Guest Author - James Shea
A revival of a classic cyberpunk-fantasy tabletop franchise, "Shadowrun Returns" is a tactical RPG coupled with an extensive module-creator for players to make their own stories.
"Shadowrun Returns" is a role-playing game taking place in a futuristic world full of elves, dwarves and orcs alongside computers, guns, and flying cars. The player controls a single developed character who occasionally has temporary sidekicks; the game is real-time as the player walks around, but turns into a turn-based tactical game when combat occurs.
From a mechanical standpoint, the game is simpler than a lot of other RPGs. The "world" is essentially a static backdrop; there's very little interactivity, and the game itself consists of linear setpieces strung together rather than a sprawling open world with freedom of movement. It's kind of hard to get invested in the world in that sense because you rarely feel like you're "making choices", which is unfortunate.
The game is primarily carried on its atmosphere and writing. The game is chock-full of rain-slicked, neon-illuminated streets and reasonably memorable characters and designs that help set the mood and establish the game's aesthetic. Still, though, it's not as good as it could - or should - be, and it gets to be kind of frustrating.
The game's combat is "okay" - not great, but workable. Your tactical options are relatively simple, but it's not actively bad. The only real problem I had with it was the cyberspace segments, which are drawn out and frustrating compared to the "realspace" gunfights, and are mandatory in some parts even if your character isn't specialized for computer stuff.
The game's big draw is the adventure creation tool, which allows players to create their own stories and worlds in a manner similar to the main campaign. This was an idea that other games have had before, most notably the D&D RPG "Neverwinter Nights". This incarnation of that idea is a little bit simpler than some others, and the things you can do with it are kind of limited. It's certainly functional if you know what you're doing, but it's just not as good as it could be and certainly not good enough to carry the product on its own.
Overall, Shadowrun Returns is only recommended for people who really like the setting (or the sound of it, at least) - it's atmospheric, but incomplete.