Saturday, 22 August 2015

Shadowrun Hong Kong (Video Game Review)

The third game in Harebrained Schemes’ Blade Runner meets Tolkien cyberpunk saga, Shadowrun Hong Kong is a definite refinement from past titles. While the same tropes and mechanics are present, many details have been notably fine-tuned; so while turn-based shooting remains the same, hacking and the like have been given a substantial overhaul.

Playing as a criminal of your choice, you arrive back in Hong Kong after being contacted by your foster father. Things promptly go wrong from there as you and several other associates are abruptly declared terrorists, forcing you to flee the police in a hail of gunfire. From there, to discover answers, you are forced to enter a life in the shadows, acting as an espionage agent for hire.

The narrative diversity and scale of environments in particular has seen some notable improvements. The missions themselves are substantially more interesting and vastly in terms of scale and narrative, offering a few extremely interesting scenarios from the start. As a result many are akin to Dragonfall’s Bloodlines quest, allowing a person with the right planning and skills to reach their target without ever needing to fire a shot. Far more freedom is offered in terms of ways to approach a mission or ways you can conclude your objectives. There is always the option to fight it out, even after an initially peaceful resolution, but hacking, charisma and magic usually offers quieter or more profitable avenues of approach. 

The environments themselves have also seen a sharp rise in quality, with substantially more detailed characters, animations and lighting. In particular, the entire hacking grid has been given a massive overhaul, completely altering the way in which combat, hacking and movement works. Rather than strolling about until a few defence programs show up, you have to actively avoid them, and there is far more of a risk that you will trigger alarms. Sentries move in real-time and hacking consists of a series of predictions and memory mini-games. While this removes some of the prior control and predictability players had, it also forces you to more frequently think on your feet. 

The game’s combat has seen a few varied changes with character progression trees and points systems. While sticking primarily to what we had prior to now, the spread and design means you have to more carefully plan and consider what to put points into. Being too varied hurts the game considerably, and you’ll never be able to end up with a character as versatile or diverse as some prior game-breaking builds. Atop of this, balance between classes have been better handled than past outings, with the Physical Adepts at long last finally reaching a status which isn’t broken or useless.

The new area which serves as your base of operations is more active and fluid than in past stories. There is a more tangible sense of the passage of time, with new NPCs showing up and secondary quests abruptly emerging. Even minor shop dealers gain progressive storylines with entirely new dialogue trees, each consistently featuring writing leagues above most big budget releases. No, seriously, go back and talk to the guy with poison spiders and swords every chance you get, some of his stuff is gold. Even without this though, some of the excuses and dialogue exclusive to certain character combinations on missions is a wonder to behold, especially one sequence involving recruits Racter and GaichĂ».

Unfortunately, for all its improvements, Shadowrun Hong Kong hits a few unfortunate snags in its efforts to one up its predecessor. The first among these is the crew, few of who prove to be even remotely memorable or interesting as Glory, Dietrich, Eiger and Blitz. While one or two exceptions do arise with great storylines, the starting trio of NPCs are a substantial step down as worthwhile characters go. This is hardly helped by a surprisingly weak opening act and a story which seems oddly bloated. While the individual scenarios themselves and side quests prove to be fantastic, the main arc itself often meanders about and lacks a clear direction. This isn’t helped by a sense that the story was to be on a massive scale for the sake of keeping up with past instalments, which may well have hurt it sadly.

Even without the narrative elements, a few problems will crop up for players. Along with featuring some surprising recycled environments (including parts of that damn cave network from Dragonfall’s finale) and some odd freezing issues. While Hong Kong doesn’t quite chug when too many characters are on the screen, you end up with lengthy pauses between turns or failing to highlight certain actions. It can be frustrating, and very concerning given the save system involved. 

So, with all this accounted for, is it actually any good? The answer is a resounding yes.

Hong Kong is another gem in Harebrained Schemes’ long line of successful releases, and is likely to be your time vampire for the next month or two. With all the options available, choices on offer and new paths exclusive to certain character set-ups or classes, there is such an insane wealth of replay value here that you’ll be coming back again and again. Definitely pick this one up, but you might still want to look into its predecessors first before grabbing this one.

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