So here is a quick litmus test to find out if Shadowrun Hong Kong is the game for you. If you like RPGs and you end up reading till the end of the review, you probably should get it. If you skipped to the end and saw the “high score”, you might want to rethink your decision.
Shadowrun Hong Kong, even compared to its predecessor, is probably the wordiest game I have ever played. Admittedly most of it is wonderfully written, but there is still a ton of it there. And if you don’t have patience for reading through a lot of dialogue, exposition and descriptions, then this is most probably not the game for you.
If you never played any of the previous games then perhaps some sort of gameplay description is called for. It’s an isometric turn-based RPG. Think Deus Ex meets XCOM in a 2D environment. Now that the due diligence is over, let’s talk about the game itself. For a sequel (don’t worry, it’s standalone and not a continuation of the same story), it’s deceptively hard to describe in absolute terms. It’s not really better than the last game. It’s not much worse either. It’s definitely more of the same and in some cases quite literally so.
For starters, it looks indistinguishable from the previous game, but considering it’s a 2D isometric game made in the same engine, it’s probably unfair to hold that against it. Unfortunately, along with the visuals, some technical issues from the earlier game also carry over. The artwork is absolutely fantastic and the game really looks beautiful in a lot of places, but the engine underneath and the coding that ties it together is starting to come apart a little at the seams.
The load times still remain atrociously bad and there is a definite delay in input registration even on more than capable PCs. This would be a serious hamper if the game was real-time and needed frequent loading, but the turn-based nature of the game hides those problems somewhat well. But they are still there.
But on the bright side, also carried over from is the fantastic writing. The world building is done through characters and dialogue and almost all of it is top notch. Pulpy noir sci-fi meets choose-your-own-adventure writing and it combines with the fantastic to give you a real sense of place.
There is always some suspension of disbelief required when you try to immerse yourself in an RPG universe, but good writing can make having to suspend your disbelief much easier and the wonderful soundtrack helps as well. Shadowrun Hong Kong’s world is an easy sell because you want to believe that a time and a place with those fascinating characters could exist somewhere.
The gameplay also remains wonderfully open-ended like the previous game. There are multiple ways to go through any mission and a lot of them are non-violent. Level up your character right and you can talk your way through a large part of the game. And when you do get into a fight, the combat is still amazingly satisfying.
Combat plays out differently depending on the party members you are rolling with and the game is forgiving enough to let you experiment and play around to see what you like. There are some minor missteps, the inclusion of stealth in the game’s matrix (a sort of a separate hacking game mode) being probably the most egregious of them, but it’s avoidable at times and sufferable at worst.
Shadowrun Hong Kong as a standalone game is fantastic and easy to recommend. The worst you can say about it is that it’s too similar to the last game in the series. But when the last game in the series was so phenomenally good, it’s hard to chalk that up as a negative. Minor technical issues aside, it is a fantastic RPG that is quite unlike anything else out there.