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Page 3 of 3This leads me to the combat proper. As I've mentioned earlier, Shadowrun Returns uses turn-based combat mechanics. Your Action Pool determines the amount of actions you can take during a turn, with certain special attacks and spells requiring more than a single Action Point, some of which also come with a cooldown attached. Basic movement also requires a single Action Point, with longer travel distances consuming more, and the way it's handled feels reminiscent of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, given you can only decide your destination but not the particular route taken.
Truth be told, the whole combat system feels reminiscent of Firaxis' 2012 turn-based strategy title. I'll mention just a few elements that are evidently indebted to the recent X-COM reboot: the interface, the way the Overwatch ability works, the small amount of actions per turn, the lack of ammo as a resource making reloading an Action Point sink (the Pistol skill tree has an ability that lowers reload cost to 0, making ammo capacity a complete non-issue, but that's an exception), the way turns are divided discretely between your team's turn, the enemy team's turn and neutral turns with no initiative system in place. All these influences come with their pros and cons, of course. It's an easy to understand system that presents its trade-offs in a remarkably transparent way, but it also lacks some of the finer control that fans of the genre are used to.
Furthermore, and this is in no way a direct influence of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the game is fairly easy. While I won't go as far as to say that the game is a piece of cake, especially at the higher difficulty levels, it certainly presents no particular challenge. Assuming the player's build isn't completely inefficient and the team of runners hired for the job - while initially you get assigned companions for story events, later on you can hire pre-made runners for money - is adequate, pretty much every combat encounter is beatable without needing to change or adapt your tactics too much. Some of the late encounters in the game feel a bit cheap, with enemies spawning in the middle of your turn and attacking you, but I get the impression it was more of a careless design choice than an intentional move to make the encounters more difficult. Another way in which Shadowrun Returns feels different from XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the game's tendency to pit you against enemies that adhere to the same ruleset as your characters do, rather than having you fight monsters with their own hand-tailored mechanics. There are few instances in which you'll fight monsters, especially in the latter half, but for the most part you'll deal with orks, humans, elves and trolls, using the same abilities and gear as you. These abilities, incidentally, don't necessarily feel perfectly balanced, with some archetype feeling overall less useful than others, like, for example, the Adept.
Speaking of gear, I unfortunately have to note that the title is a bit lacking in this regard. The game doesn't have any kind of random drops, or indeed any loot drops from enemies at all, which given the mission-focused structure of the title didn't feel like a huge drawback from my point of view. The itemization is overly simplistic, however, with every archetype getting a simple armor progression without trade-offs or side choices (shamans have armors that add Charisma, Spirit Control and Conjuring, deckers get armors that add Decking and ESP Control and so on), and every weapon category following a similarly straight progression path, with higher level weapons locked behind skill requirements. You can also spend money on items, with your standard array of buffs and medkits (the modern equivalent of potions), and upgrade your body with cyber-enhancements. These enhancements raise your stats and award you extra abilities at the cost of Essence, which governs your spell cooldowns: the less Essence you have, the longer your cooldowns will be. I didn't dabble in this system too much, given my main character was a Shaman, but I didn't get the impression these bonuses were particularly notable.
Graphics, music and performance
While Harebrained Schemes' choice to go for a stylized look won't please everyone, the team is worthy of recognition for executing on their stylistic choices perfectly. Every 2D location is colorful, detailed and consistent, and the low-poly 3D character models blend in perfectly with their easily readable silhouettes communicating their race, gender and class effectively despite the limited polygon budget. Animation, on the other hand, can feel a bit spartan, and I encountered frequent minor animation glitches, including NPCs suddenly becoming extremely fast while running into cover, and other similar small but noticeable blemishes. The soundtrack is also good, if not exceptional, with a small selection of catchy electronic and electronic-meets-rock themes that enhance the atmosphere.
Given Shadowrun Returns is a low-budget game developed with Unity, you'd expect it to not tax your system and run well, and so it did on my platform, with a smooth framerate at maximum graphical settings. I did, however, encounter some issues with sound micro-stuttering occurring while the game streams assets, a bug that is apparently caused by the engine's multi-threading code. Despite searching for workarounds on the internet, I wasn't able to find anything that solved the issue for me, but aside from that, the game was pretty much bug-free for me. I did however read reports of bugs and scripting issues which hopefully will be fixed by the undoubtedly upcoming patches.
A final mention goes to the checkpoint-based saving system, which is the most aggravating I have ever encountered since Alpha Protocol. While at least Obsidian's title had the excuse of featuring heavy choices and consequences, making checkpoints a way to prevent you from reloading and making another choice after finding out the outcome, Shadowrun Returns' only excuse is budget. It offers no benefit whatsoever for the players, preventing them from playing the game at their own pace and forcing them to replay dialogue encounters and scripted scenes, should they happen to die during pivotal encounters. I'm not sure whether it's doable, but patching a proper save anywhere system in its place would do a lot to make the game easier to play for people who are pressed for time or simply find themselves frustrated by this design choice.
When I finished Shadowrun Returns, I found myself hungering for more. While I take that as a sign of my enjoyment of the game, it's also a result of what little the title has to offer at release: only a short, linear campaign, albeit a very enjoyable one. Shadowrun Returns might well become a very content-rich game later down the line, with promising mods already in alpha state and a DLC campaign already in development, but right now it simply isn't. It is, however, a solid title, if a little bit too short and shallow for its own good.
For some chummers this might be well worth a purchase. For others, however, purchasing the game now might just feel as stupid as cutting a deal with a dragon.
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