In the late eighties, a new pen-and-paper role-playing game (RPG) called Shadowrun was introduced to the world. Bringing orcs, ogres and dwarves (amongst others) of the fantasy genre and introducing them to a cyberpunk setting, Shadowrun brought a unique take on RPGs to gaming.
In 1993, the Shadowrun universe was brought to 16-bit life in videogame form on Nintendo’s SNES and Sega’s Mega Drive (that’s the Genesis for any lovely readers from across the pond), though they were vastly different and the SNES version was widely regarded to be the much superior version. The Nintendo version was an isometric RPG that was absolutely unforgiving in its difficulty but nailed the atmosphere and feel of its inspiration.
In 2013, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Harebrained Schemes released the hugely impressive Shadowrun Returns. Melding the isometric style of the SNES game (with updated 3D visuals) with XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s fantastic, turn-based combat system, Returns was a big seller and rightly so. In 2014, Shadowrun Returns got a standalone expansion entitled Dragonfall. It improved upon the first game in many ways, namely its storytelling and progression, due to fan feedback from Returns.
Now, after a different Kickstarter campaign, another developer, Cliffhanger Productions has released Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown. Originally named Shadowrun Online, Chronicles was turned into a single player game but with co-op elements similar to those seen in Blizzard’s Diablo III or Bungie’s Destiny – the main hub is a social space in which you can arrange to take on missions with other players, and then you jump into those missions together (or alone, with pre-made characters) and so on.
Despite being made by a completely different developer to the Returns games, Shadowrun Chronicles plays almost exactly the same. Using the mouse, you point and click where you want your characters to move, then click on items, characters or enemies in the environment to interact with/engage them. However, whereas in Returns you could move freely outside of combat, with no movement restrictions placed upon players, in Chronicles you are always “in combat” during missions. Each character has a set movement radius in which they can move and then perform other actions, but moving into a second, wider radius (sprinting) will exhaust their abilities for that turn. In multiplayer, each player can move their character independently and the enemy’s turn will only begin once all players have ended their respective turns. When playing alone, it’s easy to see why the “Online” moniker was dropped. It really makes no difference to the gameplay, only speeding things up on occasion.
Before being dropped into Shadowrun’s cyberpunk Boston, you’ll be asked to create your character. After choosing your gender and race, you can select a class from the substantial list available, which determines your starting stats and your character’s abilities – these range from hacking and magic, to guns of many shapes and sizes. It does seem quite limited at first, but this is only the first part of the character customisation portion of the game, but we’ll, ahem, “return” (see what I did there?) to this in a moment.
After determining your character’s basic looks and abilities, you’ll be dropped into a far-too-simple tutorial in which the game outlines how to move and interact with the environment. Unfortunately, if you haven’t played either Shadowrun Returns game (or XCOM, for that matter) beforehand, it doesn’t really go into much detail and it could alienate new players.
After the brief tutorial, you’ll find yourself in the second character customisation screen. From here, you can select exactly how your character dresses (which you can actually modify at any point afterward, too) from hats, all the way down to underwear, recalling the in-depth customisation of Morrowind or Saints Row 2. My human female character ended up dressed in a vest and shorts, with goggles strapped to her head. I ran into other players (only distinguishable from NPCs due to their movement, as there really is no other indication) dressed in clothing that ranged from the ridiculously skimpy to perfectly in keeping with the cyberpunk setting.
You’ll only run across other players within the hub area, unless they are specifically invited to join you in missions. This hub area is a marketplace in which you find new missions, armour, weapons, magic and even cybernetic enhancements that can give you combat bonuses. You may also speak to NPCs to flesh out the story, as they may give extra information on events that occur as a result of your missions.
Before starting a mission, you will either gather your co-op player partners or choose from a varied range of pre-made companions. Choosing players/characters of different skills is favourable, to give you a chance against any opponents. Once you actually start a mission (which loads very quickly even on low- to mid-range PCs) you will usually be treated to some story dialogue before getting into the mission proper. Most missions consist of killing everything that moves, possibly with the added bonus of having to hack a computer or find a specific item/NPC. This is where Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown falls flat. The combat system works as well as it did in other games but it somehow feels less exciting or tense, even when the difficulty ramps up – which can happen at any time, often feeling quite cheap when you’re quickly outnumbered and outgunned. This usually occurs during missions in which you have not been prepared, due to the game’s poor explanation of its mechanics. Without mid-mission checkpoints this can be especially frustrating when you’re viciously murdered after spending 20 minutes on a level.
Overall, Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown is a saddening experience. Although it runs nicely at 1600×900 resolution on my rapidly ageing PC (although resolution and an overall ability to enable/disable post-processing effects are the extent of the graphics options here) and the combat can be satisfying, it really is a game that seems confused about what it is. Is it an online game; a story rich experience; or a proper, turn-based RPG? It feels like even Cliffhanger Productions wasn’t sure, and so we get a strange mish-mash of them all and, as the saying goes, it becomes a Jack of all trades, master of none.
If Shadowrun Returns hadn’t existed, maybe Chronicles wouldn’t feel so disappointing. But it does exist, and so it is far more deserving of your money than Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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