Harebrained Schemes has done some great things with the tactical isometric RPG in the last few years. Shadowrun Returns was well received, and the expansion that ended up becoming a full blown release as a Director’s Cut, with Shadowrun: Dragonfall ended up nailing what a lot of us wanted in a Shadowrun RPG, let alone a regular one. Strong storylines, great companion characters for your Shadowrun team, and a solid game engine made for a lot of fun. They’ve gotten a bit more ambitious following this success, redesigning how the Matrix dives work, changing the setting again and setting up a whole new story line here with Shadowrun: Hong Kong. So how does their attempt to follow up on Dragonfall fare? Let’s take a look.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong takes place in the city it’s named after, in an alternate future where magic has returned and all your weird cyberpunk realities have come true. Your character, having recently gotten out of jail for something you were involved in years ago, is lured to Hong Kong by your foster father, Raymond, who is looking for help. Things go belly up when you make it to the meeting point with your foster brother, Duncan, as Raymond isn’t there, two of the Shadowrunners your foster father hired along with Duncan’s partner get murdered and you find yourself on the run from the HKPD, labeled as a terrorist against the state. You have no means to get out of the city and back to Seattle, but the two surviving runners, Is0bel and Gobbet, hook you up with someone who can burn your identity, Auntie Cheng. Cheng has an equal interest in finding out what’s happened to your foster father, as it cost her two of her better runners.
She sets you up as new runners for hire and continues looking into Raymond’s kidnapping or murder, depending on how you and Duncan see things, but the whole area is plagued with nightmares about the Walled City, a terrible slum nearby. You seem to be one of the targets, and it seems that Raymond was somehow connected to the nightmares, or at least trying to solve them. You set about doing the odd job for your new employer while trying to solve the larger mystery of the nightmares plaguing the area, along with dodging the HKPD and rival Shadowrunner teams throughout Hong Kong. The storyline is actually really good for this game. The characters and writing are fantastic here, and I have to say that Auntie Cheng is probably one of my favorite bosses in a Shadowrun campaign, from either the tabletop or computer versions. She’s great. There’s fun dialogue and intense situations, and lots of different ways to make it out of a problem, whether you prefer guns blazing or a bit more subterfuge.
If you’re not all that familiar with Shadowrun, but are familiar with isometric RPGs or just RPGs in general, then I have good news: the storyline in Shadowrun: Hong Kong is just about perfect for new people, as our lead characters have to become runners and are new to most of all of this, having only worked in mostly legit lines of work before. There isn’t a lot of hand-holding, but people close to you don’t look at you funny when your character asks questions about runs. That’s not to say that people who’ve played the other two games or the tabletop who are familiar will be groaning through things they already know. It’s presented in a way that if you know your material you can move on, and if you don’t, you can ask. The dialogue and setup work great for new and older players, and I love that they did it this way.
Visually it doesn’t seem like much has been tweaked from the last game to this one. When you start looking a bit closer though, the character models seem more detailed, the world is a bit more intense and interesting and the Matrix overhaul has netted us some neat and interesting looks within the Matrix itself. Most of this is subtle, so you won’t really notice it unless you look really closely. They’ve tweaked the audio and soundtrack in this go around as well. The music is fantastic and the combat audio works really well, but in some key cutscenes you get some actual voice over dialogue to go with your comic book styled visuals. This is still text based as far as most of the game goes, so don’t go getting all excited. They do a great job with what they’ve got here though, and I really love the music they used in this one, probably even more than Dragonfall.
Gameplay wise, you have five races and six classes to choose from, or you could also opt to go classless and build your character entirely form scratch. If you’ve never played before, you should probably avoid the ‘from scratch’ option, and I’d even go so far as to suggest something straight forward like the Street Samurai until you get used to how it plays and where putting your stats works for you. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Your five races include Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and Orks. Humans don’t get any bonuses, but start off with extra Karma, which is what you use to improve your characters. Elves have high Charisma and Willpower, making them excellent at ranged attacks and as Shamans. Dwarves have high Body and Willpower, making them the better Mages in the game. Orks are you typical brick wall. Trolls have the lowest possible Intelligence and Charisma, but are extremely tough and do make for good Physical Adepts.
Classes include the Decker, Street Samurai, Shaman, Physical Adept, Rigger, and Mage. Deckers give you easy access to the Matrix, the Internet of the Shadowrun world, where they can find information and help you get around obstacles in buildings. Street Samurai use a variety of enhancements to up their physical levels in combat. Riggers have combat drones that they can control and put into combat or fly through ducts to get access to points other characters can’t. Shamans have a totem that they can call on, adding another player on the board for your team. Physical Adepts and Mages use a variety of spells to help through combat situations. All in all, there isn’t one class that’s stronger than the other, as they all have pretty good bonuses between them and they all play really well.
Combat is all handled in a turn-based manner with turn specific spacing, meaning if you don’t like tactical or strategy RPGs, you’re probably not going to like the combat much. Even though it is turn based, however, there is no grid that you can see. It’s probably most comparable to XCOM: Enemy Unknown in its combat execution, as you can see where your character can move and how many action points you’ll use to get there, as well as what kind of cover you’ll have when you arrive. If you liked the combat of XCOM, you will more than likely love the combat of Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Every action burns up one of your character’s two Action Points, be it movement, controlling your drone, casting a spell or attacking.
One of the bigger changes this time around though is to the Matrix itself. It’s been given a huge overhaul in how it works, so instead of automatically being a combat zone you have to slog through with your Decker, you have the option to go stealth now and use your hacking skills to get through unscathed. This is a bit harder than it looks, as the execution is lacking in some respects. It’s not turn based until you get into combat, so you have to rely on being quick with the mouse to move around the sentries. You can time a lot of it, but there will be some frustration in getting to that point. Hacking walls to get to your desired information or switches to get through your blocked door is also different. You can either brute force your way in or attempt to hack it using a mix of the old ‘Simon Says’ and ‘Memory’ games to get through without triggering an alarm. While this version of the Matrix is leaps ahead of where it was before, I can see people getting frustrated with trying to get the timing down, especially when you look like you should be hidden and the Matrix drones spot you anyway.
There are some options to replay this game very differently, from who you take on missions, to what kind of character you play at the start. Granted, it all starts off relatively the same and propels you into a similar ending, but I guarantee you the human mage you play is going to have a very different experience from my Troll Street Samurai. Then there’s also player created content you can run through or, if you’re feeling particularly creative, you can make up your own campaign to run through with the game editor.
As far as having a variety of missions and things to do, the game manages to do that even through the main story line, let alone the side missions you get to take on. You can skip most of the optional jobs if you want to, but they are a lot of fun and deliver some much needed cash to get your runners geared up. The ending can get a lot easier depending on how you stat out and how well you equip yourself and your team, so how you play directly affects how easy or hard the endgame is. This is a bit longer than Returns, but not nearly as long as Dragonfall Director’s Cut. Expect to put in around fifteen to twenty hours if you want to do everything, and even more if you’re looking to get all the achievements through Steam. If you’re still having issues, they also have three difficulty settings to play the game on, but don’t be fooled, if you go in thinking you’re invincible on easy you will get schooled by the enemies in a rather epic fashion.
This is our third outing with the Shadowrun Returns engine and the seventh or eighth computerized version of the Shadowrun tabletop universe, depending on how you want to count the games. Either way, this is not a new world or setting. It is, however, a new batch of characters, and features a very different city from what we’ve been in before. The developers didn’t rest on their laurels and revamped the Matrix system most noticeably, so while this isn’t the latest and greatest in originality, they did at least do something new with this instead of churning out just another sequel.
I really do love Harebrained Schemes take on Shadowrun. They’ve got the right mix down between some serious missions and some that are just fun to play through. The characters are great and the banter and reactions are fabulous. So it wasn’t a huge shock when I got up from a marathon session the other day and realized I’d logged almost ten hours without much of a break. Yes, it can be really addictive to play, and that’s a good problem to have. Just remember to get up to use the bathroom, eat and pick up your wife from work while you play.
With a revamp of the Matrix system and hacking, the end of the game is a less heavy combat slog, which definitely has an appeal if you prefer stealth, which is the point of diving into the Matrix anyway. The game has a good amount of content for what they’re charging, and being able to create your own campaigns within it is just an added bonus on top of everything else. Being set in the same universe, but with a completely new set of characters and storyline, definitely allows these to be instantly accessible for any level of fan. If you’ve never played Shadowrun or aren’t familiar with the world, this game actually does a pretty good job at being an entry point for the series as well, as you end up becoming a Shadowrunner and get introduced to the life as you go, as opposed to being already established in the previous games. Granted, it’s not necessarily a handheld tutorial, but as long as you’re familiar with turn based strategy RPGs, you’ll get along fine.
I mainly had issues with this game when I was getting it to run. I’ve recently upgraded my Windows OS to Windows 10, and I had to upgrade my Nvidia drivers to the latest ones to make sure everything worked all right, otherwise a lot of my programs didn’t work correctly. This has made only a few of my games a bit testy when it comes to running, Hong Kong being one of them. After a few aborted attempts and a deep clean check-up through Steam, I basically ended up having to tell the game to run in Windows 7 compatibility mode before it would even launch into the menu. Lucky for me, that’s the only issue I’ve had with getting it to run, but it’s something to consider. There are some rough spots throughout the game polish wise, with some spelling and a few other call out errors, but on my run through it was few and far between for those. Shadowrun: Hong Kong never crashed to desktop on me and ran smoothly all the way through once I got it running.
Short Attention Span Summary
Shadowrun: Hong Kong has some big shoes to fill, being the third official game outing with the Shadowrun Returns engine, but its advancements do a lot to keep the experience fresh. While I like most of what they’ve done with this, the game engine isn’t set up quite as nicely for the real time interaction in the Matrix as it could be. The storyline has a lot going on and doesn’t feel quite as focused as Shadowrun: Dragonfall, but it’s definitely a much more personal one. Some players might feel a bit put off by how the developers chose to integrate the player later in the game, but overall it sucks you in more. While not quite hitting the same stride as Dragonfall’s Director’s Cut, Hong Kong is still a great RPG that’s definitely worth a look from RPG fans and a definite buy for Shadowrun fans.