Anonymous of Holland            -A Dutchman in Korea-

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Anon of Holland Reviews: Shadowrun Returns

You might’ve heard about a little thing called Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a website where a creator, or team of creators, can post their dream project and regular Joes like you and me can pledge money to these projects to help them become a reality. The first major video-game related news regarding Kickstarter was Double Fine’s massive 3,3 million dollar haul back in March 2012. Since then, many amazing projects have gathered enough funds to start development, including adventure game Dreamfall, God game GODUS, point and click adventure Broken Sword and old-school RPGs like Torment, Eternity and, you guessed it, Shadowrun Returns.

While Shadowrun Returns wasn’t the first actually anticipated Kickstarter game to be released (that honor goes to Faster Than Light), it was the first one that I was personally interested in. Since it was funded before I even knew Kickstarter existed (I only got into this wallet-consuming business with Project: Eternity) I didn’t have a chance to pledge to their campaign, but now that it’s released on PC I took it as a chance to see what we can expect from a Kickstarter game with a budget of (less than) $1,8 million. The short answer is; quite a lot, but not too much. But let me go into that a little more.

If you’ve never heard of Shadowrun, I wouldn’t blame you. The only game that was released during my ‘gaming years’ was the terrible Xbox 360 game, which quickly sank into obscurity due to..well..being terrible. The last real Shadowrun game was released on a console I pretty much forgot even existed while I was still playing Turtles, Sonic and Mario back in 1996. But now it, so to speak, RETURNS, and although I can’t compare it to its predecessors I think I’ve played enough games to come to a decent judgement on it.

In any event, Shadowrun Returns is a Turn-Based Sci-Fi RPG based on the Shadowrun Pen and Paper Roleplaying game world. We’re playing in a kind of dystopian future where magic and technology go hand in hand and Trolls, Elves and Dwarves walk the streets together with regular (or not-so-regular) humans. Shadowrunners are sort of like special agents that shady figures can hire to do even shadier jobs like assassinating someone, stealing valuable objects or hacking into a corporate network. You play as one of these Runners, of course, and after you’ve created your character you are thrown straight into the story without as much as a tutorial. A friend of yours has bit the proverbial bullet and wants you to avenge him by bringing his killer to justice – sounds easy enough, but this seemingly rather mundane task quickly spirals out of hand into a web of mystery, intrigue and danger.

The plot is really where Shadowrun Returns shines; not only is the overarching story extremely original and compelling without ever becoming cliché, the dialogues and descriptions are also of impressive quality. I have to admit I was extremely surprised by the direction the story of this game took as it certainly doesn’t tread any of the conventional paths – instead opting to start you out on a sort of murder mystery, only to change the entire goal of the game about halfway through. It’s very refreshing to see this kind of more personal story evolve to something bigger as opposed to the usual getting-thrown-right-into-a-saving-the-world scenario. As I mentioned, the dialogue is top notch as well; characters speak in a way that fits the setting extremely well, and every character has a noticeably different personality. It was a very strange feeling reading through Shadowrun’s dialogues, as it felt just like reading a good book at times. Even though there isn’t an overabundance of dialogue and none of it is voiced, it still felt like it was a thousand times better than what I usually see in games. So Hairbrained definitely deserves a lot of kudos on that front.

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Another aspect that works extremely well, in my opinion, are the graphics. I say ‘in my opinion’ because there seems to be a pretty big disagreement online about the way the game looks. Personally, I love the hand painted backgrounds interacting with the 3D characters and the way some panes move over each other when I pan the camera, but I could see how people could find this art style to be more like a mobile game than a PC game. Certainly it doesn’t look as detailed as the old Infinity Engine games, and of course it’s nowhere near as impressive as recent PC games. It does feel a bit like a flash game, I suppose, but comparing it to that really doesn’t do it any justice. I think the style Hairbrained has chosen works well for this game and it’s clear they worked hard on creating interesting designs and filling all the environments with believable and realistic props, but maybe some people would’ve enjoyed it more if there was a bit more going on in those backgrounds. Some flickering lights, moving parts, stuff like that. As it is, it is kind of like your characters are walking across a painting, which I guess could be a bit weird.

The gameplay, I feel, is a bit more of a mixed bag. While the Turn Based Combat is certainly enjoyable, it seems to lack a certain something that a game like for instance XCOM did have. What that certain something is though, I have no idea. There’s plenty of skills, special kinds of bullets and magic attacks to make the battles quite interesting, but nearing the end of the game it all becomes a little formulaic. There’s lots of tactical decisions to make though, and especially on the higher difficulties you’ll really be using your brain trying to find out how best to tackle certain confrontations. With 6 wildly varying classes to choose from and up to 3 extra team members, there’s some real depth that you won’t easily find in a non-turn based game.
Speaking of classes – for your player character, there are none. Although the internet seems to think this is an affront to everything that is holy, I don’t really see the problem. This allows the user to create exactly the kind of character he or she wants to make. Want to be able to summon spirits but don’t want to hide behind walls constantly while your monsters battle it out? Just invest in both Spirit Summoning and Ranged Weapons and you’re ready to go. Want to be a kickass Street Samurai who still knows how to hack into a console? You can! In my opinion this is so much better than a fixed class system, and it really allows you to play however you want.

With that, however, it’s beginning to become time to discuss the less terrific parts of the game. ‘Play however you want’ might, in fact, be kind of an overstatement. While you might expect, in an old-school RPG, many different possible solutions to a problem, in Shadowrun Returns all those stats really don’t matter all that much. Your +5 charisma might be used maybe 4 or 5 times during the entire game, and won’t actually have much of an impact at all. Some of the ‘etiquettes’ that get unlocked for having high charisma only get to be used once if at all, and all conversations will basically only lead to one conclusion. So, if it’s freedom we’re talking about, Shadowrun unfortunately doesn’t even deliver the kind of pretend-freedom that a game like The Walking Dead pulls off so well. Conversations are not the only place where this problem is felt, as there’s usually only one way to proceed throughout the levels as well – killing everyone and everything. Decking (kind of like hacking, but you sort of enter the ‘computer world’ via an avatar) is only used once or twice to solve a problem while in a cyberpunk world like that of Shadowrun it is supposed to be one of the most fearsome weapons available, and since there’s no stealth options brute-forcing it is the only solution in the majority of the game’s conflicts.

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Now, it could be that Shadowrun was never about this kind of thing. Maybe Harebrained just wanted to make a cool Turn Based Action game, I don’t know, but I think it could’ve really benefited from a more RPG-heavy approach. A fault that is 100% objective though, is the terrible save system.
You might’ve heard people complain about it online about as much as people complained about Mass Effect 3’s ending because, yes, it is just as bad. Basically, you cannot save the game. At all. It saves on checkpoints that are sometimes 15 minutes apart, and sometimes much, much longer. You should only play this game if you have no social life and can afford to spend 6 straight hours a day plowing away on your computer because otherwise you’re gonna have a bad time. And that’s just inexcusable. Not because I have a social life, but because I had to replay the start of a mission like 5 friggin’ times because my guys kept dying halfway through because I made some stupid decisions. The ability to save your game is about as basic as it comes, and there’s simply no excuse for Harebrained not to have included it.

Of course, it might be included in a patch. And here’s something else I’ve noticed online; many reviews talk about how the base game isn’t that great, but ‘the community will certainly elevate this game to new levels, so 8/10.’ That’s like giving Oblivion and Skyrim a good score because the modding community might make them less shit. I like to judge a game by what it is, and at this point Shadowrun is a very enjoyable but sort of barebones experience. The story, while very good, is quite short and extremely linear; there’s the saving issue, and the gameplay is rather mediocre. While I do believe that the community might be able to make some awesome stuff using the editor, I don’t see what that has to do with the merits of this game. The simple fact is that Shadowrun is a good game, but unfortunately not a great one.

The Good: Engaging story with quality writing; Interesting setting; Appealing graphics
The Bad: Mediocre gameplay; Save system; Short length; No replayability due to superficial RPG mechanics
Verdict: 6/10

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I had a great time working with #SBS on their new program #내방안내서 in the beautiful #Mihwangsa #temple. I'm sure that @zazimusic has made @haemin_sunim proud with their song based on his book, #멈추면비로소보이는것들.
며칠동안 #미황사 에서 시간을 보내는 게 큰 인상을 주었고 만난 사람들 너무 친절하게 챙겨서 감사하는 말 밖에 못 한다.
다들 #수고했어.

#Korea #SouthKorea #tv #filming #television #tvshow #Koreantv #Buddhism #Buddha #traditional #절 #불교 #텔레비전 #쇼 #촬영 #버라이어티 #발송 I came back to #Seoul yesterday. Waking up to the sound of cars passing under my window and people shouting instead of the sound of the waves rolling over the beach and bugs chirping, I realized again that a part of me hates this city, no matter how much I love it. Now I understand why #혜민스님 makes the trip back to #미황사 so often even though he lives in Seoul as well.

For people living in a big city like this, it's important to #slowdown and not get caught and lose yourself in the flow of things. Life in the #countryside and in a #temple is so different, so much more #empty, but so much more fulfilling.

#Korea #SouthKorea #Mihwangsa #color #peace #reflection #religion #Buddhism #Buddha #tranquility #traditional #절 #평화 #불교 #해남 #108배 #전통 #역사 #생각 #자성 #내이야기 #미황사 에서 사흘밖에 안 보냈는데, 그래도 #생각 을 많이 바뀌었다. #성찰 하면서 내 한국 생활도 생각하고 한국 사람들의 #촌 을 생각하면서 왜 한국이랑 사랑에 빠졌는지 다시 깨달았어요. 한국에서 사는 것이 선물이니까.. 잘 살아야지.

#절라도 #절라남도 #절 #평화 #불교 #해남 #혜민스님 #Korea #SouthKorea #Temple #Shrine #tranquility #peace #reflection #religion #Buddhism #Buddha #혜민스님 의 #미황사 에서 #멈추면비로소보이는것들 많다. #절 의 #평화 를 느끼고 마음을 비우면서 깊은 생각도 하고 한국 생활을 #감사 하는 생각도 많고.. 한국이 역시 #아름다운 나라입니다. 
Another gorgeous #sunset at #Mihwangsa #temple.
I am so thankful to #SBS and 혜민스님 for letting us stay here.
Just like the title of his book, there are many things you can only see when you #slow down. Staying at the temple and talking with the staff has taught me once again that Korea is an amazing country, and I couldn't be happier to be here. 
#nofilter #Korea #SouthKorea #island #traditional #tranquility #nature #wood #meditation Everything is more beautiful in #Jeollanamdo, even a #sunset.

#nature #Korea #SouthKorea #sea #island #절라도 #절라남도 #바다 #섬 #자연 #일몰 Away from the hectic Seoul life for a couple of days, enjoying clean #Jeollanamdo air and the #calm of the #Mihwangsa #temple.

#Buddhism #Buddhist #Zen #Relaxation #Balance #Nature #Korea #SouthKorea #미황사 #절라도 #절라남도 #절 #평화 #불교
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