LAST EDITED ON Jan-16-21 AT 04:32 PM (EST)
Back a few years ago, before they made BattleTech, Harebrained Schemes made a short series of games based on the Shadowrun license. They were turn-based tactical combat games, mechanically similar to the Firaxis XCOM titles but with an RPG overlay instead of the XCOM franchise's base-builder sideline, where you play the leader of a crew of shadowrunners Doing Their Thing.
If anyone cares about spoilers for a set of games the most recent of which came out in 2015, those of you who do should stop here, because I'm going to talk about some of the details henceforth.
There are either two or three of these games, depending on how you measure it. The first release, Shadowrun Returns, shipped in 2013 with one "campaign", Dead Man's Switch, which was set in the original First Edition setting of Seattle in the early 2050s. A second, Dragonfall, dropped as DLC in 2014, but then it was expanded into a "Director's Cut" and re-released as a standalone game later that same year, still using the same engine and UI. It's set in Berlin, for some reason, although there's really very little visual difference. I guess a cyberpunk dystopia is a cyberpunk dystopia.
The last, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, came out in 2015 and is, as the name suggests, set in Hong Kong (specifically Kowloon), and features the very weird conceit that, Kowloon Walled City having been torn down in 1994, some maniac put it back in the 2020s. It has an updated UI from the previous games and a bunch of new items, including some nifty cyberware and a Body skill called Cyberware Affinity, which very handily allows you to pick up a couple extra Essence points for your character so you can have a modicum of chrome (say, a datajack and some hand razors) without chipping into your Magic stat (which still has a maximum of 6).
My favorite feature of Hong Kong, though, is that it allows your character to have an actual name. Returns and Dragonfall only have a blank for a street name, which is exclusively how everyone in the game addresses you, but the plot of Hong Kong includes a family member of the PC who doesn't start the game as a shadowrunner, and who occasionally calls you by your proper name in dialogue. It's a small thing, but a really nice touch for making the player character seem more like an actual person.
The missions in Hong Kong are more varied, too, which is fun. In the first two scenarios they're virtually all basically just shootouts. Even when you're trying to heist something, it inevitably goes wrong and you end up doing a lot of tactical combat. Which is fair enough, it's a tactical combat game, but I like that there are a few missions in HK you can get through with only one or two Fight Scenes, and at least one you can pull off without having to fight anyone at all if you do it right. There are enough conversational options and whatnot in most missions that it's actually a viable strategy to build a high-Charisma "face" character and try to talk your way out of things.
I think my favorite mission scenario in HK is the one where you're hired to infiltrate the offices of a geomantic consulting firm and fuck with their feng shui. Seriously, this is the job. It makes sense, because after all, in Shadowrun magic is real, so feng shui actually works, and it therefore follows that you can screw it up by putting things in the wrong place and stuff. So you sneak into this office building in the middle of the night and... move things. One room is a cubicle farm, and you go in there and shuffle the partition walls around until the flow of chi is all messed up. Another one is a bathroom, where you disrupt the energies by cracking one of the mirrors. There's a bit of fighting in this mission, because eventually their staff wizards notice that something weird is going on and come to investigate, but it's not a straight-up firefight like most of the jobs in Dead Man's Switch.
Another fun one, and the one you can get through without any combat at all if you do it right, sees the PC and a couple members of the crew infiltrating a deckers' convention in order to buttonhole an acquaintance of your crew's NPC decker and pry some software out of him. I love this mission partly because of the no-combat option, but mostly because the writers nailed that "nerd convention" vibe perfectly while simultaneously spreading a fine gloss of the setting's native weirdness on top.
For example: Out on the con floor, there's a long line for a noodle vending machine even though the con is catered. You know the con is catered because your crew's decker is posing as a member of the catering crew. If you accost one of the people in line and ask him why he's lining up for vending machine noodles at a catered event, he tells you that the Noodle Extruder is a DeckCon institution, and you can't really say you've been to the con unless you've had the noodles.
This is a nice nod to the kind of goofy quirk that often develops in the corporate culture of a big con or trade show in itself, but it gets better: If you pause in one of the offices and read the con organizers' emails, you find out that said noodle machine is haunted. The con has been trying to get rid of it for 14 years, but no matter what they do, every year it reappears on the floor, supplying noodles to the faithful despite the fact that it has no supplies. The later emails between the con staffers are outright panicky. "The machine is empty, where are the noodles coming from?!"
(There's also another undercover shadowrunner on the floor, with whom you can compare notes and wish luck when you find out that the two of you are there on non-overlapping jobs, and a group of jet-lagged deckers from Seattle having a Fuchi-vs.-Renraku holy war in which you can intervene if your Charisma is high enough.)
All three games are pretty fun, but HK is the best in my opinion--the characters are more fun and the missions more varied, and although I haven't finished it yet, the A-plot seems to be developing into the most interesting.
That said, one of the potential endings of Dragonfall--the worst one--is a backdoor setup for a different ex-FASA game, which is pretty funny. The A-plot antagonist in Dragonfall has figured out a way to make dragons extinct, and if you flip at the ending and help him do it, you get a "some time later" epilogue where it turns out the dragons, problematic as they were, were actually holding back something worse, which, in their absence, has now overrun the world and forced the few remaining survivors of humanity underground. These things are so powerful, so malevolent, so vile, and so utterly incomprehensible to the human mind that the survivors just call them "horrors".
Yep. The Bad End of Dragonfall is the setup for Earthdawn. Nice touch, HBS. Well bowled.
Anyway, I mentioned that your character in HK can have a proper name. When I was creating mine, I got hung up at that screen for an inordinately long time before having an idea. Possibly because I was putting together the Vocaloid Variations subpage for UF at the same time, and/or had been kicking around thoughts to do with the next VV installment, or maybe just out of the blue, I ended up with a charismatic decker called Voxel--real name: Saki Takata. I'll let you do your own math. :)
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
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