"Shadowrun Returns" & "Observation" - Games That Ate Up My Summer

The “wtf?” post.

Shadowrun Returns (2013) by Harebrained Schemes

I play a fair amount of D&D (and tabletop games in general) so the Shadowrun franchise is something I’d heard a fair amount about, it’s basically a standard kind of RPG with the premise of “what if fantasy but also cyberpunk?”, which is great because those are two of my favorite types of settings. The Shadowrun world presented here in Shadowrun Returns mixes those two settings pretty well, it feels coherent and believable even though it is a little bit out of the ordinary. They take the worldbuilding elements of a typical cyberpunk world, the extra late-stage capitalism, highrise landscapes, future tech, body modifications, the cynical tone - you know, general technological dystopia stuff, and they mix it with the “culture/history” of fantasy settings, the varieties of races and their tensions, magic, spiritualism, that kind of stuff. It’s an interesting and relatively unique world, but because it feels like it’s just borrowing, not adding to those base genres, I didn’t feel like the world was that unique - it felt like “what if fantasy but also cyberpunk”. That said, the story is compelling and really well written, which is where the majority of my enjoyment came from this game, as the other half of the game, the combat is kind of meh and felt bland.


The main plot of this linear story is that your old friend has been murdered, but he had a “dead man’s switch” installed, which means in the event of his death his lasy dying wish would be delivered, which is for you to investigate his murder. You meet lots of cool characters along the way, develop abilities, that kind of stuff. However, even though your character is technically unique and has unique abilities based on the race and class you choose at the beginning, I didn’t feel like my character was special in any way, likely because most of the time in combat, I didn’t get to use any unique abilities, I mostly just used my guns and clicked on heads (that could just end up being the build that I chose, however). It could also be intentional for you to “not feel special” or “powerful”, in a way it adds to the feeling of coming out on top against all odds, with mega corporations and cults and supernatural monsters against you.

Oh yeah, the supernatural monsters (almost forgot about those). Part of the main story is that there are giant hive-minded insect aliens that want to take over the world of Shadowrun, which I guess at the time may have been a “what the fuck bro thats insane how do people come up with this stuff” kind of deal, but there’s quite a lot of media out there that uses similar enemies, which makes the main threat of Shadowrun kind of bland when you play it today, I guess. Apart from that the story is great though!

The visual design is very heavily cyberpunk themed, the look of the world is bleak and dirty, lots of graffiti and techy stuff just lying around, you can liken it to dodgy areas of existing cities (the in canon setting is Seattle). I like the fixed isometric perspective a lot for this too, but it’s hard to describe why, it could be that it gives a lot of structure to the chaotic and detailed environments. On that topic, the environments and character design feel quite realistic while playing, even though they are actually quite cartoony while looking back and analysing them, I guess that’s just a testament to the game’s immersive qualities. Although it’s not an addictive game in the slightest, it’s kind of like a mystery movie in that you watch it and think “that was pretty good”, but you don’t feel the need to rewatch it or want a sequel. It’s just a neat experience.

Anyway I’m bored of talking about this game now, on to the next one!

Shadowrun Returns is available on Steam for PC/Mac/Linux and is a good game, play it if the setting sounds interesting to you.

Observation (2019) by No Code

I’m a fan of No Code’s previous game (Stories Untold), but in opinion this is their “Cloverfield Paradox” - something that on paper could be good, but falls flat in all the wrong places. Or maybe I just didn’t get it, this game won so many awards, including a BAFTA for “Best British Game”, and while it was pretty fun for the most part, I don’t think I would have given it so much praise. You play as S.A.M, a 2001-esque spaceship A.I. who has to help Emma find out what is happening when some really really really weird stuff starts happening. I think the twists and turns the story takes is where people really loved this game, the amount of “what the actual fuck” moments is an accomplishment on it’s own, but where Observation loses me a bit is the how and the why of most of the events in the game. It’s supposed to be a “sci-fi thriller” game, but it doesn’t feel very science-y, things just happen without any thought to how that could be explained using science. I could be missing the entire point of the story, though I think I’m normally quite savvy when it comes to analysing media, I can’t think of metaphoric reasons for the “wtf” moment’s to happen either.

Gameplay-wise, Observation is a little clunky (at least on a mouse and keyboard) but I’m willing to let that slide since it tries to do some interesting new things. I also got a bit confused a few times where the design of the environments were a little too subtle and I missed things though, but that could again be just me being bad at games. That said the environments are gorgeous and everything in this game is incredibly polished and detailed considering that this is a game from an indie developer, and the same developers as Stories Untold at that! It’s nice to see the creators improve their production values. It has a standard “realistic” style of 3D visual, and succeeds pretty well at it. The UI of some of the more computer-y bits is decent and is clear enough.

Yeah, if you watch the trailer and are interested in the story then I’d recommend Observation. If you’re half interested in this then maybe watch a playthrough on YouTube or something.

Also play Stories Untold, its really really good.

Observation is available on Steam for PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One