Shadowrun Returns

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Shadowrun Returns
Shadowrun Returns logo.jpg
Developer(s)Harebrained Schemes
Publisher(s)Harebrained Schemes
Director(s)Jordan Weisman
Producer(s)Brian Poel
Designer(s)Trevor King-Yost
Kevin Maloney
Mike Mulvihill
Programmer(s)Chris Kohnert
Artist(s)Mike McCain
Composer(s)Gavin Parker
Marshall Parker
Sam Powell
Jim Soldi
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android
ReleaseWindows, OS X
  • WW: July 25, 2013[2]
iOS, Android
  • WW: September 26, 2013
  • WW: October 30, 2013
Genre(s)Tactical role-playing

Shadowrun Returns is a science fantasy turn based tactical role-playing game developed and published by Harebrained Schemes. It takes place in the setting of the Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game. The game was successfully crowd funded through Kickstarter, and was released for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, and Android in 2013.

An expansion pack titled Shadowrun: Dragonfall, was released in 2014. It was later converted to a standalone release and as Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director's Cut. In 2015, Harebrained Schemes launched another Kickstarter campaign to partially fund their next game, Shadowrun: Hong Kong.[4] Similar to the Dragonfall – Director's Cut edition, Hong Kong was released in 2015 as a standalone release built using an upgraded version of the Shadowrun Returns engine.


The game features isometric graphics, similar to 1993's Shadowrun for the SNES

Character generation[edit]

The player is able to customize their character's gender and appearance. There are five races to choose from: humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, and trolls. The player can choose to play as one of six classes, Street Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger, or Physical Adept, or the player can choose to play as no class at all. Street Samurai focus on combat and weapons, Mages use various spells including attack spells, healing spells and others, Deckers focus on hacking into computer systems, Shamans can summon spirits to aid in battle, Riggers control robotic drones that can specialize in combat or healing, while Physical Adepts use their magic spells to make themselves stronger in various ways.

As the story progresses, the player is given Karma to spend on improving their characters. While classes control what skills and equipment the character starts with, the player can choose to gain any skills they wish (e.g., Deckers can spend Karma to gain a Shaman's summoning abilities). The main statistics are Body, Quickness, Strength, Intelligence, Willpower and Charisma. Besides the player-character, the player can hire up to three other runners to aid the player-character during missions. Some non-player-characters are required to follow the player-character during certain missions.


While gameplay is mostly linear, some small amount of exploration is possible while completing objectives. The player can enter dialogue with various characters, with different statistics and skills giving new dialogue options. The player can also choose for their character to have various Etiquettes to add more dialogue options. The higher one's Charisma is, the more Etiquettes their character can have.

The player can also interact with the environment in some ways. For instance, pushing aside objects or hacking terminals to find hidden rooms, gaining access to new routes to their main objective or finding items to use or sell. Mages are also able to see magical ley lines, which enhance their abilities while standing over them, while Shamans can see points that allow them to summon spirits.

Finally, Deckers are able to "Jack In" to the Matrix at specific points. This results in them entering a different, virtual world while still controlling the characters in the real world. In the Matrix, their stats are determined by the cyberdeck they have equipped and their abilities by the programs they have installed. In the matrix, they can fight ICs and enemy deckers while trying to gather data and hack devices, such as elevators or auto turrets.


Combat is turn based, with the player controlling the actions of their team followed by the enemies taking their actions. All characters can move based on their Action Points (AP). Characters start with a base of 2 AP per turn (3 after a certain point in the story) but can gain or lose AP based on abilities, spells or items used on them. AP is used on such actions as moving, firing a weapon, reloading, or using a spell or item.

Each character carries up to three weapons and can switch between them at no AP cost. Weapons are divided into ranged combat (pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns, and rifles) and close combat types. Weapons also have different attacks, depending on the weapon itself and the character's skill with that weapon. Ammunition is unlimited but ranged weapons need to be reloaded when their magazines are emptied. Riggers can equip drones the same way as weapons, taking manual control of them during combat. While this gives the Rigger less AP, the drones are capable of attacking enemies or healing allies.

Those with Shaman abilities can summon additional allied spirits to the field, either through items they carry with them or special points where spirits linger. Each turn, these spirits are given a certain number of AP chosen by the player. The longer the spirit has been summoned for and the more AP it is given, the greater chance it will escape the Shaman's control, at which point it will either begin attacking anyone at random or simply flee.


The game ships with a campaign called "Dead Man's Switch" that allows for any sort of newly created character. Further campaigns can be downloaded from Steam Workshop or external websites.

Dead Man's Switch[edit]

The player assumes the role of a shadowrunner who receives a pre-recorded message from his or her old shadowrunner accomplice, Sam Watts, which was triggered by a dead man's switch embedded within his body. Sam's message states that he has 100,000 nuyen being held in escrow as a reward should he bring whomever was responsible for his death to justice. Upon arriving in Seattle, the runner discovers that Sam is the latest victim of the Emerald City Ripper, a serial killer who has been surgically removing organs from his or her victims. Afterwards the runner meets Jake Armitage, the protagonist of the SNES Shadowrun game, who provides some leads to investigate.

After receiving help from Coyote, a female human bartender/shadowrunner who first asked for assistance in a private war against those who make "Better-Than-Life" ("BTL") chips, the runner discovers that the Ripper is a male elf named Silas Forsberg whose victims were those who had a transplanted organ from Sam's mother. After killing Silas, the player learns he was directed to commit the Ripper murders by Jessica Watts, Sam's twin sister. Sam and Jessica had lived a comfortable life before their father's passing, and despite his best efforts early on to live a decent life, he cracked under the pressure and spent the family savings on drugs and alcohol. He eventually became a shadowrunner to make ends meet, and to further fuel his self-destructive habits.

The runner confronts Jessica but she escapes. The runner finds that Jessica is a high-ranking member of the Universal Brotherhood, an international New Age organization that attracts the disenfranchised. The runner and Coyote investigate the restricted areas of the facility and discover that the Universal Brotherhood is itself a front for a cult trying to create an insect spirit hive. Jessica is revealed to be a shaman who is one of the few who are aware of the Brotherhood's true nature and she unleashes extra-dimensional insect spirits that cannot be killed. The team flees, rescuing a woman named Mary-Louise who is designated to become "the queen", similar to a queen bee.

Mary-Louise connects the team with her boyfriend, a decker going by the alias Baron Samedi, who organizes a shadowrun on Telestrian Industries to steal a sample of Project Aegis; a chemical weapon capable of killing the insect spirits. The runner acquires the sample but is captured while trying to escape and is brought before James Telestrian III. When it is revealed that the runner rescued Mary-Louise, who is Telestrian's daughter, he decides instead of punishing the runner to hire him or her to lead a team to deploy Project Aegis along with the immortal elf Harlequin. Telestrian explains that Jessica's ritual to bring an insect spirit queen into this world requires a blood relative. His father had an affair with Melinda Watts, Sam and Jessica's mother, thus Mary-Louise was a viable candidate since they shared the same grandfather. Should Jessica perform the ritual on a blood relative, it would result in a full-scale invasion of the extra-dimensional insect spirits.

Telestrian gives the runner and Harlequin each a shotgun able to fire capsules filled with the remaining Aegis compound, which can kill the insect spirits. The team infiltrates the hive and they fight their way into the heart of the inner sanctum where Telestrian's sister, Lynne, has volunteered to let the queen take over her body, as she is also a blood relation to Jessica. The team disrupts the summoning by seriously wounding Jessica and killing most of the insect spirits inside the hive. The queen spirit abandons Jessica, and the player is given the option to kill her or arrest her. Lynne survives, but is arrested and eventually sent to a mental hospital.

The game concludes with Armitage, Coyote, Harlequin, and James Telestrian III discussing the fallout of the raid, with Harlequin musing that other Brotherhood chapters across the world also hold hives similar to the one in Seattle. When the runner tries to collect the money for bringing Sam's killer to justice, Sam's prerecorded message asks the runner to apologize to Jessica for what he put her through, and reveals that he never actually had any money in escrow.

An epilogue describes the immediate events after the game, tying in with the larger Shadowrun canon. Media coverage of the events left out details of shadowrunners and insect spirits, likely due to the influence of the Brotherhood. Aegis was eventually developed into a product called "Fluorescing Astral Bacteria-3", or "FAB-3". The Chicago Universal Brotherhood hive is botched and the city is largely sealed up behind a wall to keep the rampaging insect spirits inside the city. FAB-3 is used some time later to cleanse Chicago of its insect spirit infestation.


In the main campaign of the game's first expansion, players assume the role of a Shadowrunner who has recently arrived in the anarchic free state of Berlin to join a team headed by an old colleague, Monika Schäfer.

Hong Kong[edit]

In 2056, the player travels to the Hong Kong Free Enterprise Zone, meeting with their foster brother Duncan and his superior officer Carter, who agree to investigate their foster father's mysterious message, are ambushed by the HKPD, and escape to and continue their investigation from a small boat village built on the outskirts of a modern Kowloon Walled City, a nightmarish slum built on the ruins of the original.


The game's lead designer is Jordan Weisman, the creator of the Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game, who was inspired to create a game with a "more authentic tone" after the release of the 2007 Shadowrun first-person shooter, which he was not involved with.[5][6] Weisman was originally inspired to create a video game in the Shadowrun universe after reacquiring the rights to it from Microsoft through his Smith & Tinker startup company in 2007.[5][6] Unfortunately, due to restrictions on the license, he could not obtain the backing of other publishers for new Shadowrun projects.[6] The success of crowd funding financing models then motivated him to obtain funding for his project, Shadowrun Returns, through the Kickstarter crowd funding platform.

The project was opened to pledges in March 2012 and met its funding goal of $400,000 within 28 hours.[7] Upon reaching the $1 million mark, Weisman recorded a video for the Kickstarter project stating that if the project were to reach $1.5 million, the developers would develop a "backers-only exclusive mission which will tie together the stories of the SNES title and the Sega Genesis title."[8][9] This goal was achieved but Kickstarter backers demanded that the mission be made available to everyone, so Harebrained Schemes announced that the mission would be available to them for a limited amount of time before being available to the public.[10] The funding period ended on 29 April 2012, by which time the project had gathered $1,895,772 worth of pledges.[3] The success of the campaign made Complex rank it number eight on their list of the biggest video game wins and fails on Kickstarter in 2012.[11]

The game was developed for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms, as well as the iPad and Android tablets. Weisman justified the addition of tablets as a development platform alongside more traditional development for the desktop because "the style of game we want to make lends itself best to these platforms," and "the gameplay determined the platform."[5]

Weisman announced the game as a "graphically rich 2D turn-based single player game with deep story interaction, meaningful character development, and highly-contextual tactical combat." It is accompanied by a level editor for players to create their own content.[5][12] The game implements character types from the role-playing game, including Street Samurai, Combat Mage, Decker (i.e. hacker), Shaman, Rigger and Adept.[3] In collaboration with Cliffhanger Productions, characters and plotlines of Shadowrun Returns will be carried on to Shadowrun Online, which is set approximately 20 years later and will be based upon the video game multiplayer aspect Shadowrun has potential for.[13]

The music was composed by Marshall Parker and Sam Powell who were involved in the original SNES and Sega Genesis iterations, as well as the independent composer Gavin Parker, whose previous work includes Test Drive Unlimited, Viva Piñata and Scene it?. The official launch trailer was released on July 18,[14] which included voice talent by Charles Legget[15] and music by composer Jon Everist, who went on to compose the majority of the music for Shadowrun: Dragonfall and all of the critically acclaimed score for Shadowrun: Hong Kong.[16][17]


The game originally had an estimated delivery date of January 2013, but the designers stated that the additional content to be added after meeting stretch goals will require more time.[18] On June 18, 2013 the developers announced an official release date of July 25, 2013.[2] It was released on July 25, 2013 through Steam, with a DRM-free download available to Kickstarter backers only.[3] Initially the DRM-free version was only available to backers as the developing team managed to get an exception only for Kickstarter backers while licensing the Shadowrun brand,[19] but on November 12, 2013 Harebrained Schemes announced that they had reached an agreement to release DRM-free versions of Shadowrun Returns and future expansions, as well as sell them through[20]


Shadowrun Returns received generally favorable reviews upon release, garnering a 76/100 on review aggregation website Metacritic.[21] IGN reviewer Dan Stapleton stated that the game's best days were ahead of it, and they will be more interested in it "a year from now, after the community has used the included mod tools to build on it, than in what it is today."[26]

Several reviewers[who?] criticized the game's save system, which saves the game only at area transitions. Functionality to allow the player to save the game at any time was omitted because of development resource constraints,[30] but was later added in the Shadowrun Dragonfall expansion.[31]


  1. ^ Harebrained Schemes. "Shadowrun Universe Forums". Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  2. ^ a b "It's Happening". Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Kickstarter. "Shadowrun Returns". Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  4. ^ Kickstarter (Jan 13, 2015). "Shadowrun: Hong Kong". Retrieved Jan 15, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Buffa, Chris (6 April 2012). "Shadowrun Returns Interview With Creator Jordan Weisman". MoDojo. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Chalk, Andy (4 April 2012). "Shadowrun Returns Comes to Kickstarter". The Escapist. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  7. ^ Jones, Matt (5 April 2012). "Fans make Shadowrun game a reality in 28 hours". Edmonton Journal blog. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  8. ^ Weisman, Jordan (Harebrained Schemes) (14 April 2012). Shadowrun Returns - Update #6. YouTube. Event occurs at 0:53. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  9. ^ Harebrained Schemes (14 April 2012). "Update #6: Achievement Unlocked: 1,000,000 pts". Kickstarter. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  10. ^ Harebrained Schemes (19 April 2012). "Update #7: A Little Fireside Chat". Kickstarter. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  11. ^ The 10 Biggest Video Game Wins And Fails On Kickstarter This Year,, December 28, 2012
  12. ^ O'Connor, Alice (4 April 2012). "Shadowrun Returns with Kickstarter campaign". Shack News. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
  13. ^ Harebrained Schemes (11 April 2012). "FAQ: What is Shadowrun Online". Kickstarter. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  14. ^ "Shadowrun Returns Launch Trailer - Available on Steam July 25th". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
  15. ^ "Charles Leggett". Topo Swope Talent. Archived from the original on 2014-05-08. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Jon Everist". 2013-04-19. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
  18. ^ Harebrained Schemes. "Shadowrun Returns Q&A with Mitch & Jordan". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
  19. ^ "What's the Deal with DRM-free and Other Questions". Harebrained Schemes. Archived from the original on 2013-08-03. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
  20. ^ "DRM's End". Harebrained Schemes. Retrieved 2014-01-21.
  21. ^ a b "Shadowrun Returns for PC Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  22. ^ "Shadowrun Returns for iPhone/iPad Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  23. ^ Whitehead, Dan (July 25, 2013). "Shadowrun Returns review". Eurogamer. Eurogamer Network. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  24. ^ Miller, Matt (July 25, 2013). "Shadowrun Returns - Modern Gameplay With A Classic Feel". Game Informer. GameStop. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  25. ^ Hale, Bradly (July 24, 2013). "Review: Shadowrun Returns". Hardcore Gamer. Hardcore Gamer. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  26. ^ a b Stapleton, Dan (July 25, 2013). "Shadowrun Returns Review". IGN. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  27. ^ Cavalli, Earnest (July 31, 2013). "Shadowrun Returns review: Hack the planet". Retrieved July 31, 2013.
  28. ^ Gies, Arthur (July 25, 2013). "Shadowrun Returns Review: opportunity cost". Polygon. Vox Media. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  29. ^ Burnett, Karl (October 1, 2013). "'Shadowrun Returns' Review – A Kickstarter-Fueled Cyberpunk Classic". TouchArcade. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  30. ^ Gitelman, Mitch (posting as Mitch HBS) (March 20, 2013). "What will the save system be like?". HBS Developer Q&A. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  31. ^ "Shadowrun: Dragonfall". Archived from the original on 2015-05-27. Retrieved 2015-05-29.

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