Shadowrun: Hong Kong is well worth putting up with the hard edges of an otherwise fine diamond of a game. It’s D&D inspired world is not only rich with lore and themes, but its fantastic characters and engaging plot makes this a solid 20 hour experience. If you’re not into reading a novel’s worth of dialogue and emails, there are more action-based experiences out there, but if you’re into a atmosphere and characters, this third entry is a fantastic jumping on point for anyone who loves gangster films and espionage thrillers.
Jack me into the network
+An engaging dystopian world filled with interesting people and jobs.
+Combat’s easy to pick up and play
+A well written story with hefty conflicts.
I’d rather take the blue pill
-The user interface is very slow and not optimized for its platform.
-A wide selection of noticable glitches
-The first hour or so is a little sloggy.
Hello my fellow reality nomads, and welcome to the next episode of Review Fluxx! I’m Trevor Anderson, and today we’re going to be looking at Shadowrun: Hong Kong. For those unfamiliar with the gritty world of Shadowrun, it’s an urban fantasy similar to Blade Runner, set in a future where industries battle for control of the impoverished masses and scarce resources. My first experience was with the Super NES version, but this is a game that pretty much anyone who enjoys RPGs or RTSs should pick up.
The game starts when you’re called to Hong Kong by your old foster father, who sounds absolutely desperate (1-0104). When you arrive from Seattle, you’re greeted by your cop foster-brother and a small group of Shadowrunners. These runners are basically elite mercenaries who’ll take on jobs to sabotage, steal and murder. Your group is suddenly attacked by police snipers, and you end up having to sneak through the seedy underbelly of a dystopian Hong Kong.
Your home away from home is Heoi, a small port town that’s covered in a fog so thick it blocks most surveillance systems. You meet Aunt Kindly Cheng, a powerful triad boss who employs you in return for protection and an old freighter ship to hideout in. The official word is that your father is dead, but you and your brother have your doubts. The only piece of information you have is one of the last words he said; prosperity.
The story structure works well with the gameplay, allowing you to pick several missions at the same time, and choosing which one to tackle first. Each of these mini-stories have you doing various jobs; stealing artifacts, chasing down a serial killer and messing up a company’s qi. No joke, calling it Geomantic Sabotage. Each time you take a mission, there’s at least another one on the docket that you also can’t wait to play, encouraging you to keep pushing on at your own pace. You get them through email requests, which seems very dumb considering this is a world of master hackers. Aunty Cheng sends me the full details, but I don’t want this kind of paper trail and- Wait, you signed me up for keyword updates too!? This seems very- *pound pound pound* Oh shit- they found me already!?
Throw in some shared nightmares, inner-city conflicts and working for the mob, and you’ve got yourself a story rich with tone and conflict. While some of the dialogue can be pretty campy, this is a ton of dialogue, and the good outweighs the bad. I will admit however, I found myself skipping whole sections of dialogue that didn’t help progress the story. What really makes the experience great however are the characters, who drip with personality and backstory. They all seem throughly fleshed out, especially your dear old Aunty. While they come a little later in the game, even the NPCs have fantastic conversations and really help paint a believable world.
Moving onto the action, I have to say the gameplay is pretty solid. If you’ve ever played an X-Com or similar RTS, you’ll feel right at home with this game. You spend your off time purchasing weapons, upgrading and loading up for cover-based combat. Along with rifles and grenade launchers, you can also cast spells and summon monsters to battle with you. One thing I noticed is that your opponents tend to gang up on your character for some reason- maybe it’s because I played a androgynous dwarf with a nineties mohawk.
The game will throw you several different scenarios however, where every mission has different play styles. In one, you may be attempting to sneak through avoiding contact, while in others your goal is to wreck as much havoc as possible. Each one has a thorough backstory that makes you invested in these fun missions. You’re given different rewards based on the outcomes of these scenarios, so if you want Aunty’s full payment, you better be thinking about her interests.
Leveling is a pretty standard cascade system, similar to Fallout 4 , where you have to advance a category in order to get access to more advanced moves. You’re not given a ton of experience in the game, so really understanding what everything does would be a wise choice. Sadly, even when you know all the effects, some gameplay options are more beneficial than others. I went in putting a lot of early experience points into my throw ability, only to find the game with a distinct lack of throwable weapons. Your companions also level up, but only with you choosing one of two skills as they progress up 5 tiers.
The user interface leaves a lot to be desired however. The developers at Harebrained Schemes has announced that they were focusing on PC from here on out, but the interface is still optimized for touch screen monitors. The only way to progress dialogue is by clicking a very small box that’s perfectly placed for a right thumb and not a mouse. In fact, drawing your weapons can give you the advantage in combat, but clicking on a location and then having to hit a small corner button feels extremely unfair when you run into a situation with your hands empty. The inventory system also jumps out after you use one item, which makes healing after a hairy battle very annoying.
Art is absolutely fantastic. City streets drip with corruption, spray painted with messages from the people who refuse to be wage slaves. All the character artwork and few animatics all hit a dark tone with a steampunk look. The developers have done a great job at selling their world and the themes within. Areas of opportunity for the series would be better character models, working on transitions , and going back over their layering. It’s not a ton but these shortcuts do break immersion in a game that otherwise works – I mean, a techno club with no strobes?.The game also describes some items with a little pop-up window, but this much quicker approach is only used for a few interactable objects when it should be the standard. Sometimes the two even step on each other’s toes- making this a confusing decision.
The game also has the slowest upgrade screen I’ve ever seen. This barebones upgrade menu can take 30 seconds to load. Load times for stages also takes a long time, but the developers have accompanied the long waits with well-written scene narrations. This game also feels buggier than previous entries, has some pretty bad typos, and did I mention the glitches?