Shadowrun is a TTRPG that has been adapted into video games multiple times. The tabletop RPG was created in 1989 and is set in a futuristic dystopian society. In this world, Shadowrunners are people who commit corporate espionage to steal data from rival organizations. There are also Deckers: hackers who can connect people with the Matrix. Along with the cyberpunk theme, the game also features magic and fantasy elements.
Shadowrun (1993) is loosely based on the novel Never Deal with a Dragon by Robert Charrette. The book is one of dozens published under the Shadowrun name that helps expand the lore and story. Shadowrun (1994) is based on the TTRPG and does not correlate with its counterpart, as a different company developed it. The same goes for most of the Shadowrun games. They are related under the TTRPG but feature different stories and characters. So today, we will look at each game and examine what changed with each adaptation and how they connect within the Shadowrun universe.
As the first title in the Shadowrun franchise, the game sets up the iconic tropes that would later become a staple in other titles—things like the film noir undertone, a dystopian city, and mature narratives. Players follow Jake Armitage, who suffers from amnesia after a brutal attack on his life occurs. After he awakens, Jake journeys to discover who he is and why a group of assassins targeted him. By exploring, talking with NPCs, and examining objects, Jake slowly unravels the truth about his past as a Shadowrunner.
The game suffered from a tight deadline after being stopped mid-way through development. However, Paul Kidd, a sci-fi and fantasy writer, took over development and, with the help of his team, finished the game in under six months. At release, the game was met with critical praise and support. Critics claimed that it was “ahead of its time” and was nominated for multiple industry awards. Despite the critical success, the game sold poorly and is considered today to be an underrated masterpiece. While innovative and groundbreaking in the RPG genre, fans never caught onto the title, mostly likely due to the team shipping a low number of cartridges.
Developed by BlueSky Software for the Sega Genisis, Shadowrun (1994) takes a different approach than its predecessor. While having a third-person perspective, the game has more of a top-down view of the main protagonist, Joshua. The world is also more open and non-linear, meaning players can freely explore and go about missions. The two games share the EXP system derived from the tabletop game. Players earn Karma by completing missions, advancing the story, or defeating enemies. Karma grants the ability to level up specific skills.
The story follows Josuha as he travels to Seattle after his brother Michael’s death. Michael was a Shadowrunner killed by an ambush of unknown assailants. The video of his death made national news, causing Joshua to vow that he will avenge Micahel. The game received positive reviews at release and was ranked among the best games on the Sega Genesis in 2017. However, some critics pointed out the graphics were underwhelming for the time.
The third installment might be unknown to some fans of the Shadowrun franchise as it was only released in Japan. The game is set in Japan instead of Seattle and doesn’t feature any creatures like Orcs or Trolls iconic to the franchise. Taking liberties in its gameplay, the game functions as a hybrid of visual novels and standard RPG games. Players spend a lot of time talking with NPCs, complete with voice acting.
When combat does occur, you roll dice in a turn-based style of combat to determine the battle’s outcome. This is similar to the TTRPG, which works similarly with players taking turns to roll dice and determine their actions. The game received positive reviews but is forgotten about in Western countries.
Set in the Shadowrun universe, Shadowrun (2007) acts as more of a spin-off compared to the other titles. The game features no campaign or story mode and only consists of FPS multiplayer matches. Players choose from four races and compete in deathmatches with firearms. Additionally, players can use magic to help them teleport around the map and heal damage.
The reviews at the launch were mixed, although the game has a small fan base, with some claiming it was ahead of its time. It was also the first FPS game to feature Xbox 360 and Windows PC crossplay. This resulted in the dev team having to balance controllers and mouse and keyboard, making the game feel “off” to some.
Shadowrun Returns (2013)
Shadowrun Returns acts as a binder for the series, as it attempts to tie together the endings of the first and second games. It was funded through Kickstarter and marketed as a tactical role-playing game, similar to its source material. Players take on the role of a Shadowrunner who goes on a mission to bring justice to the person who killed a colleague, Sam Watts. After traveling to Seattle, you discover a serial killer has been going around collecting organs from his victims. You will also meet Jake Armitage from the 1993 version of the game.
The gameplay is mostly linear and follows the same exp system of gaining Karma to level up skills. The gameplay resembles typical tactical shooters, with players controlling a team of people as they take cover, shoot enemies, and move around their environment.
The game has two expansions, each of which has been re-released as a standalone game. The first expansion, Dragonfall, takes place in Berlin, where players join a group of Shadowrunners led by Monika Schafer. The second expansion, Hong Kong, takes place in 2056, as players travel to the Hong Kong Free Enterprise Zone. Once there, players are reunited with their brother Duncan, and meet his boss, Officer Carter. After getting a strange message from the protagonist’s father, the three set out on an investigation. The investigation goes under after an ambush, causing the team to escape to Kowloon Walled City.
Each of the three games received positive reviews and is now grouped as a trilogy instead of being expansions of one another. These mark the first time in the franchise that games are directly related to one another.
Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown (2015)
Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown is similar to Shadowrun Returns as they are both turn-based tactical shooters. However, the game was only released on PC and mobile devices. The campaign mode allows players to complete it solar or play with a friend in co-op mode. The story loosely ties in with the events of its predecessor, taking place in 2076 as a magical accident by NeoNET led to destruction. The reviews were mixed, with some critics bashing the gameplay and mechanics while others enjoyed its tactical combat. However, the servers were shut down in 2018 due to the license expiring. Even the single-player mode requires servers, meaning that fans who hoped to play the game are out of luck.