Shadowrun: Hong Kong – A disturbance in the qi – Review

Gare – Friday, September 4, 2015 8:49 PM
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You may remember that last year, I wrote about Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun Dragonfall: Director’s Cut, praising it for being able to hit all the right notes in terms of creating an engaging storyline, all the while greatly improving upon most of what I disliked about the original Shadowrun Returns. As such, it probably comes as no surprise that I jumped into their next game, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, with certain expectations, considering how high the bar had been set with Dragonfall. Did it deliver the same level of enjoyment with its storyline, setting and characters? Did it, dare I say, surpass Dragonfall? Well, let’s find out.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong starts off its adventure in quite an ominous way: your foster father – whom you had not seen in years – leaves a message, asking you to travel to Hong Kong as soon as possible to meet him. Things, obviously, get a touch more complicated than this and our unlikely heroes find themselves in the middle of the Hong Kong underworld, trying to get answers to a number of pressing questions.

Same old, same old – but not quite

Shadowrun ReturnsPlatform: PC, iOS, OS X, AndroidGenre: TS, RPGDeveloper: Harebrained SchemesPublisher: Harebrained SchemesRelease: 07/25/2013Now, the beginning of Hong Kong’s campaign starts off in the familiar “an average run goes haywire” way we’ve already seen in Dragonfall – things get out of hand, and they get out of hand fast. So that’s good, even if it reeks of déja vu. The rest of the game will then consist of you and your team going on several missions, much like in Dragonfall. The notable difference, however, is that while Dragonfall made you almost taste the sheer tension in the air – its narrative constantly oozing a sense of dread and desperation –, pacing in Hong Kong feels much slower and relaxed, with little to no sense of urgency or danger: that feeling of “I can’t wait to find out what happens next” is oddly replaced with the dull grind of “okay, let’s do another mission and maybe something will happen in the story”. Things do get more interesting towards the end when you finally come face to face with the true adversary lurking in the shadows, but by this time, you’re already in the finale. What Shadowrun: Hong Kong, does do right, however, is making your protagonist feel a bit less like a blank avatar, and more like an actual person with a backstory: in fact, the entire campaign’s storyline is a highly personal quest about family and past mistakes. Nonetheless, the bottom line I was trying to lead this paragraph up to is this: the storyline, for the most part, didn’t quite feel nearly as engaging or interesting as Dragonfall’s, and that’s a colossal shame.

Flesh-eaters and rat shamans

Nonetheless, there is still much to like about Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Its cast of characters is interesting enough, and the game does a decent job of introducing you to a group of truly unique and colorful individuals who will, by the end of the campaign, start to really grow on you. I’m personally still partial to Dragonfall’s cast (Glory and Eiger were entirely too memorable, I’m afraid), but Hong Kong also has its own set of eye-catching personas to impress with, including a Japanese red samurai who’s also a sentient ghoul, as well as a rigger with disturbing ambitions who I could effectively describe as a classic “mad scientist”. Gradually learning each member’s backstory, then participating in a character-centric quest tightly related to said backstory was fun in Dragonfall, and is still fun in Hong Kong – this hasn’t changed much. In terms of regular side missions, however, the game is sort of a mixed bag: a select few of them stand out, but certainly not all, leading to a notably less memorable campaign.

Stealth it like you mean it

Gameplay-wise, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is going to throw *almost* no curve balls at you, operating with the same old turn-based, cover-centric battle system as before, while dialogues still make generous use of your character’s many skills and attributes – basically, what I said about Dragonfall applies here as well. I did say “almost”, though. One may remember that I wasn’t especially kind to the Dragonfall’s Matrix system the last time around, hoping for a change that could somehow make these gameplay segments less… dull, for lack of a better word. Well, Hong Kong attempts to do just that, and it sort of succeeds, but only partially. The big change in Matrix segments can be considered two-fold: for once, you’ll now have to deal with patrolling enemies on every Matrix field, learning their patrol routes and skillfully slipping through their searchlights without being detected. The other new thing is the hacking minigame, which may seem complicated at first, but is really rather simple, requiring memorization skills and not much else.

Now, while these elements do make it so that you actually have *things to do* in the Matrix, they’re also very much a double-edged sword in practice. The hacking minigame itself is not the culprit here – I’m talking more of the Metal Gear-esque hide-and-seek gameplay that ensues as you tango around searchlights. The gist of it is that avoiding detection can be a little tricky at times, to say the least, and repeated failure may even lead to an alarm and long minutes of tedious, unnecessary combat as you try to fight off hostiles. Trial and error works – loading a game whenever you’re spotted –, but then you’ll have to contend with the unpleasantly long loading times, making the entire affair far more of a chore than it should be. Like most things, one can get the hang of this as well, but depending on the kind of gamer you are, these stealth segments may end up frustrating you a great deal.

Not the best dumpling I’ve ever had, but I’ll take it

As you may have noticed by now, the majority of this review could very well be summed up with “good, but not as good as its predecessor”. And I just did. To phrase it differently, the tragedy of Shadowrun: Hong Kong is that it was released *after* Dragonfall: Director’s Cut – it’s still a solid title and I do recommend you play it if you enjoyed the previous two installments, but it may very well end up feeling like a bit of a let-down if you’re expecting something of the Berlin campaign’s caliber in an Oriental setting.

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