As a shadowrunner, you’ve seen better days. Your ratty apartment is in such terrible condition that you’re fortunate the roof isn’t on fire, down to your last few dollars. Things aren’t looking so great. Then one night, at 3 a.m., you receive a phone call from a dead man. It’s your old friend and former partner Sam. He’s been murdered and it falls to you to travel to Seattle and find his killer.
So begins the story of Shadowrun Returns, also known as The Dead Man’s Switch. It’s a rather meaty, well-designed offering, weighing for me at somewhere over twelve hours. It’s quite well-written and enjoyable and although a few typos, there’s a brilliant lot of good content to be found, the writing of which caused me to laugh more than once.
Beyond the story is the base game: The graphics, while rather somewhat simplistic, look quite polished, and the 3D models stand out nicely against the hand-drawn backdrops which look excellent, in spite of their simplicity. They genuinely convey the gritty air which underscores the Shadowrun role-playing series which does the setting perfect justice.
This turn-based title uses an isometric grid for unit movement, quite similar to XCOM, including protective cover throughout battles. This gives combat a fair degree of tactical depth. At several points during my play through I came out with guns blazing and was repaid with a bullet between the eyes and had to restart the level.
As far as character progression leveling up is done through “Karma” points, which are gained by completing missions. Each character has six abilities: Strength, Quickness, Intelligence, Willpower, Charisma, and Body. Aside from body, which gives physical resistance, each of these stats governs a set of skills. Intelligence, for example, is the primary stat of Riggers and Deckers, while Quickness is entirely focused around movement speed and skill with firearms. It seems a little complicated at first, but it’s really quite simple once you start delving into things. Chances are fairly high that you’ll be specializing, and thus ignoring the majority of the tracks while building your character.
The more interesting elements to me was how the title handled “hacking” getting quite detailed with entering the “Matrix”. So basically, a Decker can jack into any of a number of computer systems, at which point they’re thrown into a TRON-like cyberspace world. Depending on the gear they’re using, the decker can bring in a wide array of programs or AIs to assist them in overcoming a system’s defenses. Time moves a little more quickly in there, and defeat can leave you stunned or even dead in the “Meat World”. Personally, I enjoyed it; it gives a sense of very real power and was an entertaining change from the game’s standard combat system.
I feel as though Dead Man’s Switch is but a sampling of what the game ultimately has to offer fans. Once everyone’s had a few months or so to work with the creation tools, we’ll see what the engine’s really capable of. For the time being, Shadowrun Returns is a fun romp through a dystopian future that serves as a call-back to the golden age of PC RPGs. With light tactical combat, in-depth character progression and excellent aesthetic design, Harebrained Schemes’ offering serves as a worthy addition to any RPG aficionado’s library.