Game Name: Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Developer: Hairebrained Studios
Publisher: Hairebrained Studios
Release Date: August 20, 2015
Genre: Strategy, Role Playing
ESRB Rating: M
A copy of this game was gifted by the developers for this review.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong shares many similarities with the previous campaigns in the series. It takes a fresh look at SIN, explaining a little about what life is like for people who aren’t shadowrunners. Thrust into the lifestyle, they must do all they can, merely to survive the harsh streets of Hong Kong. It also, unfortunately, shares some of the problems the previous campaigns had. I had a lot of trouble wrestling with this review. My PC has been playing up as of late, and I also encountered some, unfortunately, game-breaking glitches. I was able to reach near the end, but with a lot of fussing about. Sadly, this review is incomplete, but I shall reveal as far as I could progress.
The story of Shadowrun: Hong Kong is fairly straight forward. You and your adopted sibling receive a distress call from your foster father. He claims he’s in grave danger and is in dire need of your help. He has not seen you in years and fears you won’t come. Your sibling isn’t all that pleased to see you. He feels you abandoned him and “dad” to pursue your own life. As soon as the both of you enter the outskirts of Hong Kong, an APB is called on you. Cops roam the streets, and every organization is out to get you. You meet a group of competent shadowrunners, and they help get you out in one piece. With the whole of Hong Kong out to get you, what can you do? Well, there is one thing, and that burns your SIN ID. Not an easy task of course, but with the help of a powerful old woman who runs Heoi, you can accomplish this. The catch, though? She wants you to become a shadowrunner for her. To survive, you must shed everything you knew about yourself and delve into the shadows, performing odd jobs and little errands for her. I say little, but of course, no job is straightforward when you’re a shadowrunner. Plans go awry all the time and how one reacts will determine if they live to see another day.
The characters in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, for the most part, are well fleshed out. Your sibling is little more than an unlikeable meathead with occasional insight, but the rest of the supporting cast are very well written. There’s the Russian rigger Racter, who is magnificent with machines and knows far more about Heoi than he initially lets on. There’s the bouncy little cybergeek orc Is0bel, who has custom built her cyberdeck from scratch, using older models to save on nuyen. There’s the Rat Shaman, Gobbet, who’d sooner stab you than shake your hand, but she’s very streetwise. Then there’s Cheng. Kindly Cheng is a lovely, excitable old crone who offers to help your group out. She dispatches you on missions and is affectionately referred to as “Auntie”. The group respects her very much, and she is an incredibly resourceful woman. She exudes power, and for me personally, was simply a blast to interact with.
The gameplay in Shadowrun: Hong Kong is extremely similar to the previous “Returns” outings. You roam around the top-down isometric playing field, interacting with certain icons, talking to people and encountering interact-able objects that help flesh the world out a bit more. When combat is initiated, you lose free roaming, and the game becomes turn based. Action points determine your movements and choices here. Certain actions and movements require far more action points, and every weapon, every skill, and use of an item has its positives, and it’s negatives. Is0bel’s grenade launcher as an example is a great deterrent against groups of enemies, but God help you, if a teammate is standing too close to the line of fire.
Like the previous titles, you can take cover. Depending on the object you take cover behind, you will receive a defense bonus. Some objects only give you half of the bonus, while others will fully protect you from receiving any critical shot that may cripple your team member. The strategy is key here and discovering what works as cover and what doesn’t will go a long way to keeping you alive. Sure, you can stand out in the open if you like, but you’ll be risking a lot of hitpoints as a result. Remember, you can only heal the last wound a character received, regardless if you use a healing skill or a med pack; both of which can be upgraded through nuyen.
As you survive each ordeal and trial, you will receive karma. These are effectively your experience points, and can be applied to whatever stat takes your fancy. Sadly, your party does not have the same luxury. They are appointed karma to their particular character, and it’s linear; however, on level up you can choose between one of two skills they can learn. This is key, as depending on your choices, the game can become much easier, or far harder. Sadly, though, by the end of the game, you’ll have so much nuyen from side missions; so many weapon upgrades, so many spells, and so many healing items that it is practically impossible to die in a firefight. Even so, you will lose party members permanently along the way, so save often and do your best to keep them alive. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
That’s enough about meatspace; however, as cyberspace is quite different. Should Is0bel or a hired decker (you can hire replacement team members) find a jack-in point, the game changes substantially. You must guide your player through a maze, towards a hub that will allow you to affect certain objects in the real world. This is easier said than done, though, as cyberspace is a stealth mini-game. Programs roam the halls and have set paths and vision cones. You must time your movements appropriately and avoid the enemy’s sight. Should you be spotted, then a security rating will activate. You then have limited time to dispose of the programs and accomplish what you set out to do. Should you reach the hub without setting off security, you’ll encounter another threat; hacking. To access hubs, you have two choices: you can hack the hub and if you’re successful, get away scott-free (good luck), or you can force the lock. Forcing the lock is ill-advised as that guarantees a security breach and the wrath of hostiles brought upon you. My best advice is, if you’re spotted, reload your game.
Graphically the game isn’t anything special. The 3D models and customization at the beginning of the game are quite basic. While the game isn’t technically impressive, the visuals still give off that weird dystopian neon cyberpunk feel of the previous ones. Heoi and the rest of Hong Kong feel run down. The atmospheric vibe is not one of being welcomed. The world is hostile and feels as such, and any friend could betray you at any moment. The art is enjoyable, and the story is further represented through artistically drawn cut-scenes. These cut-scenes are quite visually impressive, employing vibrant colors, despite feeling at odds with the rest of the game. They feel alien, and I can’t quite put my finger on why.
The setpieces in Shadowrun: Hong Kong is pretty standard fare. Apartment buildings, sewers, offices, and damply lit streets are all you’re likely to see here. It’s a shame, after the magnificent Dragonfall, I expected the series to leave the physical a bit more and delve into the esoteric realms that the Famicom game did. Still, at the very least, Hong Kong does feel like a Shadowrun game, and that’s something to take note of. The colors of the game are pretty drab, and maps do feel like a re-use of previous series’ assets, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t feel wrong; despite being somewhat of a retread, artistically.
Audio-wise, the game sounds fine. The quality of the music is great and aids the atmosphere of Hong Kong. The tunes are varied enough from the previous games while still echoing a little of what came before. The game struck a good mix of old and new, with remixes of old tunes and revamped, entirely new music for certain sections. Like every Shadowrun title, the music does an excellent job of helping feed the feel of the world.
Like all the previous titles in the series, though, there is no voice acting. Most of the characters are quite likable, bar a few, and I feel that the lack of voice acting certainly does the unlikable ones no extra favor. Yes, there’s no badly acted sequences, and the writing is good, but considering this is the third title in the current returns series, I felt there should have been more. The lack of voice acting is very obvious and evident and leaves that aspect of Hong Kong quite threadbare and lifeless.
Overall, Hong Kong isn’t a bad game. It does a lot right. The story is much improved from Dead Man’s Switch and borrows some small elements from Dragonfall. The story is competent and decently written (from the portion I was able to access), and it lends the Shadowrun feel to the game. While there are good aspects, of course, there are bad. I encountered an astounding amount of game breaking glitches in my playthrough. While they weren’t as bad as the graveyard glitch that quickly put a stop to my Dead Man’s Switch play-through, these were just as egregious.
Initially, the game wouldn’t load at all, once I had progressed past burning my SIN ID. I came back the next day and found the title screen would freeze while loading. After some fiddling around with compatibility settings, I was able to progress halfway through the game, before encountering a glitch that would cause my game to take 15 minutes to load a save file. Eventually, it seemed to get longer, until I was at Prosperity, near the end of the game. At this point, I left the game for an hour, and it still wouldn’t load, so I was forced to end my playthrough and write what I have now committed to this page
If you liked the previous titles, I’d advise you to get Hong Kong on sale. It’s not got the same amount of polish as Dragonfall had, and it’s full of bugs. If the bugs are a concern, I’d recommend getting the Dragonfall Director’s cut. It’s a better use of the money, honestly. It’s also worth noting that at the time of this review, we only received the base version. The Extended Cut is now the only one available on Steam, so the issues we encountered may have resolved themselves.
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