hadowrun Returns' cyberpunk vision of Seattle is simultaneously vibrant and unwelcoming. Hanging lamps and towering totems might inspire you to take a closer look, but the deeper you dig, the harsher the truth becomes. A railcar repurposed as a food truck seems quaint, but street thugs stink up the place. There's only one way to snuff out their stench, and that's to force the meatbags to soak in puddles of their own blood.
This run-down city is more of a backdrop than a focus in this strategic role-playing game, but once you've seen the central mystery through to its sinister end, it's the setting that stands above all else. The graphics engine is modest, but handsome hand-drawn backgrounds bring to life a world of remarkable style with a unique mix of past and future. In a house of ill repute, an old-fashioned upright piano and a rococo chaise lounge share space with holographic advertisements and a cybersurgery facility. Old-world rickshaws stand next to state-of-the-art motorcycles; magical talismans and bright neon signs hang on the same walls. Trolls and elves roam this world of bionic implants and crime syndicates, and these seemingly disparate parts merge into an eclectic and flavorful world. Shadowrun Returns makes you want to unlock Seattle's twisted secrets.
Unfortunately, you get the run of only a small corner of this world. Shadowrun Returns is not structurally vast, but instead ushers you down a linear path over the 12 hours or so it takes to reach its end. In fact, given the amount of time you spend speaking to Seattle's singular residents--and unraveling the murder mystery that drives the narrative--it often feels as much like a point-and-click adventure as it does an RPG. There is no voice acting, so expect to do a lot of reading, presuming the story draws you in. And there's no reason it shouldn't: your investigation has you crossing paths with a number of memorable characters with stories of their own to tell.