Blaugust Day 24 – Shadowrun: Hong Kong – a brief review

You can get it on Steam.

It’s what I ended up playing the most this weekend, and although I’m only a little ways into it (I think) I figured a brief review wouldn’t hurt for those who are considering picking it up. Note that this, like any other review I might do, is entirely subjective and does not aim to offer anything but my own impressions.

I backed the Kickstarter campaign awhile back, not because I’m a Shadowrun PC game fan (I didn’t even know there had been any) but because I’m a Shadowrun the tabletop game fan. I had the first edition rules and a few modules, and for me Shadowrun is probably the tabletop game that got away — we played it a few times and I was keen to do more, but after the usual romp through D&D / AD&D our group went down the White Wolf path and into all things Vampire for a while before transitioning into Ars Magica, which is what we played for several years until I left for the States in 2001. (And what the group is still playing as far as I know. Without me. Bastards! I know some of you read this!)

Mr. Plastic-Face. Shouldn’t be creepy but is.

All of which is to explain that I approached the game as a tabletop role-player and not as a computer gamer. I had no particular expectations of the game other than that it would allow me to immerse myself in the rather fun Shadowrun mythos for a while. For an approach based more on having played the two previous PC games, check out Wot I Think on RPS; I agree with a lot of it from what I’ve played so far, but I wanted to add my own take on the tabletop or more RPG elements.

The intro is a rainy, grainy, typical cyberpunk/noir tale of things gone wrong shown through a series of moody and evocative semi-animated panels. Some will no doubt miss the grand and expensive full-action cinematic, but I loved the format because it leaves more room for my own imagination to fill in the blanks.

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After that you’re thrown into a normal computer-RPG adventure where you track down mysteries, deal with NPCs good and bad, help the downtrodden or do the treading, and gradually unravel both your own main story and the stories of the group that’s decided to help you out.

RPS is right in saying that there’s a lot of text, but — though I didn’t know it when I started — that was exactly what I wanted from this game. It’s been like playing a tabletop adventure where I’m the only meatsack player and everyone else is computerised, including the GM. The descriptions are long, ornate, even florid on occasion… and they bring me right back to the grand old days of reading out boxed text from Castle Greyhawk or the Temple of Elemental Evil. (It didn’t take us long to grow up from purely parroting those out to doing our own flavour and descriptions, but still, boxed text is just one of those things you never forget.)

Heoi

I’ve even kept the music on, which is something I literally never do in games because no matter how long the loop may be, it’s always a loop. And it’s often way too rumpty-pumpty martial or deedly-wheedly fake-Medieval for me to be able to bear it scritching at my brain for more than a few minutes at a time. The SR:HK music is low-key for the most part and well-adapted to the environments, although it does go up and down in volume in certain locations with no apparent rhyme or reason. I can live with that – even though I’ve kept the music turned on, I’ve also got the volume for it down to about 30%.

The exploration gameplay is fairly standard – click to move, right-click to pan, click on things to interact with them – and the combat gameplay is probably nothing too new either (I wouldn’t know, I don’t play many of these games). It’s turn-based and was quite easy to pick up on. This is a plus for me, since I’m far more interested in the story than in the combat.

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But it does lead me to one of the game’s failings, which is the utter lack of a tutorial. There are a few help screens that are more useful as a reminder than as an introduction, and basically that’s your lot. Fortunately I elected to play on Easy mode — because as I said, I’m far more interested in the story — and wasn’t penalised too badly for making the odd mistake; and after a few fights you pick up most of what you need to know. But still. There’s zero help on the Matrix and what you might want to do in there, or how, so it’s a good thing I’m a cyberpunk fan and could figure most of it out for myself.

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In the Matrix

There’s no real help on how stats and skills work, what builds you might want to use and how you might want to develop your character, other than rather ironic warnings that you don’t want to mess up your own development or that of your crew, because you can’t go back and that would be bad!

In fact after a few hours of play I restarted with a new character, partly because I did mess up my xp allocation a bit and partly because the archetype I chose (Decker, i.e. hacker) was already far better covered by one of my crewmates. My second character is a shaman and although there’s one of those on the crew also, two shamans on the same mission crew isn’t as redundant as having two deckers.

I played quite a lot over the weekend so I’m probably a dozen hours in. Not being very well-versed in these games I’m not sure how far into things I am, but it feels like I’ve just hit the opening of the second act — not even, in fact, because I have a couple of missions I want to wrap up before I move on (and the game kindly reminded me to consider doing just that). I’m a very slow player in these games because I like to read everything, talk to everyone, and interact with every last object, so a super goal-oriented playstyle might have got to the same point in 2-3 hours if not faster.

My character choices throughout have been consistent with the persona I play in most games: street-smart, cynical, skimming on the border between legal and not, but generally a decent person. I give NPCs the benefit of the doubt and let people live when they surrender (including the rather fun ghoul crew-member you can get). I try to find non-violent solutions where possible, and the game gives you quite a few of these and fully supports not killing everything in sight. I don’t shoot my mouth off too much — just enough to exemplify my characters’ usual distaste for any kind of authority. And so on.

vamp queen

All in all I’m having a great time, as evidenced by the fact that I totally forgot that I’d invited folks to check out the ARK server I can fire up when needed. ARK didn’t get loaded up at all; nothing did, actually, since SR:HK was the only game I did play this weekend.

I’ll definitely play some more as soon as time allows, and this might be the one and only SRPG game of the last 10 years I actually finish. For some reason I usually lose steam about two-thirds of the way through (DA:O, DA2, DA:I…). But I have a feeling that SR:HK’s combination of screen-based running around and text-based depth is exactly what I’m looking for in a SRPG. Yes, it has a few flaws — the lack of newbie help, for one, and the rather unwieldy inventory and team UIs; for example, I can’t check my crew’s stats when trying to buy weapons or armour for them — is that because their gear updates (which it may do, but not in any way that’s been mentioned to me in game) or because they forgot to include that functionality?

But ultimately, when it came down to spending crowdfunding on tutorials or content — as I’m sure it did — I’m glad they opted for content. I’m at a little over a dollar an hour for my entertainment right now and that’s excellent value for money in my book.

 

 

 

5 responses to “Blaugust Day 24 – Shadowrun: Hong Kong – a brief review

  1. I’ve backed their kickstarter too. It looked like a great concept and I trusted the crew. Loved the game they came out with, just need to do the expansions as well, including this one.

    Awesome character setup, sounds very interesting to play as. Also enjoy ways to complete objectives non-violently too.

    “way too rumpty-pumpty martial or deedly-wheedly fake” best line out of this post.

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  2. I’ve never played Shadowrun except for, like…the NES game I think? I dunno. It’s been a long time, so the source material is pretty much alien to me.

    How hosed am I if I were to try my hand at this game? 😄

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    • Eh… I’m not sure. My in-depth reading of the tabletop Shadowrun stuff was 25 years ago and I didn’t read back up on it for this.

      All you really need to know is that it’s cyberpunk mashed up with fantasy, so you have netrunners and cyberware and drones but also dwarves and dragons and magic. If you know cyberpunk (noir, megacorps, sprawls, netspace, all the William Gibson ‘Neuromancer’ stuff) and magic/fantasy stuff and don’t mind them coexisting in the same universe, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

      After that it’s mostly understanding the character systems, which are fairly standard (attribute –> skill –> subskill, e.g. Charisma –> spirit summoning –> spirit control or Quickness –> Ranged –> Pistols) and mechanics, which you learn as you go along.

      I restarted because I wasn’t feeling the character as much as out of some feeling I’d screwed up and could do better. That’s why it would be nice if they had a tutorial or starting area where you can see how you’re going to get on with what you’ve picked — but even then you get a full stable of friends and/or mercenaries to pick from and can cover the bases quite easily.

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  3. I backed this company’s original Shadowrun Returns, so I got it, then their “Dragonfall” 2nd campaign (not related to the 1st one at all — you start a new character and everything) as part of that. I misread and thought that HK was going to be included in that initial backing, but no such luck. Ah well. I can buy it on Steam. I really enjoyed the 1st 2 campaigns, so I’m looking forward to this one.

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  4. I loved SR immediately, but I ran through it then started immediately on Dragonfall and got bored of the same old. Now I feel like it’s been long enough I should finish it, so then I can get Hong Kong and be a year late playing it too 😛

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