Kickstarter has allowed a lot of folks with reasonably good ideas to make them a reality – or at least try. Shadowrun Returns was more than a reasonably good idea, though. This game promised a classic turn-based RPG experience in a much-loved gaming universe. After raising nearly $2 million last year, it launched on PC a few months ago and on mobile last week.
I have a soft spot for this genre, so I was excited to dig into Shadowrun Returns on Android. But at $9.99, you want a game that's going to be more than a good attempt. Let's see how Shadowrun fares.
Gameplay And Controls
The world of Shadowrun Returns is instantly alluring – the year is 2054, and magic has returned to Earth. Humans now share the world with elves, trolls, orcs, and dwarves, all of whom have access not only to advanced technology, but to powerful magic. You are a Shadowrunner – a mercenary... a hired gun, but you're down on your luck. Then you get a call from an old friend. Of course he's dead, but that's hardly the strangest thing you'll deal with. The recorded message sets out your goal in Shadowrun Returns: find the person who killed your friend, and you get his life saving of 100,000 Nuyen (futuristic cyberpunk bucks).
At the beginning of the game you are offered the chance to choose your character's gender, race, and class. This part feels like a genuine RPG, but maybe a little simplified. The race you choose has a small effect on certain skills, but you can still manage to play any class you want. As for classes, there are six in the game: Street Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger, and Physical Adept. When you pick these, you're basically just getting a pre-configured stat list. You can choose no class and manually assign all your points as well. It's cool that there are no restrictions in the skills. Even if you choose a Mage character, there is nothing stopping you from jacking up your skill with a pistol.
This title plays like a real RPG right from the start. You gain experience to increase your stats, find valuable items, and make decisions that affect the gameplay. The scale of this game isn't quite to the level of the classic Fallout games, for example. The most noticeable concession is that Shadowrun Returns isn't an entirely open-world. It essentially corrals you into small areas of the world which you can wander around in to complete your assigned tasks. That's not necessarily a problem, but you should know what you're getting into. The story is interesting, and the dialog is very well-written as well.
Shadowrun Returns gives you a top-down isometric view of the area immediately around you. To move or interact, you just tap on the screen. You can also zoom in and out with multi-touch, but I found that unnecessary most of the time – the game is very good at figuring out what you're tapping. When the time comes for battle, it's all turn-based. Each member of your party gets a shot at doing some damage or completing other actions, then each enemy does the same. Last man standing wins. Some of the buttons are a little small, which is probably why this is mainly for tablets. Some phones can run it, but I don't think the experience will be great.
You really have to think tactically to do well in Shadowrun Returns – a strategy needs to take into account the abilities and items you have on had in each and every battle. Much of this will depend on which class you're playing too. A mage-focused character will carry around spells that offer various ranged attacks and will do more damage when positioned on magical ley lines. The way you play that character is completely different from a Physical Adept, who needs to get in close to unleash a devastating barrage of melee attacks. Then there are tech skills like Decking (hacking, more or less) and Rigging (controlling combat drones). There's plenty of variety in the gameplay.
Graphics And Performance
The visuals in Shadowrun Returns are not over-the-top amazing, but they're more than sufficient for the kind of game it is. For example, the textures are good, but maybe a little repetitive and static. The character models are also not terribly varied – all the races seem to have one basic build with minor cosmetic differences. The character portraits really only have a passing resemblance to the avatar walking around in the game.
That said, the graphics don't disappoint. There's no aliasing to speak of, and things are clean-looking. You can see what's going on even with a ton of characters on the screen. I really like the dark visual style and varied environments as well. There are a lot of "cyberpunk sprawl" kinds of locations, but I don't feel like I'm walking around the same decrepit buildings all the time.The lighting effects are pretty solid too. It's the way I imagine a William Gibson novel would look.
The game runs very smoothly most of the time, but I have seen an occasional spot of lag. However, that's the exception rather than the rule. Shadowrun will gobble up RAM – easily 300MB of it. I'm playing on the 2013 Nexus 7 with 2GB of RAM, and I really can't imagine it running very well on a device with only 1GB. If you jump into another app, the system is almost certainly going to kill Shadowrun Returns.
It's not all smooth sailing, sadly. While testing Shadowrun Returns, I encountered some significant bugs that still have not been rectified. I originally tried the game as a Rigger, which was cool at first. However, the drones used with that skill were constantly disappearing from the game. They were there one moment, but missing after traveling to a new area. This class might just be broken right now.
I tried focusing on a few different character classes and encountered fewer problems. However, I'm still noticing some events in the game aren't triggering like they're supposed to. Doors aren't unlocking and characters aren't showing up where they are supposed to. It's not constant, but things go wrong often enough that I feel the need to tell you about it.
These bugs might not be so bad except for the fact that Shadowrun Returns doesn't let you manually save. The save points are entirely too far apart for a game running on a mobile device. Shadowrun usually saves each time you go to a new area. As I mentioned above, this game eats up resources quite effectively, so even a quick hop over to check your email, and the game might close in the background. If the game closes, or there is a bug that prevents you from progressing, you have to start the level over. The autosave setup also ensures that you have to set aside at least 20-30 minutes to play the game, otherwise you'll never make any progress.
Is It Worth Your Nuyen?
We're talking about a $10 game here, and while many people won't be stressed spending that much on a roughly 12 hour quest, others will consider it a deal breaker. In Shadowrun Returns, I was hoping I'd find a perfect example of the RPG genre – one that took me back to those heady days of grinding away in Fallout 2. What I found wasn't perfect – there are some annoying bugs and design decisions I don't agree with. In spite of all that, Shadowrun Returns is an enjoyable game.
The developers have pushed through a few updates to address issues, but some bugs are still cropping up. I don't have any trouble believing it will be worked out before long, but don't expect perfection out of the gate.
In the end, I like Shadowrun because it's a faithful interpretation of the turn-based RPG. It needs some work, so casual gamers should give it some time. If you're willing to hunker down and power through to checkpoints, and you don't mind dealing with the occasional bug in the pursuit of RPG gold, then get your wallet out.
As for me, I'm going to keep playing Shadowrun Returns because I'm genuinely having fun with it. That's probably the most important part.