ImaJAN Media Network
MeltedJoystick Home
   Games  Members
Search +
Searching... Close  
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
  Login Using Facebook

Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (384)

view profile + 
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5
Super Mario Maker 2 3/5
Pillars of Eternity II:... 4/5

Next 25

Shadowrun Returns   PC (Steam) 

Before Returning, One Must Go Somewhere    3/5 stars

In 1989, tabletop gaming was both at a high point and on the precipice. While TSR, the company founded by Dungeons & Dragons co-creator, Gary Gygax, was in the midst of financial woes that would ultimately lead to its doom, it was also producing a lot of comparably weird stuff, at least when compared side-by-side with the relatively sedate and stable High Fantasy and historical material it had produced for a decade. Likewise, mid-‘80s media from both the West and Japan had cemented the concept of ‘cyberpunk’ into the nerdist sphere of awareness.

It is within this environment that a number of non-TSR gaming startups popped into existence. Once of these, FASA, was started by Jordan Weisman and Ross Babcock, who, together with Weisman’s father’s expertise in the publishing industry, launched a number of tabletop gaming IPs. The most well-known among these are the sci-fi-with-giant-mechs series, ‘Battletech,’ and the fantasy-cyberpunk hybrid, ‘Shadowrun.’ Clearly influenced by the writings of prolific ‘80s author, Terry Brooks, ‘Shadowun’ brought the trappings of High Fantasy – that is, magic, demi-human races, and monsters – into the near-future corporate dystopia of cyberpunk via a non-world-ending apocalypse.

When ‘Shadowrun’ first hit tabletops in 1989, I was just dipping my toes into the nerd end of the pool via gateway ‘drugs’ like “HeroQuest,” and by reading copious amounts of ‘DragonLance’ novels for middle-school unfocused reading classes. As a new convert, I didn’t really have a firm grasp on any of this stuff, and liked to keep things simple. I was firmly of the opinion that all RPGs should be High Fantasy, and that fantasy was good and sci-fi (except “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) was stupid (but, hey, if your only exposure to other sci-fi was “Lost in Space,” you’d feel the same way). The complex mix of genres contained in ‘Shadowrun’ was overwhelming, and thus unappealing, to my young mind, and I firmly ignored the SNES and Genesis CRPG adaptations of it in favor of ‘Final Fantasy,’ while only vaguely acknowledging that the series existed on the shelves of my friendly neighborhood game shop, where I occasionally bought incompatible sourcebooks, thinking that all RPGs were D&D compatible.

In spite of ‘Shadowrun’s’ popularity and the popularity of cyberpunk as a whole, the series never really took off, despite being in print continuously through the ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, and ‘10s. After the 16-bit era, there was little effort put into adapting ‘Shadowrun’ to a computerized format, with a single, miserable, mediocre online Team FPS in 2007 to show for itself. It would take the interference of series co-creator, Jordan Weisman, and the forming of a new Indie videogame developer, Harebrained Schemes, to shove ‘Shadowrun’ back into modern nerd awareness and do justice to its mechanics as a CRPG. Under Weisman’s direction, three new ‘Shadowrun’ CRPGs hit Steam between 2013 and 2015, the first of these being the topic of this review, “Shadowrun Returns.”

As a series neophyte, I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a solid first effort that, nonetheless, feels constrained and lacking compared to other CRPGs based on tabletop rules.

“Shadowrun Returns” is a budget Indie game funded by Kickstarter, earning a final operating budget just shy of $2 million. While that may seem like a large chunk of change, it’s pitiful in relation to what modern “AAA” developers spend. Thus, Harebrained Schemes had to cut corners, and they did so by building “Shadowrun Returns” in the Unity Engine. Oddly enough, while Unity is perfectly capable of rendering bland, samey fully-3D games, “Shadowrun Returns” was intentionally built with a mix of 2D assets (the hand-painted backgrounds) and 3D assets (the simplistic polygon character models). While the game’s traditional bird’s-eye view camera keeps the player well away from the individual art assets, it’s clear to see that not a whole lot of effort went into designing, rigging, and animating the polygon models. Still, the hand-painted backdrops almost make up for the underwhelming character models, as they do a good job of evoking the overall grim-dark tone of the series.

Audiowise, “Shadowrun Returns” is fairly lazy. There are only a handful of tunes in the soundtrack, and due to the cyberpunk genre, none of them are particularly pleasant to listen to. Sound effects are basic, and probably Unity Store assets, while voiceacting is non-existent, leaving the player to read all of the dialog and descriptions of nouns.

Technically, “Shadowrun Returns” further cements its laziness by not supporting Xinput at all. The game is 99% mouse driven, so thankfully typing isn’t necessary at any point. Despite the fact that it was clearly designed to be played by Inglorious PC Master Racists on their typewriters, the game inexplicably has one essential Quality of Life feature for TV/couch gamers: The ability to enlarge the entire UI to make the text actually legible from 6+ feet away.

“Shadowrun Returns” should have been subtitled, “Dead Man’s Switch,” as that is what the game’s main scenario is called. In “Dead Man’s Switch,” our custom-created and personality-free hero/heroine receives an out-of-the-blue phone call from their old friend Sam, with whom they used to ‘run the shadows,’ the in-universe term for corporate espionage.

It turns out Sam’s dead, and that he had a piece of cyberware implanted in his body that would trigger a contingency upon his death, calling any and all of this former ‘friends’ to let them know that there was a huge bounty available if they can posthumously bring Sam’s killer to justice.

Our hero’s quest brings them to Seattle, where they fall in with a guild of other shadowrunners who knew Sam and are willing to provide material support, despite not going for the bounty themselves.

The plot follows a number of leads, bringing our hero to a number of twists and turns, before ultimately culminating – Japanese-style – in a full-blown mission to save the world. (*sigh*)

While the point-by-point plotting in “Shadowrun Returns” is competent, this narrative on its own doesn’t really do the setting justice. We only get a small look at the corruption of the corporations, the corporatization of the U.S. government (and thus all attached bodies, like the police, known as Lone Stars), and the overall strangeness of this world in which near-future dystopia, sci-fi, and fantasy collide.

Even worse, “Shadowrun Returns” suffers from the typical problem of Tactical RPGs, in that it is horrifically, mind-numbingly linear. There are only a couple of ‘optional’ side activities, but for the most part, it’s not even possible to talk to NPCs who aren’t the ‘next NPC on the list.’ Further ruining the gameplay structure is the fact that only our custom hero/heroine is customizable, and no NPCs join the party on a permanent basis. Instead, each time the player has a shadowrunning job, they have to hire a team of up to 3 allies, for a significant outlay of in-game currency (which must also be spent on upgrading the player character’s gear).

The result is a story that feels very much like a railroad, and companions who (with few exceptions) feel completely disposable and unattached. Maybe this structure is intentional, to show how bleak, disconnected, and anti-social the world of ‘Shadowrun’ is, but it didn’t do much for my enjoyment. It's also not particularly long, clocking in at roughly 12 hours, which is barely enough time for most other RPGs and Action/Adventure games to ramp up past the prologue.

Anyone not impressed by the main campaign in “Shadowrun Returns” can always turn their eyes toward the vast quantities of user-generated content available for the game’s engine via the Steam Workshop. Personally, I skipped it, as I really am not ready to dive into what devoted ‘Shadowrun’ fanatics think is a ‘good’ and ‘properly-balanced’ experience.

“Shadowrun Returns" is a fairly straight-forward turn-based Tactical RPG, based on the tabletop ruleset of the same name. Player’s must first choose the race of their character (human, elf, dwarf, ork, troll), but are then free to spend Karma points (which are handed out as rewards for completing missions) on their stats and skills however they see fit, in what is typically called a ‘classless’ system.

Each of the system’s 6 ability scores (Body, Strength, Quickness, Intelligence, Willpower, and Charisma) governs a significant chunk of different skills, and following a single branch of skill and stat development costs increasingly large amounts of Kharma, so it seems mandatory to branch out a bit. However, not all skills are created equal, as I intended to play a Charisma-based summoner-type character, only to learn that elemental fetishes – expensive consumable items! – are required to summon anything. Fortunately, the flexibility of the classless system allowed me to change horses mid-race and not end up with a completely gimped character as a result.

Combat operates on an Action Point based system, where the higher a character’s Quickness, the more AP they have available in a turn (never reaching much beyond 4 for devoted characters). Moving a certain distance, attacking, using a consumable item, or casting a spell each costs a specific amount of AP (typically 1, but upwards of 3 for high-level spells). Spells also operate on a cooldown, where the player must wait a turn or three before casting the same spell again, or be forced to pay for the spell with hit points.

As is so often the case in settings where magic and technology collide, cybernetic implants hinder a character’s spellcasting abilities, thus forcing wannabe magic users to avoid getting all cybered up. Additionally, some missions take place in cyberspace, requiring the skills of a Decker (read: hacker) with a high-tech item called a cyberdeck to project their avatar into the matrix and do battle with software-based magic. And in a bit of a reversal, magical healing is significantly worse than technological healing, with magic only capable of restoring a target's most recent injury, and first-aid kits able to restore fixed (and often large) amounts of health to a target.

All of this gameplay is fine and dandy, running on a percentage-based mechanic for success or failure in most tasks and a stat threshold mechanic for success in others (mostly dialogs based). However, as I mentioned in the story section above, “Shadowrun Returns” is linear to a fault. The player isn’t free to wander from location to location, or grind random battles to save-up money/Kharma, or to search for a variety of (non-existent) secrets. The entire experience is going from Point A to Point B; talking with NPC 1, NPC 2, and NPC 3 when dialog prompts appear above their heads; then hiring a temporary crew of (expensive!) helpers to deal with a mission that plays out in exactly one way. If the narrative were better/more interesting/more lore-steeped, this kind of linearity would be acceptable, but PC-targeted CRPGs haven’t been this railroady in decades.

The one word that comes to mind when thinking about “Shadowrun Returns” is ‘lazy.’ From the mostly mediocre presentation, to the painfully linear story, to the lack of interesting/permanent companions, to the poorly-explained character-building system, this game feels like it is directly targeted at a very forgiving audience of ‘Shadowrun’ fanatics who would desperately lap-up any old drivel as though it were the finest champagne. Still, it’s hard to irredeemably screw-up something as simple as a turn-based Tactical RPG, leaving “Shadowrun Returns” still playable, if underwhelming. Here’s hoping the sequel modules, “Dragonfall” and “Hong Kong” are a bit more interesting and inclusive to the unindoctrinated.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



Recent Comments
Comment On Review

Log In
For members wanting to use FB to login, click here
remember me

What Members Are Doing

Comments about...

New Game Reviews

Ittle Dew 2 game review by Nelson Schneider
Luigi's Mansion 3 game review by Nelson Schneider
Dead Cells game review by dbarry_22
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Gate ... game review by Nelson Schneider
Mario vs. Donkey Kong game review by dbarry_22
Metro 2033 game review by Chris Kavan
South Park: The Fractured ... game review by Chris Kavan
Sundered game review by Chris Kavan

New Game Lists

Games I Own: PS4 by dbarry_22
Backlog by Nelson Schneider
Top PlayStation Games by Megadrive
Top Game List by SIngli6
Games I Want To Play by Shaneo99
My Backlog by Chris Kavan
Backlog by Matt
Top GameCube Games by Batgirl1979




Contact Us Public Relations MeltedJoystick Friends    

Advertise and Business

Contacts Us


About us



Support Us

FAQ and Help

News and Press

Terms of Use


Are you sure you want
to delete this review?