Shadowrun Returns (PC) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 26.03.2014 1

Review for Shadowrun Returns on PC

It should be no secret to any video game RPG fan that the genre traces back long before the advent of video gaming as a mainstream media. The 1974 release of Dungeons and Dragons can be considered the first true commercially available role-playing game, and that was, of course, a table top game, and not yet a video game. The years went by, and the world saw the emergence of new types of fantasy and science fiction settings, such as the cyberpunk genre, which rose to widespread awareness particularly in the early 1980s through a wide array of novels and the first widely acclaimed cyberpunk movie, Blade Runner. The popularity of these would then trigger the creation of table top role-playing games taking place within such futuristic universes, starting in the late 1980s, and among these, the Shadowrun series of table top RPGs can be found. This particular one in turn spawned a critically acclaimed RPG for the SNES in 1993, followed by a largely different SEGA Mega Drive iteration, and a Japan-only Mega-CD episode. The latter two were not subject to the light censorship that the SNES version suffered, due to NOA's strict guidelines back in 1993, before they were lightened quite a bit after the whole SNES Mortal Kombat debacle. These games all featured a dark atmosphere quite unlike anything the world of JRPGs had gotten us used to until then, which is what made the series such a big centre of attention in its time. With the background for the series now set, it's time to dive into the game at hand: Shadowrun Returns for Steam!

Right from the outset, as the player tries to launch a new game, it opens on an unusual scenario select screen. By default, the game comes bundled with only one story to play through, titled The Dead Man's Switch, hinting at the possibility of there being more. As it turns out, the game already offers a DLC campaign to play through, called Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Another incredibly interesting prospect, however - perhaps even more so than the officially developed DLC pack - is the openness of the game to receive user-generated stories hosted on the Steam Workshop service. At the time of writing, there are already quite a lot of stories created by the players themselves to play through, with varying degrees of quality, which is, of course, as is often the case with that kind of thing.

Shadowrun Returns is, by default, merely an engine meant to run many different stories. The game itself is very much an empty shell, bundled with a short, yet thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly well written, dark story that is sure to appeal to any fan of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction. This one, The Dead Man's Switch, pays a large homage to the SNES original, as well, by reintroducing the half-cyborg hero Jake Armitage as a playable character that joins forces with the player's custom-created hero or heroine, to help him or her in solving the murder case of old fellow Shadowrunner and deadbeat James Watts.

Just like in the SNES game that it pays homage to, the RPG mechanics of Shadowrun Returns build very much on the pen-and-paper table top RPG that spawned the series of video games. Indeed, the game doesn't use any kind of experience points system as we know it, but rather Karma Points, which are earned through different ways throughout the game such as battling, cunningly extracting information from NPCs, solving side-quests, and advancing the main story by completing the main objectives.

Screenshot for Shadowrun Returns on PC

The player gets a set amount of these Karma Points from the start, and has to earn more as the story progresses, where they are allowed to spread them among different skills to shape the custom character to suit his or her desires. However, Karma Points don't come in large amounts, and this means that for the protagonist shaped by the player to become really effective in battle, it's best to plan in advance what kind of Shadowrunner is being aimed for. Being a "Jack of all trades, master of none" won't do the trick in The Dead Man's Switch, as the amount of Karma Points that the scenario allows the player to ultimately collect seems too limited to allow it. Players are also allowed to select a race out of a small range of possible ones at the start of a new game, but this cannot be changed once it has been selected, and although each race can be moulded into pretty much any kind of Shadowrunner (rifle user, hacker, melee battler, etc), each race has its limitations that others don't, and certain races will make some better types than others, so the most dedicated and nit-picky players would do well to not underestimate the importance of this very early choice. This is not helped by the very complicated nature of the game's mechanics, which require going through lots of reading and tutorials to be fully understood, and even more so for anyone new to the series and/or genre.

This will indeed become apparent through how the game is structured, as The Dead Man's Switch is all fairly linear. The player is never really allowed to roam the streets of Seattle as much as it wants, and is rather pushed forward by the story. He or she will only be allowed to visit the places that the main plot requires them to visit, in the order that the story allows them to be!

Screenshot for Shadowrun Returns on PC

A lot of locations are also never visited again, save perhaps for the Seamstresses Union - a brothel of sorts (although the game never really refers to it as such) that serves as the main hub for all of the protagonist's endeavours. However, with that being said about The Dead Man's Switch, that doesn't mean that other scenarios created by the community would force the player into such a linear affair, of course. To call the whole Shadowrun Returns experience a "linear" one would be unfair, as the official tools, coupled with the growing amount of unofficial mods, leave the doors open to loads of possibilities.

The same could be said for more parts of the game, such as the soundtrack. Indeed, other than some quite catchy battle music, the moody ambience tunes of the exploration parts of the game do not quite match the excellence of the original SNES music. What also has to be said is that the lack of many sound effects makes the whole thing a bit boring for the ears, unless there's a battle going on. But, again, the door is open for the community to create content that would top even the main scenario that comes bundled with the engine! The visuals and character artwork, however, range from quite good to relatively average. Still in a nod to the SNES episode, the game uses an isometric view that works to great effect to give the technically simple 2D graphics - covered in good 3D particle effects like mist, or flying newspapers, or rain - a very nice visual aspect in most places. The character portraits are just still images, and a bit more animation would have been a nice welcome addition to grant more dynamism to the dialogue, although the detailed writing does much of the work of conveying the mood and emotions of the characters and situations.

Screenshot for Shadowrun Returns on PC

All of this leads on to the battle system. Compared to the original SNES game, everything plays much different here, as once a battle is initiated by the scenario (random battles simply don't exist in Shadowrun Returns), the scenery itself upon which the story is played transforms into a battlefield, where elements of the decor can be used to hide behind and decrease the chances of being hit. Battles are very much a turn-based tactical affair, where the player takes turns to move the playable units on an isometric grid, not unlike a certain Final Fantasy Tactics, actually, although it dares venturing far from the conventions of JRPGs, and is more versatile. For example, it's possible to purchase drone robots which will act as expendable playable characters in the midst of battle, and wounds, apparently, cannot be healed per a certain amount of HP, but rather, wound by wound (meaning that if those 30 missing HP from the health gauge were taken away in three times, they won't be able to be healed at once, unless what is used to do so permits it, of course!). The system is very deep and intricate, requiring quite some time to explain in every little detail, and its originality will seem a little hard to get accustomed to at first, but the growing bonding between the player and his or her character should push even the most hesitant to learn all the ins-and-outs of the system to make the most of it, and move the captivating story forward.

Finally, in a similar fashion to the SNES game, actions can all be performed by point-and-click controls. Where it differs, however, is that this seems to be the only possible control scheme. Being able to, at the very least, move the character around by using the arrows or WASD keys would have been a welcome addition to make the game even more enjoyable to play, but this is simply not an option here.

Screenshot for Shadowrun Returns on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Shadowrun Returns brings back the old franchise with much fanfare, after a disappointing first-person shooter attempt at a revival, back in 2007 on Windows PC and Xbox 360. Fans of the franchise - the SNES episode, in particular - are in for a treat with the bundled campaign, The Dead Man's Switch, making references to the events of the adventures of Jake Armitage, and the setting of the Seattle of 2054 represented in isometric 2D, along with some music arrangements, making repeated nods towards the very first video game adaptation of the table top RPG. The bundled campaign may seem short, and certainly isn't perfectly representative of the potential of the engine, so players will most likely want to look towards the hundreds of fun hours that the community-created content available on Steam Workshop represents. With a Shadowrun Online game still on the horizon at time of writing, it would seem that the franchise has now come back to stay for a while, after a long absence from the video game role-playing scene!


Harebrained Schemes


Harebrained Schemes


Real Time RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   


Christos (guest) 28.08.2018#1

Very boring RPG. I wouldn't rate it more than 6/10. Its sequel (DLC) is much improved.

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