There are three things that define Hare-brained Schemes in the minds of gamers: Their ability to faithfully translate tabletop releases onto PCs, their in-depth high quality writing and their boundless generosity. Shadowrun: Hong Kong Extended Edition has all of these in spades, with plenty of new – completely free – material to reel players back in.
As with Dragonfall- Director’s Cut, the story is ultimately unchanged, save for a few key moments. You still play as an outsider forced into a life of crime, looking to uncover the mystery behind your foster father. The developments instead stem from extra dialogue options and more meaningful non-lethal takedowns, to sidestep certain story points. Instead, what’s really going to garner the most attention is the Shadows of Hong Kong bonus campaign, picking up exactly where the core game left off.
As less of an epilogue than a secondary episode unto itself, the campaign offers a welcome change of pace. As opposed to the usual supernatural Armageddon, the threat you face is terrestrial in nature- focusing upon conflicts between megacorps, rather than beings that could bench press Yog Sothoth. While magic is certainly present, it’s more of a tool than a world destroying instrument, and the focus is squarely placed upon the stark contrast between the corps and downtrodden civilians. This gradually becomes a theme within the narrative, and serves as a chance to see a different side of the world. This is brilliantly delivered, as much through Harebrained’s superlative writing – turning many otherwise pointless side-characters into fascinating figures – as the missions. These range from raiding an underwater lab to a full on military assault, with a number of surprising choices to make.
Yet for all its strengths, Shadowrun’s Achilles heel, once again, proves to be its mechanics. While adequate as a turn-based-cover-focused-shooter, it’s mechanically unremarkable at its core, even with its diverse variety of races and classes. Many fights treat the player to extremely bullet spongy foes, and there’s always the added frustration of an extremely uneven frame-rate. Even this might have been acceptable were it not for the long standing problem of the user interface, with enough gaps and breaks for you to accidently click the wrong place. If you click just a few pixels off of that special ability you had been intending to use, your glass cannon of a sniper might end up running headlong into the enemy.
Ultimately the Extended Edition will appeal to players who put story first and mechanics second, and with a world so immersive as this, it’s an easy sacrifice to make. If you’re interested in the universe at all, there’s never been a better time to start than now.
SHADOWRUN: HONG KONG EXTENDED EDITION / DEVELOPER: HAREBRAINED SCHEMES / PUBLISHER: HAREBRAINED HOLDINGS / PLATFORM: PC, OS X, LINUX / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW