The first two parts of what I’d call the “Shadowrun Returns Trilogy” – Shadowrun: Dead Man’s Switch, and Shadowrun: Dragonfall, showed steady improvement over their earlier installments, reaching a zenith in Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Dead Man’s Switch re-introduced the game mechanics and the world of Shadowrun to video games after decades of absence, along with telling a story that adapted parts of the setting that hadn’t been adapted before.
Dragonfall, for the first time, took Shadowrun, in video game form, out of Seattle – and in the process gave some fanservice to the game’s very vocal German fan base. It also demonstrated elements of the evolution of PC RPGs that the first game lacked – regular party members each with their motivations and story, along with quests specific to those characters that helped to progress their story. However, both games had some mechanical hiccups that made them frustrating to play.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong fixes a lot of those hiccups. Probably the biggest one is related to inventory management. There were few things more frustrating from the first two games than finding a particularly nice grenade or medpak, with characters who could absolutely use that item (and were indeed best suited for that item and had open inventory slots, but where you couldn’t pick that item up because you didn’t have open inventory slots. Similarly, your party could have characters in the group who had the skills needed to surpass some particular skill challenges (Biotech, Rigging, Decking), but because you didn’t, it could not be performed.
In Shadowrun: Hong Kong, on the other hand, this is resolved – if you have a decker in the party, you can hack that door. Got a rigger? You can shut down those turrets. Spellcaster in the party? You can find out what’s so weird about this places’ aura. It makes talking your way out of encounters more viable than in earlier games because you have what you need to circumvent those obstacles.
Decking has also changed considerably – though this is more of a mixed bag. Decking is no longer exclusively turn-based. Instead, the game uses real-time stealth gameplay, with the decker having to evade the vision cones from various detection ICE, with the game moving into turn-based combat when you are spotted and into some fixed encounters. All action when you’re in stealth mode counts as one “turn”, so if you have a time limit to accomplish a task, then if you are careful and take your time, you can complete that sequence in only a couple of “turns”.
That said, there are some issues with the enemy patterns, where it becomes far too easy to accidentally blunder into an enemy when traversing an area on the first time, to the point that when I started running into timed sequences, I would end up heavily save-scumming to minimize the time spent in combat. This is also made somewhat frustrating by the fact that the programs that you can equip to heal your character and reduce the heat level of the server can’t be used when you’re not in combat, as opposed to the last two games when they could.
Another improvement with the game is the writing. Unlike the first two games, your character isn’t a cipher. You have an adoptive brother, who plays a major role in the game’s plot, and through your dialog choices, you basically shape your relationship with him and with your adoptive father. While Dragonfall had some degree of narrative agency, you didn’t really have the same degree of control over characterization to this extent.
In all, I really loved this game, and I really hope that with the mechanical improvements that are shown in this game, we’ll see another Shadowrun game from Harebrained Schemes in the future.
In the meantime, if you want to pick Shadowrun: Hong Kong up, it’s available from Humble Bundle, and buying anything from there helps not only the site but also the Autism Self-Advocacy Network.