I’ve been lackadaisically playing SHADOWRUN: HONG KONG

ss_f7beb7e5194a85da47756e2ba83e26e38f10a567.600x338There was a Humble Bundle recently that allowed you to get a whole bunch of games, which I guess I'll never play, as well SHADOWRUN: HONG KONG, for ten bucks. It's one of these kickstarted games, the main advantage of which is that, unlike regular commercially released games, its simple isometric graphics mean I can actually play it on my Macbook Pro.

I've been playing fairly lackadaisically, doing a mission here and a mission there. I've played RPGs for long enough to know that you're almost always better off selecting a combat-oriented character. I don't know what it is about the play-balancing, but combat (with guns, if the option is offered, or with swords if it's not) almost always outperforms technology or magic. I think it's because combat usually requires far fewer skill points to get good, while with technology and magic you not only need to use more points, but it's easier to get suckered into spending your points on stuff that sounds good but isn't that worthwhile. Additionally, oftentimes the game will end when your main character dies (but will continue on if your party members die) so it's worthwhile to make your main character the toughest one.

Yennyways, SHADOWRUN is beautifully constructed in a lot of ways. The combat is simple, yet it has tactical elements. Cover really matters. All characters can use guns, and it's the mainstay even for magical or technological characters. And it's done away with the annoying inventory management that plagues most games. There's no ammunition for one thing. You need to reload your guns, which takes an action point, but otherwise ammunition is infinite. I believe grenades are infinite as well. It's such a solidly sensible thing that I'm surprised I haven't seen it before.

I used to have a copy of the Shadowrun sourcebook for the pen and paper game, and I was fascinated by all the different playstyles: magic and drone combat and cyber-augmentations and decking. So for me the game has mostly been a nostalgia trip. I remember as a kid trying to pick my cyberaugmentations so carefully, because you're limited, at a cost of losing your soul, by the amount of "essence" that you have.

The game is very bare though. The environments feel rich and colorful, but there's nothing to do in them. It's the opposite of a sandbox RPG. It's a very linear set of encounters, which is only enlivened by your ability to pick which order you want to do your missions in. There's none of that sense of exploration that usually enlivens the oftentimes rather humdrum gameplay and worldbuilding of most RPGs.

But it wasn't a terrible use of ten bucks.

Oh, I also downloaded and played my friend Chris's mod, The Caldecott Caper, and let me tell you: it is in many ways better than the main game! Better dialogue and characterization, for sure, and an interesting conceit, with lots of atmosphere. Definitely worth your time.