Game review: Shadowrun Returns for PC

I got Shadowrun Returns during a GOG sale in the fall and played some of it between my other games. To give context for this review, I played almost all the way to the end in short sessions before starting over for reasons I’ll get to in a bit and rolled up two other characters before playing the whole game in a single session. Then I sat on this review for a long time, debating whether or not I wanted to talk about the game at all. I do need to write more posts here, and I’ve been real bad about putting out new stuff. Still, I kinda feel bad having to shit on what was a passion project for someone who clearly loved the original role play game. Kinda. But with time to think it over, I keep coming back to all the things that really pissed me off and I’d want to share that with y’all. Maybe you’ll play it and won’t have the same feelings. Or maybe you’ll give it a pass and play something else instead. That’s really the better option, in my opinion.

So, here we go: Shadowrun Returns is a complete and utter disappointment to play, both from the perspective of a long-time video gamer and as a player of the original old school pencil and paper RPG. The biggest disappointment is how little it tries to do anything resembling role-play. Like many modern triple A games, it gives you a list of dialogue options to choose from, and with the exception of a word change or a sentence at most, every choice leads to the same result. On startup, the game offers player the choice of various “etiquette” training, and depending on which you choose, you may only get to use it ONCE in the whole playthrough. AND EVEN THEN the response you get by sweet talking will be a single changed sentence before you’re right back on the same railed story as every other player.

This could be the one thing that really rubs me the wrong way precisely because there’s no voice acting. It’s all text scripts. So what it comes down to is, someone cobbled together a husk of a role play favorite and sold that old nostalgia song and dance, but couldn’t be bothered to actually make a role play game. Fuck that. Fuck it in every available orifice, and when you run out of holes, make some new ones and fuck those, too.

But let’s set that aside and move on to problem number two: the combat. It’s a standard turn-based system, so nothing much to complain about, but also nothing to gush over. The first few fights will prove mildly challenging as you try to build up enough credits and XP to get better equipment and skills. But the combat really can only go one of two ways from there. Either you go in loaded for bear and wreck the opposition with ease, or you go in with starting equipment and help the competition decorate the locations with your splattered brains. There’s not a whole lot of in between here. Skill or strategy don’t really factor into it either. You either have the brute strength to win or you don’t and you lose.

And okay, I will say the game looks nice, but despite the quality of the art, most area are completely empty of things to do. It’s rare to find any side quests outside of a single bar location, or even NPCs to talk to. This is supposed to be a mega city meant to house millions of people, and yet its streets are almost always empty. Aside from the main story, there’s almost nothing to do. Even if you do find a side quest and get some extra credits out of it, there’s so little variety in the assignments that you might as well skip them. This should be a world that encourages exploration, and instead all it does is pad the length out walking around to look at buildings you can’t enter.

I played the game first as a mage elf because that’s what I’ve been role playing since I was 9. It’s always been my jam, and with a decent selection of spells, I was mostly wrecking everything in the game with ease. Near the end of the game was a mission that required me to hire a decker, someone equipped to jack into a corporate mainframe and break down the security to retrieve some Very Important Data. So I hired one, took him into the job, and then flailed against the security system before realizing that the problem was my decker hadn’t brought any programs beyond the most basic shit. So I reloaded the game before the start of the mission and looked for a better equipped decker. Nope. Not a single one.

What followed was a few sessions where I tried to do a perfect run through the system with a woefully equipped decker. I finally retrieved the information I needed only to have the game go “Oh, and can you also unlock the elevator doors while you’re in there?” Actually no. The system was just about to boot my decker, and even then, all my offensive programs had already been destroyed.

So, I started a new game and played the first few missions using completely different answers just to see what would happen. Then I deleted that character, rolled another with similar stats but a training in police etiquette just to see if that changed my interactions with the cops. Nope. Nothing at all changes, no matter what you do. Welcome to role play in the modern era, y’all. You get five choices, but fuck it, they all do the same thing.

I armed up my decker and hired mages to watch my back, and I bought a whole lot of useful programs. So when I got to that same mission again, I went into the mainframe and fucking wrecked the security, leaving me plenty of time to get the data, open the elevator, and then steal some optional files. I couldn’t have accomplished the same thing even if I’d hired a full team of NPC deckers because the game gives them nothing useful even though you’re at the end game. And this is the case even if you’ve been hiring the same guy over and over. They don’t level up. They don’t get better programs to counter the rising difficulty. So basically if you want those final decking missions done right, you have to be a decker, and fuck every other class in the game.

I’m not sure you can understand my frustration with this game. Having played it with friends, we always had a good game master who gave us options. If we “broke” the story by doing something completely unexpected, they would roll with our actions and change the story. And if we died doing something stupid, the others had to make up for our loss. It was dynamic and fun, a shared storytelling experience.

This is a fraud pretending to offer a similar experience, and it fails in every single way imaginable. The story sucks. The dialogue suck. Your lack of choices suck. The combat….is merely adequate, but when merely adequate is rolled in a tortilla of shit and seasoned with more shit, well then merely adequate isn’t going to cut it, is it?

I got to the end of the game, beat the big final boss with the clumsy weapons handed out by the Deus Ex Corporation, and played through the painfully long epilogue before the game’s real ending goes, “Oh, right, that thing. Nope, you can’t get it. Haha, fuck you for playing.”

So, I give Shadowrun Returns 2 stars and my undying hatred. I’d give it one, but as I’ve said in prior reviews, 1 is reserved for broken and unplayable garbage. This game never crashed or glitched, but it also never offered anything worthy of my time with it. I want to say I got it on sale, but even then, I want my money back. No, I want the time I wasted on this back. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. Fans of the old game will just be bitterly disappointed, and new arrivals can find ANYTHING better to waste your time with.