It’s time to go back to running the shadows in the dystopian cyberpunk future of the Shadowrun games. This time we’re headed to Asia where we’ll have to deal with corporate setups, triads, all manner of backstabbing and a demon goddess from an astral plane. This is Shadowrun Hong Kong.
Shadowrun Hong Kong’s World
A big part of the appeal of a game such as Shadowrun Hong Kong stems from how well it can create a believable world. Granted, a solid story and great gameplay will always be considerably more important, but without a proper setting, the game would just boil down to a few turn-based combat encounters with a lot of reading stuffed in between them.
Placing the story and gameplay within a setting that can not only support them, but actually tie them together, is of critical importance.
All I can say is that Harebrained Scheme managed a wonderful job at it. You can almost smell the sea air mixed with garbage and hear some gaudily colored neons buzzing and flickering in the background. Everything looks as desolate, dingy and dangerous as it should be, an impression that is only heightened by the very well-written text descriptions.
Shadowrun Hong Kong is for those who love to read
I have to mention upfront that in order to get the very most enjoyment out of the game’s story, you’ll have to do a serious amount of reading. Now, I have nothing against it, I actually would love a novelization of this story, maybe with each minor character getting their own chapter, or several chapters, but some might not have that particular affinity towards the written word so as to enjoy the game on a purely narrative level as well as the turn-based combat one. What I’m saying though is that the writing in Shadowrun Hong Kong is fucking great.
That being said, it is a major part of the game since Shadowrun Hong Kong isn’t the usual free-roaming RPG. In fact, you’re quite limited to the amount of locations that you can visit, NPCs that you can interact with and in general, the things that you can do.
But as far as I’m concerned, I was so invested and focused on the story and on the characters in my party that I didn’t really feel the need for the free-roaming options of an open world. I just wanted to see what else I’ll get to find out about them after each run, and how the story would develop further. That being said, exploring the maps in detail is very satisfactory since it will result in finding items and NPCs, and sometimes even quest-givers.
If I were to describe the story in Shadowrun Hong Kong in short, I’d describe it as being occasionally intense and always engrossing. Each mission, or run, being its own standalone story with unique characters and intrigue.
The way in which you choose to interact with each mission’s characters will dictate, to a certain degree, how that run plays out. This is as important as your party’s make-up and your choices in approaching the mission to begin with. As far as general tips go, not being an asshole and trying to help people will usually result in the most helpful of results.
The story starts your character off being very, very fucked and requiring the help of the underworld in order to survive and seek out the person who got you into this mess to begin with. It’s a solid start, even though a basic, and one might say, a bit trope-ish, but on the other hand, tropes exist for a reason, they work.
Shadowrun Hong Kong brings some very interesting people that you can take with you on your runs. The great thing is that these are characters that have a story, but more importantly they have a very personal history that you can choose to look into by talking to them after each run. Talking about one’s past doesn’t gel with the whole personality of being a runner so they’ll require some coaxing, but trust me when I say that once you start talking to them, you’ll be doubly interested in finishing a run. On the one hand, there’s the money and Karma rewards, and on the other, you get to talk some more with your party about what happened in their past and as a result find out more about them.
Maybe they’re not exactly just as interesting as those in Shadowrun Dragonfall were, but they’re pretty close. This might also be just my opinion since I found it easier to identify to Dragonfall’s characters since they are European, whilst the characters from Hong Kong come with a completely different cultural background than mine.
But the characters in your party are not the only places where the game’s writing excels, the same can be said about the several NPCs that you’ll either have to, or choose to, interact with. In the first camp there’s your fixer – basically your manager, and a plethora of characters relevant to each mission in particular, in the second category are all the various merchants and random NPCs that don’t really do anything. They’re just there to add to the overall story and most importantly atmosphere. (and saying this I’m referring to the three old men playing GO, but there are many others of course)
Lurking through the BBS forums is both interesting and entertaining and offers a quick glimpse at an alternate version of the Internet.
Fuck bitching about movies or starting flame wars about which one is better: Marvel or DC, poetry slams are the rebel outlet of the dystopian cyberpunk future.
There are also at least two, very funny, side-stories that you can follow through the BBS forums, one of them having to do with a piece of software and the other with quite possibly the unluckiest shadowrunning team ever.
The Matrix got revamped like a mofucka, things look largely the same they did in Shadowrun Returns but everything looks much more detailed, brighter and considerably more dynamic. The patrolling programs now have a cone of sight – which you can thankfully see, and move on some very criss-crossing and intersecting routes. You need to carefully navigate through the patrols, timing and positioning being key to either not getting detected, or to getting detected as late in the hack as possible.
They made hacking somewhat challenging and even a bit nerve wracking, it’s nothing more complicated than remembering the correct order of a series of increasing numbers of digits, but the fact that it all takes place on a timer makes the entire thing much more involving.
Shadowrun Hong Kong piles on loads of replay value when compared to Shadowrun Returns, and you have to keep in mind that Returns had quite a bit of replay value as well. The difference being that in Return’s case, it was all based on game system and mechanics, whilst Hong Kong is worth a replay from a story standpoint as well. There are various places where you can make different decisions, especially when it comes to your party make-up, which in turn will influence your play-style, so suffice to say that Shadowrun Hong Kong has a metric fucktonne of replay value.
As far as the combat system and the classes go, what I said in my Shadowrun Returns review is pretty much still valid, although I must say that Shadowrun Hong Kong seems to be a bit better balanced, either that or it’s easier, I haven’t decided yet.
The soundtrack was one of the things that got special mention in my Shadowrun Returns review. Music and sounds are always in important part of atmosphere, especially when you have such a thematic setting. Shadowrun Hong Kong’s soundtrack manages to blend the basics of the Shadowrun Returns soundtrack with a completely different influence, one that is very Chinese in nature.
However, due to this influence, while it makes it work great when supporting the game, it doesn’t work just as well as a standalone soundtrack, whilst the Returns soundtrack is still very much present on my phone and I listen to it every now and then.
Null sheen chummers
I could go on for a bit longer going a bit more in depth with the game, story and characters but i hope that my point has been made till now.
Shadowrun Hong Kong is a great RPG, it has an engrossing story, interesting characters and comes with inherent replay value. The gameplay mechanics have been fine tuned and polished, so much so that I would actually like to play the Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun Dragonfall campaigns within Hong Kong’s engine.
I am curious what you gals and guys thought of Shadowrun Hong Kong, how does it stack up with the others in your opinion? Also let me know of some other cyberpunk titles that you might want me to take a look at, be they games, comicbooks or novels.