Indie Game of the Week: Shadowrun Returns

Each week our resident Indie Gamer Nicholas takes a look at a different Indie Game that you may or may not have heard about.  Join him on his adventures as he sifts through the rubbish to find The Indie Game of the Week.

Sit back, folks. I’m going to tell you a story. The year is 2050. The world you live in is one rife with magic and cybernetics, filled with mythological beings and advanced technology. You are a shadowrunner – an underworld specialist who does the jobs that no one else wants to do (or be associated with). Life used to be pretty good for you, but you’ve since fallen on rather hard times. You barely have enough money to survive until the end of the week, and to be frank, you’re lucky your apartment isn’t condemned or on fire. 

Then you receive a phone call from a dead man.
Turns out, your old friend and fellow runner Sam somehow managed to get himself killed. Since he expected something like this might eventually happen, he set up a dead man’s switch(coincidentally, that’s the name of the campaign included with Shadowrun Returns) to call you. Find his killer, and you’ll be rolling in cash (he offers you 100,000 nuyen to figure out how he died). 

I’m not going to mince words. While the game has faults(chief among these is the oft-horrendous grammar), Shadowrun Returns is positively fantastic, and feels like a love story written to the isometric fantasy RPGs of the 90s. The turn-based combat is tactical enough to be enjoyable, but not so tactical that things ever feel overly unfair. The 3D models and hand-drawn backgrounds are downright beautiful, and the soundtrack is absolutely glorious. I’m also rather fond of the way Harebrained Schemes handled hacking; players equipped with a deck can enter into a TRON-like cybernetic realm known as the Matrix, where they’ll do battle with security programs and other hackers.
Character progression is done through a system somewhat similar to the Shadowrun tabletop. All stats and skills are leveled up through a resource known as Karma, which is gained by completing both sidequests and full missions. This system actually affords a great deal of freedom where building your character is concerned: you aren’t actually limited to any one class or skill-set. The six classes (Street Samurai, Physical Adept, Shaman, Mage, Decker, and Rigger) can easily level up any set of skills or abilities they choose.

The races, too, don’t have much an impact on what you choose to be, save that several of them have different minimum and maximum values on the abilities governing your various skills. Trolls, for example, can have the highest max strength (at 12), but suffer a considerable penalty to intellect. As such, they probably wouldn’t make the best hackers.
The best thing about Shadowrun Returns, though, is the fact that Harebrained Schemes has packaged it with a robust campaign creation tool, which allows players to basically craft their own Shadowrun game from the ground up. I plan to spend my fair share of time with it, and I’m sure many others are going to do the same. Keep your eyes peeled, folks. Dead Man’s Switch is in actuality just the appetizer: the best is yet to come. 

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