Game Review: Elves, Orcs, and …GUNS! Shadowrun: Hong Kong

Shadowrun is a property that I have never known what to make of. I like cyberpunk and tech noir, and I like fantasy (in a game setting at least), but combining the two? The idea of elves and dwarves running around futuristic cityscapes, firing semi automatic pistols and slinging spells seemed a little hokey. Would I really enjoy a game set in a world where orcs work as mafia head crackers and dragons run parasitic megacorporations? Well,  the game was on sale, decent cyberpunk RPGs seem to be something of a rare commodity, and I hadn’t played a good tactical CRPG in ages, so I gave it a shot.

Gameplay – Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a n old style isometric CRPG with a point and click control interface. Upon starting a new game, the player will be treated to an opening narration and then dropped into a character creation screen. Shadowrun uses a classless character system, but provides players with a decent amount of skills to choose from to tailor a character to his or her individual taste. These range from melee and range weapons skills to hacking, to skills related to persuasion and the use of drones among others. The lack of any type of real stealth related skills was a bit of a disappointment though. I guess sneaking up behind someone and putting a knife to his throat is something that doesn’t happen in 2056 Hong Kong. Combat, which can often be avoided with the right persuasion skills and the proper etiquette, is a tactical turn based system that utilizes action points. It reminded me of the glory days of the “Fallout” series, but with the welcome addition of cover. Be prepared to read a lot. Most dialogue is not fully voiced, and some players used to modern casualized role-playing games will likely be disappointed. Do not go in expecting a “Skyrim” style sandbox either. Shadowrun’s missions play out on self contained maps accessed via a small hub town. While inventory management leaves something to be desired and the lack of stealth as a tactical option is somewhat disappointing, overall the game plays smoothly and I didn’t encounter too many issues.

Score: 3.5/5

Story – Shadowrun’s story is serviceable, but awash in noir cliches. The hard nosed main character with a troubled past. The seemingly simple investigation that drags him into Hong Kong’s seedy underbelly. All that was missing was a narrator with a Humphrey Bogart voice to relay quips about “fellas” and “dames.” There are also a lot of unavoidable side threads that seemed to make little to no sense and dragged the game too far into a fantasy/supernatural direction

Score: 2.5/5

Graphics and Sound – As was mentioned in the gameplay section, Shadowrun is viewed from an isometric perspective with a non rotating camera. The game features 3-D rendered character models with pre rendered backgrounds in the style of many of the current crop of games from this sort of CRPG revival. The characters have a, to my eyes at least, sort of Blizzard-like quality about them, which I’m not too crazy about (I’ve never particularly liked Blizzard’s aesthetics) and the backgrounds sometimes look a little washed out. The game’s bright colour palette helps to set it apart aesthetically from its contemporaries like “Pillars of Eternity” or “Wasteland 2” and goes a long way in selling the neon lit cyberpunk dystopia of the “sixth world.” The sound leaves something to be desired, but is not too bad. Granted the gun sound effects could do with just a little more oomph. However, I don’t consider this to be too much of a transgression in a relatively low-budget Kickstarter funded game.

Score: 3/5

Overall Impression – Despite enjoying this game, I still think that cyberpunk and fantasy are two things that should be kept separate. The game could have benefited from fewer spirits, elementals, and such and more more corporate intrigue. I understand that this can’t be helped though, as this is based on a cyber-fantasy tabletop game. While the story was largely forgettable, the way that it was delivered (through mostly written dialogue) was a nice little throwback to the days before dialogue wheels and hammy voice acting. The graphics were relatively pleasing to the eyes and the combat system was fairly intuitive and, dare I say, fun. If you’re burnt out on the Skyrims, Fallouts (Bethesda version), and Witcher 3s of the world and looking for a fun little old school tactical romp, you can do far worse than Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Overall Score: 3/5


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