Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun Returns first released back in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that saw its intriguing cyberpunk-meets-fantasy world drop onto PC and mobile devices, indeed we first played through this one and its superior sequel on our phones and they were an absolute delight.
Set in the same universe as the long-running Shadowrun tabletop RPG series, the narrative here starts out as an atmospheric noir-ish murder mystery set in an intriguing world where orcs and dwarves, elves and humans live (somewhat begrudgingly) side-by-side, before expanding to incorporate all manner of magic, shamans, demons and secret organisations. You play as a shadowrunner who's received a pre-recorded message from a recently murdered associate via a device known as a "Dead Man's Switch" and must now set off on a journey to find those behind his demise.
It's a straightforward setup that ploughs you through a simple character creator and into action in double-quick time, plonking you down onto the rain-soaked, neon-tinged streets of 2054 Seattle and letting you have at it, indulging in lots of well-written conversations with a cast of interesting NPCs and engaging in delightfully breezy XCOM-lite style battles. Yes, that's right, breezy. One of the main draws of Shadowrun Returns, and one of its biggest surprises given the genre, is this quick and easy breeziness that filters through every aspect of how it conducts itself. It gets to the point quickly, funnels you through its linear story and world without wasting a second of your time, makes upgrading and purchasing gear a doddle, and the whole thing is done and dusted in around about ten hours.
Basically, if you've ever fancied getting stuck into the likes of Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pillars of Eternity, or a similar style of tactical RPG, but felt they were far too complex or time-consuming, well, Shadowrun Returns could be right up your street. It may be a rather abrupt experience in some respects — and a fairly easy one as far as this genre goes — but it's also been made with a careful eye for detail and an innate knowledge of what makes these sorts of games tick.
There's very strong writing across the board here with lots of fun characters to get to know and an intriguing premise that keeps you hooked right to the end. This is paired with combat that, whilst fairly simplistic and easy to blow through, is always a good time with lots of guns, magic, hacking, drones, summoning of demons, and mind-tricks to engage in. It adopts an XCOM-style cover system that sees you shield yourself behind environmental objects and get down to business clearing out gangs of baddies and hoovering up loot whilst making use of your expansive inventory of tricks and gadgets to gain the upper hand. Bigger battles even see you recruit mercs to your cause, giving you lots of variety and fun in the powers and skills you get to play around with. Yes, it's a shame that you can't move the camera around freely during fights, and the items of cover dotted around battlefields haven't been thought out particularly well, but the action here is a fun enough distraction that suits the overall pulpy vibe the game is going for.
In terms of this Switch port, at this stage Shadowrun Returns was never gonna win awards for how it looks or sounds, but it's certainly not an unappealing game visually and its world is plenty atmospheric with a nice clean hand-painted style to it. However, much more problematic here is a level of jank that just shouldn't exist in a game of this age/type playing on better hardware than that on which it originally launched. Simple stuff like interacting with objects and NPCs is frustrating due to unresponsive button prompts, there are constant issues with micro-stuttering as you move through areas and some fairly horrific slowdown and stuttering when entering new locations or kicking off a scrap. You'll also notice NPCs and other background items loading in as you move around and there are some fairly long waits between levels, giving the overall impression of a game that's really struggling to run on Nintendo Switch.
Of course, as we mentioned at the top of this review, we played this game with zero issues on a mobile phone almost a decade ago, so it's hard to find reason or excuse for any of the technical problems that we're seeing here, it just feels like a very sloppy job.
No matter how much we like the game itself — and we like it a lot — it's very hard to recommend picking up this poor Nintendo Switch version as things stand. Without the technical issues, this one's an easy recommendation and a solid start to a fantastic RPG trilogy. However, in its launch state, it's a much harder sell. Fingers crossed we see a patch ASAP.