Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the third Shadowrun RPG from indie games studio Harebrained Schemes and the follow up to the critically acclaimed Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut. If you’re interested in my thoughts on that game they are here.
This new game has your character and estranged Ork surrogate brother Duncan travelling to Hong Kong to rendezvous with your adopted father Raymond who has something important to tell you. Things don’t go exactly to plan though and pretty soon you find yourself having to go to ground in a foreign land where you don’t know anybody.
Harebrained Schemes could’ve just made Shadowrun: Hong Kong with the same features as Dragonfall, after all it was championed by fans and critics everywhere alike, Jordan Weisman and friends didn’t want to do that though. They set about thinking about what they’d like to add even if they didn’t have the budget for it. With that in mind they set about crowdfunding for the extra funds, a campaign which was profoundly successful closing at over $1,000,000.
It should be noted that there are numerous horror stories relating to crowdfunding and gaming, especially for indie studios. Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries, Haunts and Lobodestroyo are just a handful of the Kickstarter funded games that have either failed to materialise altogether or suffered major delays and set backs for a variety of reasons but generally down to a lack of funds. Despite the trepidation justifiably associated with crowdfunding and gaming (after all Kickstarter is merely a means for people to invest in a project it doesn’t guarantee the completion of any such project) Harebrained Schemes have delivered numerous games with no problems to date.
Aside from its slick interface and deceptively simple game mechanics the main reason that Shadowrun: Hong Kong is so good is because it focusses on what matters, the story. This story unfolds like an amalgamation of hard boiled noir and cyberpunk as you uncover how your adopted father Raymond was mixed up in………something. This story, despite some new animatic introductions with voice acting, is revealed via text as you take jobs or runs from your “Fixer” Yellow Lotus Triad crime boss, Kindly Cheng.
Much like Shadowrun: Dragonfall this game also features a selection of memorable characters which will become your crew and will become indispensable as you make your way through the neon lit streets that make up the vast sprawling city of the Hong Kong Free Enterprise Zone. Dwarf decker Is0bel, Orc shaman Gobbet, Human rigger Racter and Former Red Samurai turned Ghoul Gaichu will make up your crew and talking to them not only fills in their backstories which add to the already deep mythology of the Shadowrun world but can lead to runs associated with their own personal stories if you choose to take them.
The whole art design aesthetic of this new Shadowrun game builds on the previous entries, featuring the atmospheric isometric layout that made the other games so enthralling, further enhanced by some excellent music and sound design by composer Jon Everist. Various different locations make up Hong Kong of 2056 and exploring them is in the player’s interest, there are numerous additional runs to be found alongside the main story if you talk to the right characters.
Shadowrun’s fully customisable archetype character generation system remains as robust as ever, players select one of several character classes to begin with, do you want to be a magic wielding Mage, a chromed up Street Samurai or raid the Matrix as a Decker? Those are just a few of the choices on offer but players are free to customise their character as they see fit as they progress through the game.
Turn based combat plays a big part as players progress and their characters archetype and race will have a major impact on how they approach the numerous skirmishes and fire fights, running head first into battle will lead to a swift and rather humiliating death for a human mage compared to a troll street samurai.
So what’s new in this Shadowrun game then?
Along with a new look skill tree new features include new cybernetics including cyberweapons that can be unlocked by investing in the new Cyberware Affinity skill, expanded magic including powerful location specific Shrine Spirits for Shamans and access to Foci for Mages and Physical Adepts but one of the biggest changes is the completely overhauled new version of the Matrix.
The Matrix is the online world of Shadowrun where deckers, Shadowrun’s hackers, do most of their work. Their digital avatars trying to avoid Intrusion Countermeasures or IC and other deckers which are working for the mega corporations as they steal valuable data and hack systems.
This new version of the Matrix not only looks visually impressive but also adds a stealth element, deckers can in theory avoid having to fight any IC if they avoid being seen. Whilst this probably works better in theory than in practice it’s an improvement on the rather empty environments in Dragonfall’s version of the Matrix.
Each new iteration of Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun has been an improvement on an already impressive game and Shadowrun: Hong Kong is just the latest example. With such a proven track record for delivering impressive games in a unique and engrossing world Jordan Weisman and Harebrained Schemes will have a dedicated fanbase for as long they want to keep making them.
Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon.