Everything about Shadowrun Returns intrigued me to the core. Kickstarter-funded with some lofty ambitions, gamers all over the country were waiting to see if they would pull it off. Because what the fine folks at Harebrained Studios were aiming for was simple, but at the same time something old-schoolers could salivate themselves into dehydration for. Namely, a new spin on the world of Shadowrun, based heavily on its two equally epic (and vastly different) 16-bit games–but fully moddable, so that lonely gamemasters could create works of roleplaying goodness for strangers all over the globe, Neverwinter Nights style.
This is an odd time to talk about a game like this one, I’ll admit. This week, Grand Theft Auto V will be decimating you and everyone you know. Its gameplay, storyline and soundtrack will set your brain on fire like an LSD-dipped Jolly Rancher. And yet I insist on talking about a low-tech indie RPG. I’ll explain.
To me, the greatest experience I’ve ever had as a gamer was the ability to shape the world around me–to see consequences to every action I make. If not in the story itself, then with the character I was playing. Hell, at least let me name the guy. It’s this kind of mindset that got me into the grand old world of paper and pencil roleplaying games. Of course, I still played video games (Shadowrun for the Genesis smashed my teeth in with a ball-peen hammer of nuyen-flavored goodness), but I still craved that level of customization.
To put it bluntly, I wanted to make the game mine.
Shadowrun Returns is this year’s attempt at letting us do that very thing. With a mod system built right into the game, it allows you to create your own metamagical adventures and invite everyone to try it out: friends, strangers, family members and the chainsaw-wielding child molester down the street. The pre-installed campaign itself is excellent, entry-level fun. Seasoned ‘runners will find it linear and a bit routine, but I feel that the point was to introduce you to the basics of what the mod was capable of.
Playable races include (from L to R): Dwarf, Troll, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ork, Elf.
Reviewers have often kindly dismissed the lack of bells and whistles on the part of Shadowrun by pointing out its limited budget. While I’m sure that this is true, I think that the game does better without voice-acting or lengthy cutscenes. The game is meant to feel like something of your very own, and I believe that Harebrained Studios pulled this off with flying colors and flashing lights.
I was surprised to find the game in the App Store for my iPad, and gave it a download. I have always been eager to see what the future of gaming is as far as tablets are concerned. It’s true that there have been some amazing games that have been ported to tablets (take Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and XCOM: Enemy Unknown for starters), but I’m more interested in what will be developed specifically for my favorite touchscreen–it just feels like there’s so much to mine there.
Shadowrun Returns, unfortunately, is a fraction of itself when transported to the iPad. The level modding application has been removed, and the game crashes constantly. This is made all the more frustrating when you consider that the save feature only comes around at the end of each level. Without modding, Shadowrun Returns is reduced to a fairly enjoyable 15 hour campaign: fun, but not the impressive environment of a game that Harebrained Studios released.
That aspect aside, though, Shadowrun Returns is absolutely a success on the desktop computer. This is the sort of game that was created for writers and designers to drool over–it’s the sort of game that creates these people. So I am very excited to see what sort of campaigns come down the pipeline in future months and years. I’m convinced that it’s capable of amazing acts of creativity.