets a hard look. It’s very spread out, and the mechanisms for navigating dialog, especially to back out of it, require too many clicks. That said, it works well for what it is.

Even on my super rig, the game can slow down to the point where it just sits there for several seconds between combat turns. On several occasions, it hung indefinitely and I had to jack out of the game. Sadly, that meant replaying what are sometimes long stretches of very tricky combat.

When a PC gets to move, you see a large white outline of where they can move. If you keep moving the mouse out, you can see another box, and if you have three “moves” you can do a third, but doing so is very clunky and not always reliable. This is another area that really needs to be smoothed out and made quicker.

Still, the whole things runs amazingly stable and has never crashed nor shown any graphical glitches at all.

You guys know me, I love a game I can play almost entirely with the mouse, due to my working conditions. This one does not require the keyboard either, although if you want, there are shortcuts, and moving the camera is easier, although I have some thoughts on that in a second.

Issues and Feedback

Some suggestions: Make it more obvious that the number keys can be used to move dialog along. I have the Razer mouse with buttons on the side, but not everyone will look for that feature automatically.

Second, in Free camera mode, please either turn off the annoyingly persistent resetting of the camera every turn, or give us the option to turn that off. Playing with the mouse only it gets very irritating to have to reset my view all the time. All of the combat areas take place in a tight amount of real estate, and I don’t require the camera to center on each of my party every time, I know where they are.

Also: Is it possible to have the option to zoom closer in on the art? Sometimes, I really want to get closer, such as when we’re in the safe house, and we can’t, and that makes me feel like we’re missing out a bit.

I know it was debated on the official site, but I’m actually OK with save points during each chapter. Don’t change that, it forces players to think through the encounter rather than just save after every kill and then never have to worry about failing. In fact, let’s throw in some kind of special hard core mode, adding stuff like cortex bombs, limb damage, Doc Wagons that don’t show up, Lone Star most wanted, heck, let’s really throw some racial issues in there. Isn’t Shadowrun at its heart a racial commentary? How about making playing a Meta Human EVEN MORE challenging by making human characters react negatively more often. Ammo is unlimited but for hardcore mode maybe it isn’t?

I don’t often weigh in on world social issues, and this doesn’t reflect my personal beliefs, it’s simply a commentary on what is going on in the world. Anyone who spends a lot of time on Facebook would assume that the world is now supposed to be “past” racial and gay issues, as if it’s a non-issue now. What these people don’t know is just because THEY have decided it’s not an issue doesn’t meant that the 7 BILLION other people on the planet aren’t still struggling with it. Until the end of time, we will ALWAYS have racial/gender/gender identity issues. That’s just how human nature works, so the world of 2050+ is at this point still just around the corner, and nothing will be different then. In fact, because the world now has humans that are even MORE different than normal, they will face racial profiling on a much grander scale ( this is eluded to several times in the story, but not really faced front and center ).

This is a very “first world issue”. Just because you eat three meals a day at Cheesecake Factory doesn’t mean gay minorities aren’t starving to death somewhere ( had to add a bit of humor ). In the poor town I am staying in, almost literally EVERY street corner has a beggar. It’s a huge problem here.

Anyway, given more time, I can go on for a while on the subject of what can be added, but I’m sure that the community will clamor for the good stuff, and maybe help implement some of it. I’m not sure to what degree the editor allows programming or scripting.

AI and NPCs

Like most games of this type, the AI works very well most of the time, and then does bafflingly stupid stuff sometimes. Combat NPCs will sometimes start running around in random circles, not attacking, even though you’re in the room to trigger them. Other than that, combat suffers from the same problem that virtually every game ever does. You have tons of options for “strategic” moves and set ups and traps and mixing different classes to work together, but in the end, it all boils down to the basic MMO/RPG math that it always does: Take any party, enter room, focus fire the nearest NPC, repeat until the strongest one is left, kill it. There is very little reason to deviate from this plan. I have said this about several of the games I’ve reviewed. You CAN get fancy, but you don’t HAVE to. You will see any enemy NPC very occasionally heal or buff a party member, but overall teamwork is non-existent.

End Game

Once you’ve completed the first chapter, and as I understand it, another one is not far behind, the REAL end game is either playing player created content, or making your own, which doesn’t look too difficult based on what I saw of the editor. Like all games with editors, it’s mostly about spending the time learning all of the tools and terms, and then making a plan. Anyone determined enough should be able to do it.

Doing it WELL and telling a compelling story. That is what will make you a legend.

The Company

HAREBRAINED SCHEMES sent me my Steam key when they promised. They delivered a complete experience based on Kickstarter funding. I have no reason to doubt anything they claim from here on out.


Despite some very minor nits with UI responsiveness, THIS is the spiritual successor to Shadowrun we’ve been waiting for. A few years ago I hoped for a fully open world 3D amazing looking reboot, but then, we’d be limited to the story it comes with. This way, we have a sandbox we can all share for years to come.

I can’t wait. 

Get updates on new projects and images

Subscribe to my newsletter for regular updates on new projects and new image sets.