Discussion The Patient Gamer - Shadowrun Returns - Cyberpunk Fantasy Noir


Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
Ah Shadowrun. If there was a gameworld that deserves everything, a nice budget and high production values, it would be Shadowrun. Shadowrun is one part Cyberpunk: You have your cybernetic mods, smart auto targeting weapons, hacking (decking) into the matrix, a world of mega corporations and espionage etc etc etc. Its also an equal part Fantasy: Mages, Elves, Dwarves, Dragons, Demons, the whole shebang. It takes these two seemingly contradictory tropes and blends them together with a sort of effortless grace that makes you wonder how and why the setting isn't everywhere.

Shadowrun Returns is not a high budget proposition. Its a well made albeit very indie isometric turn based RPG outing into the world of Shadowrun. Its a great primer for the universe, although the game does have some fairly significant shortfalls.

You play as a Shadowrunner, one of the downtrodden masses of meta-humanity that exist on the fringes of society, taking odd jobs to stay alive and make the rent and afford food. Down and out, one day you receive a message from an old friend. Its a Dead Man's Switch, triggered when your friend died, asking you to track down and find his killer, with the promise of a hefty reward at the end of your quest. Do you accept? Of course you do. So begins a noir detective journey told in only a way Shadowrun can.

If you're familiar with old school iso-CRPGs, you'll be familiar with Shadowrun. You engage in a hefty amount of non-spoken dialogue with the various characters of the game world, certain speech and skill checks are hard gated based on your character stats. Combat is reasonably robust and very similar to games like Xcom with multiple weapon categories with different firing modes, magic spells and cyberware to buff or debuff, overwatch modes to lure enemies into traps, etc etc. Its solidly assembled and works well, although the UI of the game does leave something to be desired as there can be a lot of clicking involved to get stuff done. Luckily the series improves upon the UI as it goes along.

The story unfolds in a very linear fashion. No true hub world, there is a location you return to regularly between jobs, but you will always exit directly to the next job location and never have to navigate even a semi-open world with multiple paths. I actually appreciated this as it kept things going without the fluff and frou-frou that usually comes along with having to run to some distant location to begin your next quest. The story is at its best when it is keeping the scope close to the ground following the relatively compact story of the dead man's switch. Things do come off the rails a bit in the back half of the game as the plot beelines into saving the world territory which is really not something all games have to have and Returns was fine without, but everything does still come to a somewhat satisfying conclusion in the end.

You are occasionally joined to complete missions with story based characters provided to you, but often you have to hire a totally mute crew of shadowrunners to round out your team. I like how the game does force you to spend money and put some thought into building out your crew for a run, it ties back into the mercenary nature of your occupation , but the game would have really benefited from giving these mercs a bit of personality and chatter during the runs. Especially given some of the absolutely crazy stuff your character sees in the last half of the game, I don't care how professional a shadowrunner you are, you would want to get some thoughts off your mind.

The game does have a substantial amount of written dialogue to read through, and thankfully most of it is reasonably well written, but there are definitely some characters and dialogue sequences where the writing comes off as amateurish or trying too hard.

I've already played the sequel to this game, Dragonfall, and found it to be an improvement in almost every single way. It is also a really excellent hook into the world of Shadowrun. Frabnkly I doubt we'll ever see a big budget Shadowrun world, but I can keep my fingers crossed that some enterprising folks do a total conversion mod for Cyberpunk 2077 at some point down the road. The workshop on Steam is also fully loaded, and these games were clearly made to provide modders the opportunity to create their own Shadowrun campaigns for fans to play through. I have not done so yet, but I may get around to some of the quality ones some day. Someone has also recreated the entire campaign from returns into Shadowrun Hongkong which provides all the benefits of the upgraded UI and engine the last game in the trilogy sports.

You can generally pick up this new Shadowrun trilogy for quite cheap during any given steam sale or game giveaway, and I highly recommend it so long as you know what you're getting into (old school iso-CRPG with some definite indie game jank).

One day we will get a Shadowrun game with a AA budget...


No Lifer
Apr 3, 2001
I just finished playing through Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall recently :)
I did enjoy playing through the story of Shadowrun Returns, even if it is solidly on rails. It generally worked pretty well on a large screen at 4K resolution. Clicking on objects could definitely be fiddly at times, requiring more precise cursor locating than really seems necessary.
I have Hong Kong as well, I'll come back to that one later.
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