Shadowrun Returns was a welcome revival of the magic and technology based series and Dragonfall was a further improvement as the development team focused its level design around a pre conceived group of runners. Shadowrun: Hong Kong has arrived with a little bit less of a fanfare but we still had high hopes that the third outing into the murky world would build on the success of the first two games.
Hong Kong’s story is one of mystery and it builds an excellent tale for players to try and unravel. Out of the three games this is the one that feels most like a Noir thriller and the neon skyline associated with the city certainly gives it a bit of a Blade Runner feel. You start out with a message from your adopted father to meet him in Hong Kong as soon as possible. Upon arrival you meet your brother at the docks and then everything goes wrong very quickly.
If there is one criticism of the plot it’s that it can be a bit wordy at times. Characters will have seemed to have finished what they are talking about only to go onto something else on too many occasions and it stops you getting to the heart of action for a little too long. That said, it certainly helps to build the world and the story is strong overall. However, It would have been better to cut out some of the exposition and show more through characters action as this would give a bit more pace to things.
In terms of the general flow of the game very little has changed for the most part. You still wander around locations looking for clues by clicking the mouse and combat remains turn based. If you sneak up on enemies you can now position yourselves and fire on them first before they see you though. This adds another small layer of strategy to the game but most of the time combat is initiated as a result of conversations anyway so it isn’t used as much as it perhaps could have been.
The biggest area which has changed is when you are inside the matrix. Now instead of everything being turn based you start out by having free movement. The enemy defence programmes cycle around set patterns and if you are skilled enough you can dart around between them without initiating combat. If you do get seen then it changes back to the traditional format found in the previous two games.
The matrix sections of all the games are the thing that really holds them back and they need a complete overhaul. Replacing combat at street level with boring combat inside computers is not great and for the series to progress something else needs to be done with it. Both the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive games treated the matrix differently from the main game and it’s something that really needs to be done with the new games as well.
Matrix grumbling aside there isn’t really much else to complain about. There’s the odd difficulty spike (mainly matrix related and especially noticeable late on), but on the whole everything is how you would want it to be. There’s a wide variety of shadowrunners to enlist and a sizable amount of side quests to get involved with. The locations fit the Hong Kong setting well and the characters are interesting and diverse. The setting is rich with atmosphere as well with a simply outstanding soundtrack accompanying the neon-lit Cantonese designs of the buildings and street layouts.
Overall, the third game in the Shadowrun series keeps up the overall quality we have now come to expect from Harebrained Schemes. The formula is still working for the most part and though the format is getting a little tired it’s hard not to get lost in such a rich world. This is also undoubtedly the best mystery of the three games and we found it very difficult to put down. Fans of the other games and the franchise as a whole will have little to complain about and for newcomers to the series there’s nothing here that will alienate you. Another job well done but those matrix sections really need to be changed now as they are stopping the series reaching true greatness.