All kinds of things that were popular in the geek crowd when I was 14 have been making a comeback in the last few years. Space sims, adventure games, and even cyberpunk titles have been seeing resurgences. One of the oldest names in cyberpunk is Shadowrun, and the newest name in Shadowrun is Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown, out today.
Shadowrun began life in 1989 as a pen and paper RPG that combined the technology of William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic stories – not to mention the original Cyberpunk RPG – and the magical elements of Dungeons & Dragons. Cybernetically enhanced trolls battling magic-wielding elves in the employ of dragons (who are also businessmen and politicians) isn’t a totally over-the-top mission concept for the game. It made the jump to video games a couple times during the 16-bit generation of games on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis (both versions have their fans – the Genesis version is the more authentic one in my opinion).
About 20 years since the release of those games, we’re here again looking at two competing visions of the Shadowrun universe. On the one side is Harebrained Schemes’ vision, executed first with Shadowrun Returns, and then with the critically acclaimed Shadowrun: Dragonfall. The team is already at work on Shadowrun: Hong Kong.
On the other side of the coin comes Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown from Cliffhanger Productions. Like the earlier tale of two Shadowruns, this game is as legitimately licensed as Returns. While the two games that came out in the 1990s were both Action RPGs, both of these new Shadowrun properties are turn-based combat games in the style of X-Com: Enemy Unknown, right down to the cover mechanics.
Shadowrun Chronicles‘ unique aspect can be traced back to its original name: Shadowrun Online. That name put into many heads a very clear image of a massive online game. Shadowrun would be extraordinarily well-suited to such a thing, but that’s not what this is. The big standout aspect is that this game can be played online with one or more other players.
I spent about 7 hours with Shadowrun Chronicles over the last week. The game runs smoothly, and getting an online game going with another player is pretty easy. Once you’re in the game, that works pretty well, too. It’s a turn-based game, but turns are usually fast enough that there’s not a lot of downtime. If you enjoy turn-based combat games like X-Com, then Shadowrun Chronicles should give you your fix.
I did have a few problems with it, though. After about six and a half hours of play, my game save disappeared completely, forcing me to start over from scratch, though I did retain the list of people I’d played with. The other issue is that while the game universe of Shadowrun is a just plain brutal place, the game is doubly so. Trial and error trumps improvisation and problem solving more often than it should, and it’s not crazy to think you’ll have to redo a mission a few times. Since this is an online game, you can’t save mid-mission, either. And forget about playing it on an airplane or, say, when your Internet connection drops for the second time in a day.
If you really adore the Shadowrun universe and have gotten all the fun you can out of Harebrained Schemes’ games, Shadowrun Chronicles might get you your cyberpunk fix, and it’s currently the only way to get that fix with friends. It doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from Shadowrun Returns, but it’s definitely more of the Shadowrun universe.