It’s the year 2065, it’s raining, and I’m stuck in Hong Kong. I just picked up lunch which consists of cheap noodles and soy chunks, with some egg protein powder added as a special treat. There’s a man jacked into a public Matrix terminal and he hasn’t moved since last night. A burly Troll stands guard outside a club, scanning for trouble makers. Yellow Lotus gang members stand on most corners watching the streets for rival thugs while shaking down random people as they walk past.
Corporations run everything the gangs don’t. They are your source for news, entertainment, medicine, drugs, cars, whatever it is you need, all in exchange for a little modern day slavery. I refuse to live this way, instead I make my living in the shadows. I’m a Shadowrunner in Shadowrun: Hong Kong.
Shadowrun, which is a lot like if Dungeons and Dragons had a baby with Johnny Mnemonic, first hit the market in 1989 and I never got the chance to play it until I was well into my teens. Being a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, and crime novels, it was a no-brainer that I’d fall for this game, too. That’s why when I saw a kickstarter for Shadowrun Returns, a turn based game using the Shadowrun setting, I gladly pitched in some money. Now it’s two years later and they’ve made two sequels, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and their latest, and definitely greatest, Shadowrun: Hong Kong.
No matter what sort of character you play, and there are many, many different kinds, the game always starts the same: Your adopted father, Raymond Black, desperately needs your help, which means you’ll have to leave the comfort of Seattle to travel across the world to Hong Kong. Of course, since this is Shadowrun, nothing goes right and Raymond goes missing. With the help of a childhood friend, Duncan Wu, and a ragtag band of misfits, you’ll track him down from the slums of the Walled City to the high rise towers of the corporate zone. You’ll encounter street mages, thugs, gang leaders, corporate spies, Elven commandos, and more dangerous people than you can shake a credstick at.
Gameplay consists of a hub world, set in one of the many sprawling docks of Hong Kong, where you can access traders, gain information, and receive new missions known as ‘runs.’ Runs can be completed at any time once they are received, except for certain story missions that need to be done in a certain order. Your character can choose up to three other shadowrunners to accompany you, drawn from a pool of freelancers or using your own group of NPCs that you gain as the story progresses. These NPCs have their own backgrounds, motivations, and even side missions that can be completed to gain extra perks or abilities.
There’s no right or wrong way to complete a mission. Will you talk your way past security and through the front doors, or will you sneak in through the back entrance? If you’ve got a hacker on your team you can gain valuable intel, keycards, and even information you can sell at a later date. Of course you can always just go in with guns blazing, but it does pay to be a bit more cautious. You’ll certainly explore more of the beautiful maps that way. In any case, your method of entry will rely on the skills of your character and their group of runners, which may or may not be suited for the task at hand.
One of the best improvements to the game over the previous installments is how the Matrix is handled. In addition to the typical Black or White Instrusion Counter Measures (IC for short) there are now Blocker ICs which can either be bypassed by a Simon-like minigame or forced open at the expense of making your intrusion more obvious. Skilled hackers, or deckers as they’re known in game, can even bypass the roaming enemies by sneaking past. In addition to the upgraded mechanics the Matrix has been graphically improved with gorgeous backgrounds and isometric art.
Perhaps the game’s biggest draw, at least for myself, is the way it captures the essence of the tabletop game it’s based on. An accompanying art book, which is included in the Deluxe Edition, showcases how each map was drawn in its entirety before being broken down into placeable tiles that can arranged in many different fashions. Bright, glowing neon lights provide most of the lighting, and the artists included many tiny details that bring the game to life. Characters are rendered in 3D while their portraits are hand-drawn and exceptionally done, with quite a few of them being based on Kickstarter Backers who submitted their own photographs.
There are so many good things about this game I want to talk about, but I don’t want to sit here and write a book about it; there’s no way anyone would want to sit through that. As great as it is though, there are still a few issues. The loadings times in between maps has significantly increased compared to the other games, and there are a few bugs that managed to slip through to release day. One bug in particular had me completely restart a run because I was stuck in a room with no way out. Luckily, the developers seem pretty dedicated to fixing these problems and have been very active within the Steam Community.
Finally, once you’ve beaten the campaign, there’s still plenty to do. An editor has been included with every edition of the game so far allowing players to make their own campaigns that can be shared on the Steam Workshop. Quite a few of the classic adventures from the tabletop game have been faithfully recreated by a few talented individuals.
So grab some soykaf, stick it to the man, and become a shadowrunner all over again in Shadowrun: Hong Kong. The game is currently available on Steam for $19.99, or $29.99 for the deluxe version, which includes 22 original tracks from the game, as well as a fantastic companion art book with commentary from the developers. If you haven’t ever played a Shadowrun game before, I heavily recommend you start with this one.