Shadowrun Returns (iPad) Review

Shadowrun is back — again — for iPad. Does its dusky cyberpunk world still entice?
I have strong affection for Shadowrun, but then I have to be honest about that affection.
It’s an affection with an incredibly strong dose of nostalgia behind it, dating all the way back to the late 1980s when I purchased the first edition rulebook. Sure, it had huge gaps in character creation, but that didn’t matter. The richness of the setting and the possibilities of a mixed fantasy and science fiction setting was enough to really set my teenage brain fizzing.
That was then, and this is now, and Shadowrun is back. It has, you could say, returned.

Shadowrun Returns (iPad): On the plus side

When I say back, what I’m looking at here is the recent iOS release of a game that was already released for PC earlier this year. Timing meant I missed out on its charms at the time, but with the release of the iPad version, I could wait no longer.
For those on the Android side of things, the Android version appears to have wider compatibility. Amusingly, the Google Play store reckons it’s compatible with the Pivos XIOS DS Play!. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be testing that out.

A "seamstress" with a heart of gold. Sure, the cliches run thick and fast, but they're fun cliches.
A “seamstress” with a heart of gold. Sure, the cliches run thick and fast, but they’re fun cliches.

Shadowrun Returns would have blown my teenage mind, in every sense of the word. It’s the product of Harebrained Games, led by Jordan Weisman, the original designer of Shadowrun. In other words, it’s got form, and it knows what should and shouldn’t happen in the Shadowrun universe.
Why yes, I do try to pretend that the Xbox 360 game never happened. I mean, it’s over on the shelf just to my side, but that’s only because I’ve mislaid my lump hammer right now.
Anyway, getting back on track, the iOS — or I really should say iPad, because this is iPad only, for now — casts you in the role of a shadowrunner across all of the game’s classic classes, from Deckers to Mages, with race adjustments being properly applied to boot. It’s a dark noir tale of murder and redemption, and it’s also surprisingly text-heavy. If you’re already au fait with the Shadowrunner world this is fine, but I could see it being a little overwhelming (or a little ‘so what’?) if you’re not.
The trailer does a good job of covering the concept (although this is for the PC version)
Then again, trailers can lie. This doesn’t look terrible, but it was.

I think I need to cleanse my brain. Ah, this will do nicely.

Astonishingly, I still don’t have a copy of Shadowrun SNES. Anybody got a copy in good nick they’d part with for reasonable money? Ahem… I’m getting off point again.
The point I’m trying to make is that there have been both good and bad games under the Shadowrun banner, and for the most part, Shadowrun Returns is one of the good ones. The story sections play out mostly in the style of point and click adventure games, although being iPad based, it’s more like tap and tap again.
What’s nice here is that Harebrained Schemes don’t shy away from showing alternative options that your character might not be able to do, but other classes could. It’s a great way to encourage replayability, because I’ve already been past plenty of hacking opportunities that my mage character simply can’t handle, for example.

Shadowrun Returns (iPad): On the minus side

Inevitably in any Shadowrun caper, you’re going to run into a firefight, although the fire in this case could be coming out the end of a smoking magnum or simply erupting from your fingers depending on character class. Everything here works as it should, but it’s tactically very light indeed.
Compared to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, for example, the need for real cover is greatly reduced, enemy AI is terribly rudimentary, and most combat sequences lack serious challenge. In some ways that’s a plus, in that it keeps you plot focused, but at the same time it could do with some tightening up.
Shadowrun Returns only saves at the end of each instance, which is a little maddening. I’m not entirely in the camp where I demand the ability to save every six seconds, but for a mobile title it would be nice to be able to drop in and out a little more gracefully.

Loading... loading... maybe crashing...
Loading… loading… maybe crashing…

That’s also an issue because Shadowrun Returns is a bit of a resource hog, and it’s not above crashing from time to time. That’s understandable to a certain extent with new code; while I’ve been testing it updates have come through that presumably squished a few bugs, but having more rapid saves would make crashes significantly less galling.
Hey, a conversation tree! I remember those...
Hey, a conversation tree! I remember those…

The other issue is what you don’t get with the iPad version, and that’s any of the creation tools for extra missions beyond the core campaign. There are apparently plans for some additional content, but no plans for the user modification that the PC version offers.

Shadowrun Returns (iPad): Pricing

The flipside of that argument is the fact that Shadowrun Returns for iPad is cheaper than its PC equivalent. The iPad version is $10.49, the Android version is $10.78 and at the time of writing, the PC Steam version is $19.99.
Although paradoxically, that means that the PC version sits in bargain basement territory for PC games, but on mobile platforms it’s a pricey title.

Shadowrun Returns (iPad): Fat Duck verdict

I can forgive the lack of creation tools, largely because I could see them being a massive pain point not only to implement, but also for users to tediously tap through. Some things would work better with mouse and keyboard, after all.
That leaves Shadowrun Returns as a standalone proposition, and ultimately it’s a good one, carried along by a very strong narrative. I think my teenage self would be not-so-quietly happy with that concept, if only because good role playing relies on strong narrative at its core, not just random dice rolling or a cool setting.
If you can run the PC version that’s arguably going to be a better value bet — you’re talking ten bucks more, which isn’t much — but those on the purely tablet side will have lots of neon-soaked noir fun here.

3 thoughts on “Shadowrun Returns (iPad) Review”

  1. My biggest problem with this game (and it’s a big one) is that it’s more linear than a Call of Duty game. For pretty much the entire experience you’re walking down a corridor/ road/ whatever, with invisible walls or non-interactive doors lining the street as you go.
    Contrast to Baldur’s Gate where you are free to tackle the game in pretty much any way you’d like, and this is a deeply inferior RPG experience. I liked the settings and the narrative. I did not like the linearity.
    I can’t remember if the SNES one was the same. I don’t want to play it now for fear that my nostalgia would be crushed by discovering it is.

    1. The SNES version is a little more open, but not by much. As noted in the review, if the setting doesn’t grab you, not much will. Although I’d argue that this is easier to get to grips with than BG’s rather convoluted iPad controls.

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