So Shadowrun. Resurrected in video game form after almost ten years dormant, the last games being the well received Mega-Drive (Genesis) and SNES versions in 1994. These, contrary to today’s expectations, were two entirely different games with the SEGA offering being more action orientated than the Nintendo adventure style game.
The first place you’ll visit in-game is a morgue, this sets the tone of the rest of the game really.
For those unfamiliar with the universe, here’s a quick layman’s primer; Take a world of a cyberpunk near future (think Gibson’s Neuromancer, Stephenson’s Snow Crash and the like) and add in all the Tolkien and D&D magic fantasy elements into that developed world. The result is you have elves flinging magic at orcs with razor blades implanted under their fingernails, while the human at the back is jacked into the matrix trying to unlock the doors to get the team out of there. I know right?
Crazy stuff is largely afoot, but it’s all settled into a sort of ecosystem. Most of the new “meta-human” races are ostracized by the more civilized society and pick a meager living in the alleys and ghettos that exist between the giant gleaming corporate towers. These ghettos have their own élite in the form of “Shadow Runners”, dubious operatives who end up employed as expendable special ops, often by corporations to do “runs” on their rivals. These can range from kidnapping key personnel, sabotage, or even good old corporate espionage.
Shadowrun has existed as a pen and paper role-playing game for some time, and in fact this is largely what has kept the universe alive in the fallow videogame years. The new game is designed for the sort of people who like pushing miniatures around and rolling funny shaped dice, (like me) and is intended to be more of an open ended tool-kit in which people create their own campaigns. Since we do expect some content for our hard earned pesos, and to give a good example of what can be done with the tools provided, the included module “Dead Mans Switch” is provided.
Starting off at a character creation screen, you are provided with a decent array of looks to choose from, tailored to your choice of race and gender. Know that barring some very odd exceptions, chosen races won’t affect your ability to perform magic, use tech or anything else to a degree that you wont be able to specialize in it. Yes a human can be a better decker than a troll, but ultimately, you wont be under-powered for the game, at least on the standard difficulty.
The character creation/upgrade screen, you’ll be back here a lot.
Worth pointing out as well is, despite being a recreation of the PnP game, the mechanics are not similar at all and it’s well worth reading the help system before you get into any major combat. You will see combat frequently, with little option to talk your way out of situations and no option whatsoever to stealth your way around it. (Hint : the overwatch button is the round arc next to your combat pane at the bottom of the screen).
Once done with character creation, you are dropped into your apartment, where you receive an ominous call from an old friend, who is now dead, and wants you to find out why. With a hefty monetary reward as incentive, you are soon embroiled in a murder investigation, leading to an ever more sinister series of twists which I won’t spoil.
The combat is good, it feels very visceral and tactical, it reminds me quite a bit of XCOM:EU. Characters start with 2 action point each turn that can be spent on movement, shooting or special attacks that use multiple AP. Combat itself is turn-based with the rest of the game being of the old school isometric click and point variety that I love dearly from Fallout, Arcanum and so forth.
As much as I feel like a philistine for saying it, I was disappointed with the lack of voice acting. I can understand why it isn’t there (good voice acting was way out of the budget for this kick-started title, and better all text than bad VA) but I feel like it would have really added character to some of the NPCs you deal with throughout. To compensate, the dialogue itself is well written and stays “in character” for the universe, throwing around the frags and chummers with abandon and contributing to a different and internally consistent world.
I had no idea that there was a film called Shadowrun. Starring Michael Caine. True Story.
All in all Dead Man’s Switch felt very “complete”, I wasn’t really driven to continue with my character beyond that point since I imagine he just disappears off into the shadows of obscurity again, or retires on his earnings. The campaign really shows off the features you can utilize with the toolkit. With any luck I can see some ongoing adventure modules being produced by the community, and there’s a Berlin expansion in the works slated for release later in the year.
For the cost, the potential modding ability and the included story make this definitely worth a punt, especially if you are a fan of old school isometric RPGS.