Shadowrun Returns

Last updated
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
Series Shadowrun
Engine Unity [1]
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android

Windows, OS X

  • WW: July 25, 2013 [2]

iOS, Android

  • WW: September 26, 2013


  • WW: October 30, 2013
Genre(s) Tactical role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player [3]

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.

Science fantasy is a mixed genre within the umbrella of speculative fiction which simultaneously draws upon and/or combines tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. In a science fiction story, the world is scientifically possible, while a science fantasy world contains elements which violate the scientific laws of the real world. Nevertheless the world of science fantasy is logical and often is supplied with science-like explanations of these violations.

Tactical role-playing games are a genre of video game which incorporates elements of traditional role-playing video games with that of tactical games, emphasizing tactics rather than high-level strategy. In Japan, these games are known as "Simulation RPGs". The format of a tactical RPG video game is much like a traditional tabletop role-playing game in its appearance, pacing and rule structure. Likewise, early tabletop role-playing games are descended from skirmish wargames like Chainmail, which were primarily concerned with combat.

Harebrained Schemes American video game studio

Harebrained Schemes, LLC is an American video game developer based in Seattle, Washington. It was co-founded in 2011 by Jordan Weisman and Mitch Gitelman. Prior to founding Harebrained Schemes, Weisman and Gitelman worked together on the MechCommander and Crimson Skies franchises at FASA, another company founded by Weisman. As of mid-2015, the studio had under 60 employees.


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.

<i>Shadowrun: Dragonfall</i> video game

Shadowrun: Dragonfall is a turn-based tactical role-playing video game developed by Harebrained Schemes set in the Shadowrun universe. It was originally released as downloadable content for Shadowrun Returns in February 2014. An expanded version was later released as a standalone game in September 2014, under the title Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut.

<i>Shadowrun: Hong Kong</i> 2015 video game

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a turn-based tactical role-playing video game set in the Shadowrun universe. It was developed and published by Harebrained Schemes, who previously developed Shadowrun Returns and its standalone expansion, Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut. It includes a new single-player campaign and also shipped with a level editor that lets players create their own Shadowrun campaigns and share them with other players.


The game features isometric graphics, similar to 1993's Shadowrun for the SNES Shadowrun Returns screenshot.jpg
The game features isometric graphics, similar to 1993's Shadowrun for the SNES

Character generation

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 said 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

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.

Dead mans switch a switch that is designed to be activated if the human operator becomes incapacitated

A dead man's switch is a switch that is designed to be activated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control. Originally applied to switches on a vehicle or machine, it has since come to be used to describe other intangible uses like in computer software.

An escrow is a contractual arrangement in which a third party receives and disburses money or property for the primary transacting parties, with the disbursement dependent on conditions agreed to by the transacting parties. Examples include an account established by a broker for holding funds on behalf of the broker's principal or some other person until the consummation or termination of a transaction; or, a trust account held in the borrower's name to pay obligations such as property taxes and insurance premiums. The word derives from the Old French word escroue, meaning a scrap of paper or a scroll of parchment; this indicated the deed that a third party held until a transaction was completed.

Seattle City in Washington, United States

Seattle is a seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the seat of King County, Washington. With an estimated 730,000 residents as of 2018, Seattle is the largest city in both the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest region of North America. According to U.S. Census data released in 2018, the Seattle metropolitan area’s population stands at 3.87 million, and ranks as the 15th largest in the United States. In July 2013, it was the fastest-growing major city in the United States and remained in the Top 5 in May 2015 with an annual growth rate of 2.1%. In July 2016, Seattle was again the fastest-growing major U.S. city, with a 3.1% annual growth rate. Seattle is the northernmost large city in the United States.

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.

Organ transplantation moving of an organ from one body or body region to another

Organ transplantation is a medical procedure in which an organ is removed from one body and placed in the body of a recipient, to replace a damaged or missing organ. The donor and recipient may be at the same location, or organs may be transported from a donor site to another location. Organs and/or tissues that are transplanted within the same person's body are called autografts. Transplants that are recently performed between two subjects of the same species are called allografts. Allografts can either be from a living or cadaveric source.

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.

New Age spiritual or religious beliefs and practices that developed in Western nations during the 1970s

New Age is a term applied to a range of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices that developed in Western nations during the 1970s. Precise scholarly definitions of the New Age differ in their emphasis, largely as a result of its highly eclectic structure. Although analytically often considered to be religious, those involved in it typically prefer the designation of spiritual or Mind, Body, Spirit and rarely use the term "New Age" themselves. Many scholars of the subject refer to it as the New Age movement, although others contest this term and suggest that it is better seen as a milieu or zeitgeist.

Queen bee dominant reproductive female bee in a colony

The term "queen bee" is typically used to refer to an adult, mated female (gyne) that lives in a honey bee colony or hive; she is usually the mother of most, if not all, of the bees in the beehive. Queens developed from larvae selected by worker bees and specially fed in order to become sexually mature. There is normally only one adult, mated queen in a hive, in which case the bees will usually follow and fiercely protect her.

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

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]


Aggregate score
Metacritic 76/100 (PC) [21]
85/100 (iOS) [22]
Review scores
Eurogamer 8/10 [23]
Game Informer 8.5/10 [24]
IGN 7.3/10 [25]
Joystiq Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [26]
Polygon 7/10 [27]
Hardcore Gamer 4.5/5 [28]

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." [25]

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, [29] but was later added in the Shadowrun Dragonfall expansion. [30]

The Dragonfall DLC expansion was more warmly received, earning an average score of 81/100 on Metacritic. [31]

The Shadowrun: Hong Kong sequel has a score of 81% on Metacritic. [32]

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