Shadowrun: Hong Kong – Review
I have a lot to thank Kickstarter for. This reasonably new way of funding a project has burst onto the scene and given developers the chance to move out from under the shadow of big publishers and allowed them to stay true to their vision. It has also given indie developers a way to access funding they could only dream of previously. But most importantly for an older gamer such as myself it has given rise to the resurrection of classic franchises long thought dead and buried by the gaming world. I guess the real reason I want to say thank you to Kickstarter is because once again I have Shadowrun.
I have always loved this world, this crazy mix of fantasy and sci/fi clichés and tropes. It is something unique that barely anything has touched on before (I honestly don’t know why either.) So I was more than pleased to find out that after the success of Shadowrun Returns the developers, Harebrained Schemes, were heading back to the Kickstarter well for a follow up called Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Fast forward about a year and I now have this new entry in my hands and do you know what? Shadowrun has never been better.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong isn’t a full sequel as such. It is more like a super refined version of Shadowrun Returns. Every system, gameplay element and environment has been polished until it shines. It seems the developers have taken the small niggles and problems people had with Returns and done whatever is in their power to make sure that they are dead and buried. If I wanted to be super critical I could easily say that Shadowrun: Hong Kong is just more of the same and I would be right. However that doesn’t take into account the huge amount of refinement that has actually gone on. It is the same but it is a much better same than before.
The most noticeable improvement is the more logical skill tree. It was much easier for me to make my skill tree selections this time around with a sleeker and more clearly identifiable upgrade path. In Returns this section was confusing and it was difficult to determine how I needed to upgrade my character to reach a desired result. It is much clearer in Hong Kong, taking out a huge source of frustration. Another cool upgrade addition is I now had the ability to upgrade my companion characters with bonuses and perks. It isn’t a full upgrade tree but something similar to how Diablo 3 handles companion upgrades. It is a nice addition and encouraged me to get to know my companions better as opposed to just thinking of them as cannon fodder.
The graphics have had a spit shine as well. The worlds are much more open and the levels are more varied. Everything looks clean and crisp with an impressive amount of detail included in the game. The levels are also much more interactive with certain characters being able to use the environment to their advantage in combat. Shaman can call forth spirits that are inhabiting certain areas and Deckers (the game’s tech class) can hack many more items this time around. These interactions can often mean the difference between an easy victory or a crushing defeat.
Speaking of hacking this is an area that has also seen a huge amount of improvement. In previous games Deckers would enter the virtual world and battle off a wave of security programs in much the same way combat functioned in the main game world. This time around I had the ability to sneak through the matrix to reach my hacking goal without being forced into combat. Every time I was detected by security programs the system would become further aware of my presence until it reached the point where alarms were set of and the combat would ensue. I found the ability to sneak through these sections a welcome change of pace and while I could always revert back to the combat mode of old it seemed much more like a hackers natural behaviour to sneak in and steal the desired secrets as opposed to blasting my way in with brute force.
Perhaps the only disappointment I have with Shadowrun: Hong Kong is that more wasn’t done to improve some of the combat problems that were also present in Returns. Specifically I had still found getting in and out of cover a little fiddley and I wasn’t always sure whether I was protected or not. I quite often found myself flanked because I was one square from cover and this led to a little bit of frustration settling in. Being that the combat is turned based, strategy is super important and I need to rely on my ability to put my characters in precise positions and I couldn’t do that 100% of the time in Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong the combat works most of the time and is a lot of fun but it lacks the refinement of something like X-com.
In the end though this is a minor blemish on what is an excellent melding of genre’s and styles. This is the best Shadowrun has ever been and if you are even the slightest fan of what the franchise has served up in the past then you owe it to yourself to pick up this game. Excellent roleplaying, entertaining (if slightly flawed) combat and a fun tale of intrigue and revenge make for a hugely enticing package. If you have ever wanted to see an orc use a high grade military sniper rifle or an elf hack a computer then this is the game for you. Now if you will excuse me I must get back to it, these mysteries won’t solve themselves you know.