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Shadowrun Returns: The Power of Great Narrative -Review-





One would usually think -due to the power of popular belief-, that one of the most annoying things a video game could do to you would be forcing you to "read too much". Yes, I made that last sentence deliberately long.


Under average circumstances, I would agree. There is a fine line of tediousness that developers should be careful not to cross. The modern gamer (kids and teenagers) is not up to it. Luckily for developers, there are people who enjoy long dialogues that support and enrich the game's visual narrative. Not everything's about graphics and gameplay. There's also a compelling hook made of words called story. It is the reason hardcore fans come back to play despite the years that have gone by. Some even dedicate their gaming lives to unraveling the mysteries behind a franchise's timeline.


Shadowrun Returns is a particularly witty example of what great writing can do to an already great game. Game design in this title is beautiful to the point of complete artistry. There are aspects of the game that bring you back to classical RPG (character customization, long and intricate stats sheets) and all time TBS mechanics. Sounds awesome, right?
It came as a surprise to me finding myself reading through chunky paragraphs of text. I'm an avid reader, but I must confess my video game enthusiat self asked the question: does it work?


I've played through various video games which feature a considerable amount of information. Most games dosify this among cinematics (Zelda, Final Fantasy), mission briefings (StarCraft, XCOM), spontaneous in game dialogue -or whatever scientific name it may have- (The Last of Us, Bioshock), interaction with A.I.'s and so on...

Shadowrun Returns features amazing amounts of well-written dialogues and introduction pieces which could be easily set in a modern sci-fi novel. It is this particular reason which makes the game a better full-rounded experience. Most of the drive (at least in my personal experience) comes from wanting to know how the story will end.

The narrative is crude, often times dark. Characters speak from "bellow the surface" and have a code of their own. This is easily recognizable and plays an important part in painting your own character's personality. 
Character construction is an aspect that benefits a lot from this more story-based approach. It makes the isometric avatars come to life. Each character has a very specific voice within the dark narrative that makes them relatable and endearing. 
All these elements combined contribute to build a clear context that brings that holds the game together in a cohesive micro universe. 

If you haven't played Shadowrun Returns, I encourage you to do it. It gives a new meaning to the word "immersion", resorting to more literary tools combined with amazing game design and the indie feel, that's so in trend among gamers (we'll discuss the indie feel in a future post).

As this is a post about narrative, I leave you with a sample of a quote that sets the tone for the rest of the game:



"It's a series of conspiracies, conflicting agendas and petty jealousies, all building upon, feeding upon, and excreting into an unending web of drek that people wade through every day and call it Life. 
If there was one Dark Lord controlling everything and we could drive a magic sword through his heart to free the world, that would be grand. Such clarity! Such focus! Alas. 
So what's the lesson in all of this? That I did all of it for nothing? 
Just the opposite, schmuck. The lesson is this - the game is rigged. The cards are stacked. The dice are loaded. 
It's the same as it always was. Every cycle. People in power exert power. Little people cower in their homes, think what they're told to think, and buy whatever product will help them forget how horrible their lives are for another day. 
And that's why we don't *play* their fragging game. We don't swallow their drek sandwich and politely ask for another. 
It's why we run the shadows. 
That's where real life is, kiddo. 
Reality's living in the places no one wants you to see."

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