Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown Review
The Shadowrun franchise is enjoying something of a renaissance recently. The tabletop game franchise; where the players take the roles of hackers, cybernetically enhanced mercenaries, and mages in a dystopian future; has been streamlined and cut down on at least some of the crunch that gives everyone issues with it. Shadowrun Returns (and its superior sequel Dragonfall) has made waves as the first successful licensed game for the franchise since the Genesis iteration back in the '90s.
Now with the online multiplayer game Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown, there's a way for people to link up with their friends, break into some corporate buildings, and cultivate an irrational fear of the words "milk run" just like fans of the franchise have done so for years, but with less of the bookkeeping, crunch, and confusing die pools of the tabletop version. And I'd love to say it's every bit as fun as the isometric single-player iteration, but...well, read on.
2077. Due to several unusual factors, a second age of magic has been ushered into the world, turning various people into elves, orcs, trolls, and dwarves among others. Dragons have taken their rightful place at the top of the food chain, ruling over some companies and even countries. Those not touched by magic have mostly decided to go the technological route with cybernetic enhancements and hacking. Corporations and privatized police now rule most of the world. And you have decided to take a career in shadowrunning, off-the-grid operations undertaken for a variety of contracts, usually dangerous.
Shadowrun Chronicles plays out as a tactical turn-based roleplaying game with a hub level in between where you can recruit people to your party, buy better equipment, and level up. There are a few early tutorial levels, and after that the game settles into a rhythm of "do missions, sell stuff at the hub, rinse, repeat."
However, this is where the issues begin to set in. The game doesn't truly open up until several missions after the tutorial, with a series of linked story missions that see you raiding Fenway Park after a dragon attack and attempting to escape with your lives. The linked Fenway missions are awesome, but until that point, the game feels kind of small and blocked-off. It gets slightly bigger after that, with a variety of side missions you can undertake for extra XP and cash, but I've also never really liked those "the game begins at (x)" chants that every MMO game seems to have by default.
I also wasn't really a fan of the voice acting. It seems "Boston" means everybody talks like they're spoofing The Departed, and some of the performances rang a little wooden. As this is really the only form of plot conveyance apart from what happens during the missions, it hits a little harder than perhaps it should. (Granted, I was doing a similarly bad Boston accent while I was playing it as well, but that's in the privacy of my weird little monk's cell/office, not out in public.)
Finally, the single-player options feel a little empty. I'm not a fan of games where you can't have an experience on your own as well as having the multiplayer experience, unless it's things like Team Fortress 2, where no matter what, you're shoved into a room with a whole bunch of other people to play with. You have to afford the players ways to play the game in the manner they want, and the game feels kind of sterile just playing botmatches, far more than it should be.
And all of this is a shame, because the game is actually pretty good. The turn-based sections allow for simultaneous turns between players, with barely any hiccups in play. I think the one issue I had was that I'd plan a specific move out, only to find that the other members of my team had cleared the area I was going to grenade, or already cleaned out the lockers I'd been moving towards. The setting's history works really well, with the eponymous "lockdown" shutting down different districts of the city and limiting who you can talk to. And the graphics, while a little simple in places, are beautiful with a clean interface and very little chance of making the wrong move.
It also gets the feel of Shadowrun down. The feeling of desperate firefights, jobs going wrong on a dime due to human error, and the way the world balances the grit of street-level ops with the sleek corporate towers all comes right off the tabletop game, only without a lot of the drawbacks of the RPG. It also does away with most of the gear optimization, which I'm sure would make most regular Shadowrun players throw up their arms in frustration. While there's still a little gear optimization, it's not nearly as prominent.
In the end, I think if you have a group of friends who regularly mount up and play games, then buy this. If you don't, you'll soon find yourself missing the interactions this game can provide. It's weird when solitary, and I'd imagine it loses interest significantly faster.
Final score: 3/5
Full Disclosure: I received a steam key for this review. Also, to midnight, Voidwalker, and Walter: Thanks for running with me.