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Shadowrun was created as a tabletop roleplaying system in the 1980s, and after that it inspired a few console RPGs in the 1980s and even an Xbox/PC first-person shooter in 2007. More relevant to this review is that in 2011, Jordan Weisman, the creator of Shadowrun, formed Harebrained Schemes, and over the last three years they've released three PC RPGs: Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and now Shadowrun: Hong Kong.
The Shadowrun setting takes place on Earth, but in an alternate future where there is magic -- not to mention elves, trolls, and dragons -- and where corporations run the show. Shadowrunners are special operatives who typically work for corporations, and their objectives tend to fall under the umbrella of assassination, espionage, and sabotage. Corporations don't have much to fear from the police, so they take what they want any way they can.
In Shadowrun: Hong Kong, you're drawn to Hong Kong by a message from your foster father -- only when you get there he's missing and the police start gunning for you. That forces you to seek protection from a local crime boss, who makes you a deal: if you work as a shadowrunner for her, then she'll look into what happened to your father and who sicced the police on you. With no other options, you're forced to agree, and that starts you out on your trek through the game's 15-mission campaign.
The first thing you have to do in a game of Shadowrun: Hong Kong is create your character. There are two ways to do this: you can pick a class archetype, including decker (hacker), rigger (drone control), street samurai (melee or ranged combat), and shaman (summoner), or you can spend points to buy whichever skills and attributes interest you the most. The game uses a classless system, so regardless of how you start out, you can develop your character however you want.
As you complete objectives during the campaign, you earn "karma" points, which allow you to improve the attributes and skills of your character. Buying the first rank of an attribute or skill costs 1 point, buying the second rank costs 2 points, and so on. Some skills have prerequisites. For example, you can't have your Ranged Combat skill exceed your Quickness attribute, and you can't have any of your gun skills (including skills for pistols, rifles, and SMGs) exceed your Ranged Combat skill. So it gets expensive to min-max your character, and a little bit of versatility is a good idea.
While playing the campaign, you meet some companions, but their development works differently. They don't earn karma points. Instead, they earn five levels at key points during the campaign. At each level, they receive a few bonuses to their skills and attributes, and you're also allowed to choose between two skills for them. This gives you a little bit of power over their development, but not much. The companions are locked into their class archetypes.
Finally, you get to pick a name (including a street name), a race, and a gender for your character, but none of these things have much of an impact on the game. There aren't any romances, and there isn't any racism, so nobody cares what race you're playing.
The character system works pretty well. There are six attributes and 21 skills, and while you earn a friendly amount of karma during the game, you don't earn so much that you can maximize everything -- or even come close. So you have to decide how you want to spend your points, and how much you want to focus on combat versus social and utility skills. For example, while most skills and attributes improve your combat prowess, there is also a Charisma attribute, which allows you to sweet talk your way past people, and it also gives you access to different etiquettes, which provide you with expertise about certain societies in the world (like gangs, corporations and academia). So there are lots of ways to build characters, which is always good.
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