Shadowrun: Hong Kong – Extended Edition

Another Shadowrun. Almost nothing has changed. Just about all the problems I had last time are still around. It’s nice in the sense that I can keep the review shorter.

The load times are still way too long, it’s still easy to misclick tiles, and it still compounds as I end up having to sit through a 30 second “quickload” to undo a misclick that shouldn’t have happened. The impact of RNG vs skill? Still bad. Summoning hasn’t changed. The campy, heavy-handed social commentary, like something out of the movie “They Live”, is still all over the place. “The Matrix with elves” is about as low-brow as it gets.

The level/object art is great and there are some pretty baller combat themes. So that hasn’t really changed either.

Okay: there are a couple new things. Stealth plays a bigger role, which I didn’t really mind until one mission on a boat, where Koschei kept lagging behind my main character by like 20 feet and getting me caught. It really doesn’t work well. Aside from the parts where I was jacked into the matrix, I found myself having very little clue what would trip alarms, or how close I could get while positioning my characters for an ambush before the enemy would see me.

That brings me to the shoot-first mechanic, the only other new feature I can think of. But you can usually only do it right before you’re forced into a fight anyway. If combat is treated as “an option”, say, against those gangers in the parking garage, there’s no way to line up behind some crates and kick things off with a grenade. You have to walk into the middle of the room with your whole party, tell the guy “Hey, I’m going to kick your ass,” and then deal with combat from there. Which, I mean, has a kind of macho appeal of its own, I admit, but I’d rather not be locked out of a strategy. And as for pulling the guns out in town and blasting up the major NPCs? Forget about it.

Fallout (which came out in 1997, nearly 20 years ago) allowed these things in part by compartmentalizing all the stories it wanted to tell, but none of the Shadowrun games have used the linear form to such great effect in the telling of their main scenarios as to ever fully justify a non-modular approach to quests. Even though I always wanted to see the ability to draw weapons outside of a dialogue prompt in the Shadowrun series, it’s admittedly just a bandaid fix if they’re still deciding when it can be used. I’ve also wanted to see matrix gameplay extended, seeing as you should be capable of a lot more on the internet than just stealing files and fighting corporate anti-malware, but I know that this wouldn’t get to the core of what the game is lacking, either.

The hub gameplay of Shadowrun: Hong Kong is tedious. You come to know your squadmates and others around town by endlessly interrogating them about their past: it’s much in need of “Show, don’t tell.” Running from building to building to check in on everybody feels like a checklist of things I don’t enjoy but feel like I must do before getting back to the fun stuff: cover-based flank-exploiting gunfire, and the comedy of occasionally bluffing my way past whole rooms of guards, or trying but failing. I like that the cast has baggage and flawed personalities, but I don’t especially like walking on eggshells with them just to finish up their sidestories. Just walking between them is enough of a hassle. If they just ferried you automatically from mission to mission, the game would probably be half as long. Just gimme the good half, thanks.

I think the mission design is better than ever, in terms of giving you multiple ways of getting from A to B, as well as having some cool building layouts and amusing ways of throwing a wrench into each objective. A few things could’ve been clearer and I sometimes had no idea what my current objective even was–or how doing what I was doing could possibly help me–but for the most part it was fun. Especially the couple times I got to give the middle finger to two competing factions at the same time, ending up getting myself shot at from both sides in a street with inadequate cover.

There was the occasional hiccup, though. In one postgame mission, I was in a police department, and despite bringing a drone with me, getting it through a vent, and using only that one drone to kill a guy before he could sound the alarm (which took a little save-scumming), then getting the code to a cache of drugs, blackmailing my way into the holding cells and finding someone to give the drugs to–ostensibly to cause a distraction of some sort at the front desk?–it turned out I didn’t have the etiquette that was (for some goddamn reason) necessary to give the guy the drugs I was holding. What does all that mean? Well, the whole stealth attempt hit a dead end. (I didn’t like etiquettes in the first two games, either.) I had to go back to square-one and shoot my way out, with nothing to show for my time. Except for keeping the drugs, I guess. Hurray.

Oh, yeah, one more thing. The “rewind” feature, which lets you “turn back” a save slot to make available a previous save that had been replaced, seemed like a huge potential lifesaver–except that in execution, it does a very poor job of deciding which saves to preserve, which is to say that it tries to decide at all. The one time I actually tried to rely upon it, I found out I could only revert my quicksave to an hour ago, and not five minutes back as I’d expected. I just had to make do with my screwed-up situation.

The reviewer finds this game hard to get excited about, but still has a positive opinion of it. It may be somewhat fun, having good features or ideas counterbalanced by a few boring parts, bad design or other fundamentally irritating qualities that can’t easily be overlooked. Alternatively, it could be pleasant, but with nothing new to offer. Worth a little money if you’ve got the time for it.

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