|The '90s ruled, man|
The original iterations produced remarkably balanced and deep gameplay, but 2007's ill-fated attempt to turn extract a console FPS out of the beloved franchise sparked anger and consternation among fans clamoring for something more faithful to the original vision. Enter Jordan Weisman, developer of the pen-and-paper game (as well as Heroclix and BattleTech), and Kickstarter. One year and $1.8 million in donations later, Weisman's studio Harebrained Games released Shadowrun Returns for PC/Mac. By the end of 2013, an iOS version hit the market.
On the other hand...
There are, however, some issues I'd like Hairbrained to address in the sequel. First off, I experienced some stability issues: freezing, crashing and so forth. After some online consultation, I learned that these could be mitigated by putting the iPad on airplane mode and closing all other apps. It did work, but eh...this kind of thing should have been dealt with in beta, no?
Of course, that might have just been a minor annoyance if it weren't for the game's frustrating "checkpoint only" save system. I guess the PC/Mac version has already been patched to allow for quick saving, but iOS has not. Though Shadowrun Returns is not a large game, a few of the levels could have benefited from some extra checkpoints--especially considering the game's propensity to crash. Going back and replaying 30+ minutes five times and not by choice is retro in the wrong way.
It's a testament to how fun this game is, though, that I didn't quit in frustration. I found myself thinking about the game when I wasn't playing, and waking up an extra half hour early so I could get a level in before the day began. Last game I did that for was Skyrim, and that's basically my favorite video game ever.
See, Shadowrun Returns isn't perfect, but it's a hell of a good time, and a great way to relive the good old days without the crappy hardware.
Tips and Vitals
If you decide to buy a copy of Shadowrun Returns, you may naturally wonder whether it's better on PC/Mac or iOS/Android. I can't speak to the PC/Mac version, but I will say that the touch interface was solid but at times less responsive than I would have liked. And I do think a two-button mouse would have come in handy. On the other hand, I spend most of the day hunched over in front of a computer screen. When relaxing, I prefer to be on the couch, with my feet up and either a controller or mobile device in my hands. So in that sense the trade-off worked in my favor; the iOS port is definitely good enough to justify not sitting at a computer desk.
After committing to iOS/Android, though, there's still the question of phone vs. tablet. Some games naturally work better on one or the other (e.g. FPS on phone; adventure games on tablet). Bottom line, I think Shadowrun Returns is clearly made for tablets, and would feel cramped on a phone. But maybe that's just my fat thumbs talking.
Once you've gone procured the game and fired it up, you are faced with a host of character creation questions. My character, "Nerd," was officially a shaman (dude who can summon creatures under certain conditions) but was fairly balanced between summoning, decking and the use of ranged weapons. I also made him a tank, which helped a lot towards the end of the game. By the time you can select your own party, however, you realize that the easiest rode involves balance among characters, rather than within them.
Oh, and one other piece of advice: defensive tactics are your friend, particularly in the matrix.
Enjoy the ride, chummers...
Baseline Assessment: 8/10
Bonuses: +1 for balanced, lively isometric retro; +1 for the 90s are back, man!
Penalties: -1 for stability issues; -1 for stupid checkout-only save system.
Nerd Coefficient: 8/10. "Well worth your time and attention."