Platforms: Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch
The shadow run has a pretty historic lineage – originally a tabletop RPG that rose to popularity thanks to its unique blend of cyberpunk and fantasy influences, video game spinoffs have appeared on consoles as far back as the SNES and Mega Drive. With rights swinging between publishers over the past 30 years, there has been little consistency, with games ranging from action adventures to first-person shooters, and even Japanese visual novels. Then, the first game of this trilogy, Return of Shadowrunbroke Kickstarter records in 2012 and established a more cohesive identity for the series as authentic role-playing games bolstered by tense turn-based tactical combat.
Originally PC exclusives, the modern series has seen ports to Android and iOS devices, but has been absent from consoles thus far. A decade after the original release, can these classic mash-ups satisfy modern gamers? Largely, yes – although this collection isn’t what fans of the glossed-over remaster might expect.
The release of the Paradox Interactive editor from Return of Shadowrun, Dragonfall: Director’s Versionand Hong Kong: Extended Edition made some welcome revisions for the game show, mostly to the controls. These are welcome – moving your custom character around with a controller stick makes the whole game feel smoother than it ever has on a mouse and keyboard, while making selections or switching between weapons in combat is a push of a button.
The visuals get a bit of a bump, with the option to up the resolution to 4K in the game’s settings, but the painted backdrops of developer Harebrained Scheme’s dystopian fantasy world hold up back and forth. However, even at 4K, text-heavy games still seem designed to be played up close on a monitor, rather than in a distant room on a TV. The lengthy descriptions of characters encountered or locations captured are beautifully written and brilliantly establish tone, detail, and even confidence – alluding to dialogue options or interactions to pursue for particular outcomes – but with everything framed at left of the screen, you’ll be squinting even on a big screen TV. Beyond these rare updates, these games are essentially untouched. It’s not even a “trilogy” release in the sense of being an actual package – each game is its own install, and there are no bonuses or anniversary materials. It’s as simple as possible.
A welcome console appearance for all three games, but it’s a shame it doesn’t feel more like a party.
Fortunately, the games themselves pass the test of time. Each still delivers a gripping cyber-noir tale that draws you into shadow run, where fantastic creatures such as elves and trolls reappeared in the modern world after the return of magic. Unfortunately, they find themselves trapped in the same capitalist hellscape as us poor humans, and many merge cybernetics with magic to become “Shadowrunners” – spy specialists often employed by corporations to steal secrets to their rivals. Designing playable characters in all three games lets you choose from one of five species – humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, and trolls – and customize them however you see fit. While there are certain pre-made archetypes to choose from – street samurai who focus on mastery of weapons, or deckers who adapt their bodies to hack on a whim, for example – there is no Strict classes and skills can be unlocked in all areas by Any character. It’s a great approach that allows for considerable freedom and flexibility in how you engage with the gaming world.
Whereas Return of Shadowrun‘ is the shortest – around 10-12 hours – it has a strong narrative and is a good introduction to the world, taking you into the dark underbelly of Seattle to investigate the murder of an old friend. dragon fall (regarding an attempt to resurrect a fearsome dragon) and hong kong (unraveling a conspiracy involving the police, corporations, and your own estranged family) are meatier stories, and both let you control an entire team of shadowrunners instead of hiring support characters, which gives more personality in the cast and shines in the dialogue.
Combat is largely unchanged across all three games – each offers XCOMstyle battles where action points are spent moving characters around down maps, taking cover if possible and using a mix of weapons and magic to defeat enemies. Although the structure is similar, shadow runthe fights are a little tighter than XCOM‘s however, and can sometimes be avoided entirely by making the right choices in advance. dragon fall and hong kong mix things up slightly, introducing modified mechanics such as sneak attacks and ley lines that can improve magic in battle, but it’s a fairly consistent experience across the trio.
All in all, this release marks a welcome console appearance for all three games, but it’s a shame that Shadowrun Trilogy doesn’t look like a party anymore. It’s a base port with minor tweaks, more bundle than actual trilogy, and while the combat and exploration translate well, the text walls mean they’ll still be better played sitting on a PC than on a couch.