Immersion is a key element in board games and is what allows players to escape their own reality to that of the game designer’s mind. Fortunately, Shadowrun does an incredible job of this through excellent writing, stunning visuals, and intriguing characters. These three elements are where the title really shines, in particular with the distinct, hand-drawn neo-Dystopian environments of the greater Seattle area.
I frequently found myself with my face against the screen as I tried to take in Hairbrained Schemes’ detailed view of the future. Moreover, the story line was engaging and I was always keenly aware of my task at hand. The development team did a great job of dangling the carrot in front of my face, because after each successful missions I was always contemplating in the back of my mind, “just one more…just one more…”
For all of the great things Shadowrun Returns has going for it, it’s the flaws that really stuck out in my head, most notably the lack of a save system other than auto-saves between stages. To compound the issue, stages are frequently 30+ minutes in length, so one small step in battle could easily result in having to start from the beginning of the stage again.
For the plethora of tactics-based games in the 90′s on the consoles, this was acceptable. But by today’s standards, not having the ability to save at any given time in a PC title is not only unacceptable but also slows a complete lack of respect for the player’s time.
To further compound the issue, many of the missions are trial-and-error. Often, I I found that I brought the wrong members of my team to really allow me to be suitable in battle. When the sad realization hits about half-way through a level that you’ll need a combination of a,b,c and not x,y,z, you can only sigh and restart from the beginning.
Cheap kills throughout the game can hamper the experience as well. Granted, Shadowrun is based on the idea that there is some sort of die rolling behind the scenes to determine whether or not an attack connects, and if so, how much damage occurs. Still, I couldn’t help be become angry when an enemy lucked out with a critical attack that hit not once, but twice, and killed my main character, forcing me to start over. If there was at least an option to speed up the flow of battle then I may be more forgiving, but without it I’m left frustrated, angry, and forced to play the same sequence over, in a time where my Steam backlog is dozens of titles deep.
There are certainly better turned-based tactics out there, especially with the recent release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. However, if you’re a fan of the Shadowrun universe, the SNES title, or looking for a gorgeous and immersive adventure, then there could certainly be something here for you.
While Shadowrun Returns was a test of my patience, and despite all of its flaws, I still found an entertaining experience nonetheless. Perhaps with a few more months of work this could have been something really special, but as it stands, you’ll find that Shadowrun Returns is an engrossing universe wrapped with a few technical and balancing issues that really hinder it from standing out.