Review – Shadowrun: Hong Kong

It seems like every summer I get into a Shadowrun kick where I read a few novels, browse through some sourcebooks, and dive back into the video games. With every passing year, I become more familiar with the subject matter and more involved with it. Give it a bit of time, I’m sure I’ll be GMing a group one of these days.

However, as fond as I am of the license, I must admit that I haven’t given due attention to the trio of Shadowrun games created by Harebrained Schemes. I own them all, I played them, but previous to this year, I’d only finished the first; Shadowrun Returns. I finally went back and finished Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and now it’s time to stick a fork into Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Or maybe it should be some similar analogy, but with chopsticks. I’m finished with it, is what I’m saying.

It’s more than just a slum.

THE SHADOWS OF HONG KONG

I’ve said it once before, but in the world of Shadowrun, you can set your watch to all the revenge going on. Every game in the series that I’ve played has essentially centered around revenge on some level, going all the way back to Shadowrun on the SNES. Here we go again with Shadowrun: Hong Kong, wherein you show up to the eponymous city and find out that your foster dad has been killed in a hit job. You’re then left to discover why he was even in the city, what he was doing, and why someone wanted him dead.

The plot centers around some sort of dark force that seems to be emanating from the reconstructed Kowloon Walled City; a giant slum that was built on the site of where the real-world Kowloon Walled City was, because it worked so well the first time.

Unlike the previous Hairbrained Schemes’ Shadowrun titles which had you playing as some no-named amateur shadowrunner with an ambiguous past, this time you’re given a full backstory. You were a kid growing up on their own in the Redmond Barrens of Seattle. Eventually, you’re picked up by your foster father and live under his care with your friend, Duncan, whose name I struggled to remember because he’s so damned generic. You spend some time in prison, then eventually are called to help your foster father.

It’s somewhat weird to be given a backstory in an RPG, and even weirder that you don’t start out as a Shadowrunner, but are instead forced into the role. It’s at least a nice deviation from the amnesiac everyman who discovers things as they go.

HOI, CHUMMER. THIS IS SOME FRAGGING DREK WE’VE GOTTEN OUR HOOPS INTO

Hong Kong is a much slower boil than Dragonfall was. In the previous game, it only takes a few missions before it establishes what a horrible situation you’re in. Hong Kong is more characterfocused and zoomed in. In a way, that makes it feel a bit closer to film noir.

Which is kind of odd, since there’s less moral ambiguity this time around. Dragonfall had you frequently making choices based on morals, but Hong Kong is more reserved with that. There are fewer instances where you’re left choosing between your better judgment and your payday. That doesn’t hurt the game as a whole, but it is a bit disappointing.

I also noticed that Hong Kong largely drops the fake Shadowrun slang that colours most of the writing in the series. So we don’t get words like “drek” or “frag.” There’s a joke in the game that Seattle shadow-slang doesn’t translate into Cantonese, but that’s bulldrek. I’m pretty sure “fuck” doesn’t translate either, but the writers had no trouble scattering it about.

This guy looks a lot like my landlord.

THE DEPTHS OF THE SLUM

I mentioned in my last review that it took me three attempts to finally put Dragonfall to rest, but with Hong Kong, I only had one failed attempt, and I remember exactly what caused me to put it down. It was all the text.

I blame Mass Effect. Every one of your team member has their own problems and life story, and you’re supposed to care. But it’s not just whether or not you care; they only give you their story in pieces, requiring you to visit them again after each run to get the story. And there’s so much text. There are other characters dotting the hub world and they just give you more text. I read the Shadowrun pulp novels for fun and this is too much text for me.

The characters aren’t even quite as interesting as the ones in Dragonfall. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all unique and memorable, but they aren’t quite interesting enough to hold up the walls of text that they carry. Rachter’s the worst by far. The guy reads like someone’s pretentious power fantasy. He’s got the longest life story and delves into some pointless conversation about transhumanism. If he wasn’t so useful in combat, I’d probably hate the guy.

Gaichu, on the other hand, is pretty rad: a zombie samurai. His story is of a more reasonable length, and it gives a peek into the world’s interpretation of Japan. I can handle more Gaichu. Rachter; not so much.

RUN, RUN, RUN AWAY

On the other hand, I had a good time with the runs that the game put you through. While they may lack in the moral ambiguity that Dragonfall had, they make up for it by being fun situations. Whether you’re crashing a decker convention or putting shrimp in the food of someone with an allergy, there’s usually a good twist on the various types of missions.

The matrix has been improved significantly. Rather than just being a more boring version of the real world, now you can sleaze your way past sentries and only engage when you get caught. There’s also a simple hacking minigame that was perhaps way too easy to really matter. It’s never difficult, but it’s a fun inclusion nonetheless.

Actually, the game as a whole is a bit easier than it was in Dragonfall. The same stupid AI is here, but they’ve somehow become even less effective. I found myself not having to rely on health packs as much, and usually when a runner went down, it was because of luck on the other team’s side.

Forget it, Jake. It’s Hong Kong.

INTO THE LIGHT

I’ve got my gripes, but I found Shadowrun: Hong Kong to be an excellent addition to the series. The writing is a bit overdone, but the overall story is engaging and there are some memorable characters. The actual shadowruns of this Shadowrun game are the best that the series has seen, and the variety of objectives allow for some of them to stand out.

It comes across as too wordy at times, however. There’s a lot of narrative bloat around the midsection, a problem that Dragonfall had, as well, that feels more pronounced here. As someone who reads the Shadowrun pulp fiction novels, I feel like I’ve got a high tolerance for its storytelling, but even I found it to be a bit too much.

At the end of the day, however, I enjoyed my stay in Hong Kong and can recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the previous Shadowrun games from Hairbrained Schemes. It’s a bit and give and take, but comes out satisfying in the end. It’s pretty wiz, chummer.

7/10

This review was conducted on a digital version of the game purchased from Steam. It was paid for by the author. The author did not back the original Kickstarter for this series of games, despite her pre-established fanaticism.

About Adzuken 161 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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