Harebrained Schemes, the team behind acclaimed games universes like BattleTech, Shadowrun, and Necropolis will be joining the ranks of Paradox Interactive this week. The deal is expected to close by this Thursday.
Scramble now to get in early enough to grab what you want at the best price around, yours!
Pay what you want for Oceanhorn: Monster of Unchartered Seas, Shadowrun Chronicles – Boston Lockdown and WARMACHINE Tactics – Standard Edition. Pay more than the average, right now sitting under seven dollars, to get Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut, Dreamfall Chapters, Magicka 2 and more to be unveiled. Also, top $12 to grab all the previously mentioned titles and Grey Goo.
Oceanhorn is a lovely crafted adventure title reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda. Journey around islands as you set sail to find and destroy the terrifying monster.
The Shadowrun games included here are tactics based titles set within the Shadowrun universe.
WARMACHINE is a turn-based strategy game set in the world of the Iron Kingdoms. It promises to satisfy fans of games like X-Com: Enemy Unknown and Valkyria Chronicles.
Dreamfall Chapters is an episodic title that will include all five episodes of the interactive drama. It is the follow-up to The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. This game chronicles the stories of two figures, one set in a magical fantasy setting and the other in a futuristic sci-fi setting.
Magicka 2 is the sequel to the hilarious four-player co-op title featuring four wizards trying to save the world from evil.
Grey Goo is an ambitious RTS that hopes to breathe new life into the RTS genre. Take control of large-scale battles as you play as one of three races to take control of Ecosystem 9.
All of these are available now for PC and Mac, availability for Mac will vary from title to title.
There’s a lot to like about Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun series. The developer’s pair of tactical role-playing games are well-written—full of interesting characters and ideas—and feature settings that are an awful lot of fun to explore. There’s a great turn-based combat system, which marries the deliberate battlefield positioning of a game like Firaxis Games’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown with the spells and character skills of traditional RPGs. All of it, as presented in Shadowrun Returns and the more recent Shadowrun: Dragonfall, comes together to make for some of the more interesting games in recent years. What is most impressive about these games, though, is how strange they are—how willing they are to defy convention in favour of originality.
I’ve written about my exasperation with typical fantasy games before—about the inevitable disappointment that comes when a genre whose very basis is imagination so often defaults to an embrace of overly familiar, Tolkien-derived tropes. It’s continually baffling that, when presented with the ability to create anything at all, so many fantasy games (and I suspect this is a problem in books and film as well) are happy to continue featuring the same old casts of elves, dwarves, and wizards, fighting dragons, goblins, and orcs in a pseudo-Dark Ages Western European setting. As enjoyable as these kinds of stories can be, there are simply far too many of them. And, as with anything that’s over exposed, familiarity breeds contempt.
What Shadowrun does is take proper advantage of the freedom afforded by its fantasy setting, using it to portray a world that comes across as, for lack of a better word, truly fantastic. Rather than present players with armour-clad knights and towering stone castles, Harebrained Schemes’ games feature leather-clad cyberpunks and grimy, neon-lit city streets. In place of plots centred on the forces of good squaring off against evil, Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall star money-hungry mercenaries who complete contracts, solve murder mysteries, and undermine mega-corporations. The fantasy genre cornerstones that do pop up in the games are subverted, too. There are orcs and trolls, sure, but they behave like ordinary people, sporting business suits or tank tops. Elves seem little more than pointy-eared, charismatic versions of humans and the few dragons that exist in the world are more likely to subtly influence politics than nest in piles of gold.
These differences go a long way toward making the experience of moving through both Returns and Dragonfall’s stories engaging. Because players can’t easily fill in the setting’s blank spaces with knowledge of well-worn fantasy genre tropes, an element of genuine curiosity exists that makes simply exploring the world consistently interesting. That’s a good thing because, as generally positive an impression as Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun games make, they’re not perfect. Aside from the many well-executed aspects of the games—great combat and character writing—mentioned earlier, there are technical issues, stretches of exploration that feel repetitive, and moments where plot points fall flat. Just the same, the fact that the aesthetic of the series is so distinct—such a breath of fresh air in a fairly unimaginative genre—means that players may be more willing to forgive faults they otherwise wouldn’t.
The warm reception that has accompanied the release of Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall (as well as the rapidly funded Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter) certainly seems to support this claim. Whether players are familiar with the Shadowrun setting from its past incarnations or, like me, have come to Harebrained Schemes’ games without any prior knowledge, audiences seem to have responded well to these titles. It only makes sense. So much of what makes a role-playing game engaging is its ability to provide players with an interesting storyline to take part in—and interesting storylines are hard to craft out of deeply familiar genre tropes. Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall serve as examples of how positively received fantasy games can be if they feel truly original. Hopefully their existence offers a bit of encouragement for developers working in the genre to try new things—to be brave enough to create work that isn’t scared to be weird.
The last two games I’ve played are XCOM: Enemy Within and Shadowrun Returns. They’re both lovely titles, well worth recommending despite a handful of glitches apiece, that made me start to think about something. Enemy Within and Shadowrun Returns share gameplay similarities — their combat is turn-based and takes place on a grid of invisible movement tiles — but it’s their inclusion of part human, part robot hybrids that made me realize that cyborgs, particularly in the context of videogames, are pretty interesting.
I think, to some degree at least, everyone is fascinated by the idea of humans who have been transformed into partially robotic machines. When we look at the giant MEC soldiers from the new XCOM expansion, seeing soldiers who have volunteered to have their bodies replaced with cold metal in order to better kill aliens, it’s tough to think of them as a purely fantastic invention. Sure, we aren’t likely to see armies of people who have transformed into robotic death machines in our lifetime, but the rapid pace of technological advancement we witness every day at least lets us see the possibility of such a scenario. We can envision a time when, faced with a world-ending crisis of the type posited by Enemy Within‘s hostile alien invasion, our species could choose to combine our organic bodies with machines to become something more.
A cyborg, according to dictionary definition, refers to anyone “whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.” When we hear the term it isn’t likely that we’re thinking of anything so banal as a person with a pacemaker, though. Rather, we envisage strange characters like Enemy Within‘s human/robot amalgamations, with their piston legs and Gatling gun arms. But the truth, as explored in some games, is a lot closer to home. The augmented mercenary Deckers found in Shadowrun Returns are pretty much just normal people with the added ability to interface with virtual reality representations of internet-style information networks. Despite hanging out in a Detroit populated with elves, orks, and trolls, the Deckers are not unlike a modern human who enjoys constant access to some bizarre combination of iPhone and Oculus Rift. When separated from the crazy world they live in, they’re downright plausible.
While Shadowrun Returns presents cyborgs as a matter-of-fact part of its strange alternate reality, there have also been examples of part human/part robot hybrids who grow out of more grounded settings. Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution also takes place primarily in Detroit, but omits fantasy trappings in favour of a near future depiction of the city that closely resembles the real one (albeit much more economically prosperous). This foundation allows players to more easily buy into the game’s discussion of transhumanism and allow us to view its cyborg characters as an inevitable result of our current access to devices like Google Glass. Rather than see the superhuman abilities of its cyborg cast as completely unreal, we recognize them as a coming version of ourselves. We live in a time, after all, when South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee, can compete against top international runners on an equal playing field due in part to the technological miracle of his highly advanced prosthetic legs. It’s fascinating to consider how far humans will be able to push beyond our current limitations as time goes on, as we more willingly become cyborgs.
It’s likely that we’re going to see more of the kind of cyborgs represented in Human Revolution in future games, too. Videogames are one of the more appropriate forms of media in which to tackle the subject. Their reliance on advanced technology in facilitating storytelling almost guarantees that audiences are already keyed into the possibility of sophisticated computers and robotics, ready and willing to entertain ideas of machine-enabled human evolution. This is a good thing because there is so much more for us to think about when we consider the concept of cyborgs. Our species’ march toward a strange new future is intrinsically tied into technology. Looking at what this will entail is something that videogames can mine for fantastic, thought-provoking stories and settings. The coming centuries won’t look much like the world of Shadowrun Returns, XCOM: Enemy Within, or even the more realistic Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but playing these games — and engaging with their cyborg characters — gives us at least some glimpse into possible versions of our collective future.
Shadowrun. For those that know it, nothing else needs be said. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, it is a traditional pencil and paper role-playing system set in the near future. The “Sixth World”, where magic has returned, dragons have emerged from hiding and creatures both mysterious and deadly stalk the world again. Many humans “Goblinize” into orks and trolls while some human children are being born as elves and dwarves and other ancient races. Mega-corporations rule the world, and only the SINless (those without System Identification Numbers) can hide in the shadows cast by the corporate arcologies on the gritty streets below. It’s a wonderful blend of traditional fantasy, cyberpunk, horror, crime and conspiracy. And it’s been an incredibly popular setting for endless players over the years.