Videogame: Shadowrun Returns
is a Video Game
(primarily for the PC) based on the Shadowrun
franchise, and the fifth video game in that setting
Developed by Harebrained Schemes, designed by Jordan Weismannote
and Mitch Gitelmannote
, it was crowd-funded through Kickstarter
in March of 2012. The Kickstarter was a huge success, hitting several stretch goals, with lots of Feelies
for backers and the first Downloadable Content
pack (set in Berlin
) included for free. The game was released on July 25, 2013 for PC and Mac; September 26, 2013 for iOS and Android; and October 30, 2013 for Linux.
The base game comes with its own campaign, The Dead Man's Switch
: set in Seattle
2054, you play as
a down-on-their-luck Shadowrunner investigating the death of their old buddy Sam Watts in exchange for a substantial payday and/or personal vengeance.
The first DLC campaign, Dragonfall
, was released on February 27, 2014. Dragonfall
end up in Berlin, aka "The Flux State": a utopia of Anarchy where power shifts like the tides of the ocean. When what appears to be a milk runnote
goes south, you and your new crew find yourselves drawn into a conspiracy surrounding the death of the Great Dragon Feuerschwing, and the whispers that she might still be alive.
An Updated Re-release
entitled Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut
was released on September 18, 2014 for PC, Mac, and Linux. The update includes, among other things, new art assets as well as entire new missions. Citing developers like CD Projekt RED
as inspiration, the team behind Shadowrun Returns
decided to release this update free for original backers and owners of the original Dragonfall
. The update is also sold as a stand-alone product on Steam
. A version for iOS and Android was set to be released in October 2014, but the was delayed until December 4th.
On December 31st, 2014 Harebrained Schemes announced the setting of the next campaign: Hong Kong.
It officially went to Kickstarter
on January 14, 2015. The project is set to be released sometime in August 2015, although they have said that it will be PC/Mac/Linux only due to wanting to get the best product they can make without the limitations of tablets. As mentioned before, it is set in Hong Kong in 2056, two years after the events of both Deadman's Switch
. Like Dragonfall
, the player has a crew that they run with, contending with both a corporate conspiracy 30 years in the making and a local supernatural threat. Changes from the previous two campaigns include enhanced player controls and sound, animatic scene transitions, revamps to the Matrix and enlarged selections for cyberware and magic. A Playable Epilogue
, Shadows of Hong Kong
, will be available at some point before the end of 2015.
This game contains examples of:
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- Anti-Magic: Downplayed; there's no total magic immunity, but Adepts can learn Magic Resistance, which gives increasing levels of Cover against spells.
- Arbitrary Headcount Limit: You can only bring three other runners with you at a time. While it makes sense for the teams to stay small, it's especially noticeable in Dragonfall, where the total crew size (counting the Player Character) is five, meaning one person always has to sit out in every run.
- Armor-Piercing Attack: In addition to the changes to armour in Director's Cut, there are now attacks that can degrade or ignore armor.
- Artificial Stupidity: The enemy is reasonably smart in certain areas; they'll throw grenades at clustered player groups, know to use cover (most of the time), and tend to go for their special abilities when they can. However, much of this behavior depends on playing by their rules. The AI can be drawn into a turkey shoot through a simple strategy: hide all your people behind a corner, have one runner aggro the enemy, then run back to your corner and set everyone to overwatch. One by one, the enemy will file in to their almost certain deaths, and you'll get away with barely a scratch to show for it. It's not always a viable strategy, but it works for a lot of encounters. The enemy also has no concept of friendly fire and will gladly grenade their fellows if it means hitting your runners.
- Artificial Brilliance: Improving on the above stupidity was a design goal for Dragonfall - Director's Cut that gets pushed back to the main game as well. Harebrained implemented a custom AI scripting scheme they call GumboScript that allows for AI agents to be adjusted by the designer for combat behavior, with the stated goal that they "not look dumb". For the curious, Harebrained has written a piece on Gamasutra about it.
- Attack Drone: Riggers can control various attack drones, which can use their smaller size to do things like navigate Air Vent Passageways to flank enemies. They are a formidable force in the hands of a competent Rigger.
- Autosave: The game was criticized for only having autosaves (which are done whenever a new area is loaded), as the engine didn't originally support manual saves. Manual saves were added with the v1.2 patch.
- Awesome but Impractical: The Adept's Chi Onslaught grants you three attacks on a target with increased Critical Hit chance, but requires a whopping 3 AP to use. 2 AP is the default at the start of the game and you only get three after passing a certain point in the storyline. It also has a lowered hit chance. It's almost always preferable to just use Chi Focus or normal attack instead.
- Blasting It out of Their Hands: Available to those who specialize in Pistols, and the S-Rank Ares Guardian Attack Drone. Success is not guaranteed, but it still deals damage... potentially a lot even if it fails.
- Bottomless Magazines: Characters who specialize in Pistols can gain the ability to reload without spending any AP, giving them the next best thing. The A- and S-Rank drones can do the same.
- Cast from Hit Points: Spells which are currently on cool down can still be cast, but doing so drains Hit Points.
- Character Class System: Averted, in that there are several archetypes available to choose from, but there is no formal divide between specializations which prevents one character from having any combination of abilities that they see fit to work toward. A player can even skip the archetype selection if they wish and just build a character from scratch.
- Character Select Forcing: If you want to have a steady cash inflow, you pretty much need at least some degree of Decking.
- Chiaroscuro: The environment art style Harebrained went with surprised players expecting a visually "darker" game by including a variety of bright colors. This is partially because bright colors read well seen from a distance on a moving screen, but they also fulfill a stylistic function. Since much of the environment still is dark, the bright colors call attention to specific elements and create an important thematic contrast between areas of light and areas of dark, reflecting the social penumbra that shadowrunners operate in.
- Close Range Combatant: Most of the Physical Adept's Chi Casting spells are meant to either do damage at melee range or help them close with an opponent. It's not impossible to give an Adept a gun and some ranged combat skills, but given the shortage of Karma you're far better off specializing.
- Counter Attack: Overwatch is a preemptive version of this, causing the user to automatically retaliate against any enemy which crosses their line of sight within the effective range of the weapon it is used with. The idea is to position the character in such a way that they cannot be attacked without triggering Overwatch and damaging the assailant. It's an excellent ambush skill, though not so good in open areas.
- Critical Hit: This is based on how much Karma points you spend on your combat skills. The higher the number, the greater the critical hit chance and the easier the battles. Director's Cut adds an additional wrinkle by preventing them against enemies in medium or heavy cover, thus emphasising the need for flanking.
- Cute Monster Girl: Orcs and trolls of either gender are just as likely to look like normal or even attractive people with fangs, tusks, and horns as they are to look ugly and monstrous. Eiger in particular is described in-universe as being "beautiful yet hard to climb."
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: In line with the source material, characters have a finite amount of essence, and installing cyberware reduces that essence, with characters unable to socket any more cyberware if it would drop their essence to zero or lower. Again like the source material, this also has a negative effect on magic use, and every full point of essence lost increases the Cool Down time on casting magic spells by one turn. A magic user might be able to get away with a very small amount of cyberware that uses up less than one full point of essence (like a simple datajack) and still be at peak casting ability, but any more than that will degrade them.
- Cyber Punk: Comes with the setting.
- Cyberspace: Deckers are able to enter the Matrix in certain areas. This plays out similar to combat in the rest of the game, but everything is abstract and made out of Tron Lines, and the Decker can use various programs as though they were attack abilities or Summon Magic in meatspace.
- Drone Deployer: The Rigger class.
- Dumb Muscle: Played with. Orks and Trolls get bonuses to physical stats and a lowered cap on Intelligence. That said, since it's only a cap, the smartest trolls are still much smarter than the average person, they're just dumber than other geniuses. Troll dialogue is never in Hulk Speak (Mister Kluwe is actually rather eloquent and politically savvy), and they make a capable Player Character in any role outside of Decker or Rigger, which are Intelligence-intensive archetype. They *do* make dandy mages, though.
- Easy Logistics: Everyone has infinite ammo and only needs to stop to reload every once in a while. This makes it a little jarring when the game's loading screens flash the Shadowrun tagline advising you to "shoot straight and conserve ammo."
- Five Races: When creating a new character the racial choices are:
- Dwarfs: Stout, +1 to Willpower, higher caps on Body, Strength and Willpower.
- Elves: High Men, +1 to Charisma, higher caps on Quickness and Charisma.
- Humans: Mundane, 3 extra Karma at the start of the game and all stats caped at 9.
- Orks: Low Men, +1 to Body, higher caps on Body and Strength, lower caps on Charisma and Intelligence.
- Trolls: Big and Mean, +1 to Body and +1 to Strength, higher caps on Body and Strength, lower caps on Charisma, Intelligence and Quickness.
- Follow the Leader: A downplayed example, in that Harebrained Schemes makes it a design philosophy to borrow mechanics from other games, provided that they understand why those mechanics work and that they can serve to make their current project better for it. For example, the combat mechanics are shamelessly lifted off of games like X-COM, particularly the relatively recent XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which have been shown to work well on computers as opposed to a more direct adaptation of combat mechanics designed for Tabletop Games with dice.
- Future Food Is Artificial: It seems like every food item in the game has the prefix "soy-".
- Future Slang: In the vein of the tabletop game it is based on; drek being the most noticeable.
- This appears to be a case of Accidentally Accurate, since in the Slovenian language the word "drek" pretty much means exactly the same as it does in the Shadowrun setting.
- Game Mod: The game was released with mod tools readily available. It's no secret that the main draw will be seeing what other players create.
- Glass Cannon: Turrets can do a lot of damage and their health is fairly decent, but since they're stationary, you're practically guaranteed to hit them. Two or three good hits will usually put one down.
- Isometric Projection: The game is viewed from a fixed isometric perspective.
- Jack of All Stats: Humans have even caps of 9 in every category, whereas other races have a two or three point bonus in one or another. Humans instead start with three extra karma, which isn't much in the grand scheme of things but still worth about one more skill than other races could get.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Katanas are considered to be some of the better melee weapons for two reasons. One is that they do a solid amount of physical damage. Two is that they can also drain enemy AP on critical hits.
- King Incognito: In both campaigns, towards the end, you run into a high ranking Saeder-Krupp employee named Hans Brackhaus. The game hints at his true nature, but those familiar with the setting will know he's actually the Great Dragon Lofwyr, head of Saeder-Krupp and one of the most powerful beings in the world.
- Ley Line: Mages can see these in combat and standing on one increases their power. Unfortunately, ley lines are rarely behind cover, so the power comes at the cost of being an easier target.
- Magic Knight: Physical Adepts are like this since they specialize in using chi abilities to empower them in melee combat and since you need high willpower to unlock high level chi abilities and spell-casting also uses willpower, diverting a few points into spell-casting isn't that bad of an idea. For an in-game example, see Harlequin.
- Mage Marksman: Both mages and shamans are just as likely to be packing an AK-97 as they are to be slinging fireballs or summoning spirits. It helps that both get spells that buff and compliment gunplay.
- Master of None: A real danger. Since it becomes ever harder to put points into skills the higher level you go, it can be tempting to grab the low-hanging fruit instead. This spreading out of skills, however, can make things difficult in the late game. This is further compounded by the fact that spellbook and item slots are shared among all the possible archetypes' needs. It's almost always better to specialize, and the ingame hints themselves suggest as much.
- Mega Corp.: They dominate the setting and you end up doing jobs for several in both campaigns.
- Only in It for the Money: Dialogue choices allow you to roleplay this way, and the game encourages it by having some times when the only way to get payment for services awarded is to directly ask for it.
- Pin-Pulling Teeth: Characters appear to do this before throwing their grenades.
- Point Build System: Every character stat is raised using Karma points, with Karma required raising it being equal to the level of that stat. For example, buying level one shotguns only costs one Karma point but buying level five spell-casting costs five Karma points. Spend them wisely.
- Post-Modern Magik: Mages are just as likely to being wearing Kevlar body armor and carrying assault rifles as they are to be wearing robes and slinging fireballs in this setting.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Per Word of God, Shadowrun has always been more about the setting, theme, and atmosphere than it has been about specific mechanics, and so long as it stays true to the spirit of the Tabletop Games it can weather a few mechanical changes. Some examples:
- There is no Stun damage, you just get stunned from having negative AP. This makes the game more similar to other computer RPGs.
- There are no initiative passes, so turns are simply done team-by-team, with each combatant having action points. This makes the game easier to understand, especially for veteran XCOM and Jagged Alliance players.
- DocWagon works as a Nanotech instant-revive trauma kit in the manner of the Phoenix Down, rather than having to wait for them to show up, secure the area, and try to heal you on the spot.note Dragonfall maintains this, but also credits a DocWagon contract for saving any fallen runners in your crew if they don't make it through a run.note
- Matrix combat is much simpler than in the pen & paper game.
- Spells have cool down time rather than drain. You don't pay karma for every single spell, either, but instead unlock higher forces of spells and spell slots, then buy formulae for each spell & force level combination. This way, there is less work to managing your spells.
- Spirits require either consumable magic fetishes or special points on the map, so that you cannot just conjure spirits all the time. Some special locations may summon special or unique spirits as an added bonus.
- In tabletop, the difference between Hermetic Mages and Shamans is in the stats they use to resist drain and which spirits can be used for combat. This was simplified so that there is no difference between mages and shamans in Shadowrun Returns, and all spirits are usable as combat spirits.
- And in a collision of the above two points, characters who can conjure spirits can conjure Toxic Spirits, which in Tabletop are not conjurable by either Hermetic Mages or Shamans, but only by the separate traditions of Toxic Shamans and Toxic Mages... because with the system it uses for spirit conjuring and the decaying urban environments that dominate the game, sometimes the only plausible spirit conjuring point on a map is a pile of garbage or pool of toxic waste.
- Instead of having constantly on powers that are bought with Karma, Physical Adepts buy 'chi powers' for money that function like spells with a limited duration that only target the adept. In order to streamline the archetype, practically all powers that do not involve melee combat were removed and gun/social adepts aren't viable.
- Revolvers Are Just Better: Zig-Zagged, in that revolvers tend to do a little more damage than other types of pistols. However, they need more frequent reloading and cannot use some of the more advanced pistol techniques that require a semi-automatic (such as Double Tap and Chain Shot). Albeit the former problem can be remedied by learning a pistol skill that requires no AP to reload (see Bottomless Magazines above).
- Shoot the Mage First: True to Shadowrun tradition, the AI hates mages, to the point that killing the player (assuming they're not a mage) is only marginally more important to them. You should, too, for that matter, since conjurers and mages are among the most annoying enemies.
- Shotguns Are Just Better: Shotguns do a lot of damage, have spread to hit multiple targets, and at later levels can be made to fire two shots at once (at a cost of five bullets). Low ammo is a problem at early levels, but you get a respectable ten-round clip with the second-best one.
- Sprite/Polygon Mix: Characters and effects are rendered 'on the fly' (as opposed to pre-rendered sprites like in Fallout) whilst most backgrounds are standard two-dimensional artwork. This means less space used; no need to store animation frames for all the possible armor/weapon combinations in all their actions and poses. It also allows things like retexturing parts of models to reflect cybernetic augmentations.
- Squishy Wizard: Zig-Zagged. Unlike many Western RPGs, there is nothing stopping a Mage or Shaman from strapping on a full suit of riot armor. They'll favor the armor type that boosts their casting stat, but it offers just as much protection as any of the stat-boosting armors. Since the game uses archetypes instead of classes, there's nothing preventing a Mage or Shaman from having as many hit points as a Samurai character. The only real disadvantage that casters have is that installing cyberware will force them to cast spells less frequently, making defensive upgrades like Dermal Plating of dubious value. That said, there's nothing specifically stopping a player from playing a caster with basic armor and 10 Hit Points, but the game gives players a wealth of options to avoid it.
- Summon Magic:
- The domain of Shaman characters is the ability to summon spirits of various types to aid them in combat. Doing so does expend fetishes, though, so they can only be summoned a limited number of times between resupplies. They can also summon out the latent emotions in certain objects, such as skulls or trophies into spectral form, but those are much harder to control.
- Deckers can use ESPs (Expert System Programs) in the Matrix, essentially a cyberized version of Shamanistic summoning.
- Supernatural Martial Arts: The Adept class is based around channeling magic inwards to increase one's own physical prowess in melee combat.
- Take Cover: Cover comes in three levels, light, medium and heavy. Director's Cut clarified their use and made them more important by preventing Critical Hits against those in medium or heavy cover, with heavy cover also cutting all damage by half.
- Top-Heavy Guy: The sprites for the male trolls sport incredibly wide shoulders and massive arms on top of a pair of comparatively tiny legs.
- Turn-Based Tactics: The bulk of the combat gameplay, similar to other titles like X-COM. It involves careful consideration about movement, positioning, cover, ability use, resource management, and target selection.
- Turned Against Their Masters: Summoned creatures obey the summoner, but need to be periodically given AP instead of regenerating it per turn. Each time they are given AP, they have a chance to break free of the summoner's control, dependent on the amount of AP given on that turn (up to four) and how much AP they've been given previously. If they do break free, they are no longer bound to the summoner, so they won't die when the summoner does, and are hostile to everything on the field. Players can exploit this by making sure their summons are right in the middle of the enemy formation at all times. If the summon goes rouge, at least it's harassing them instead of you.
- Urban Fantasy: The Shadowrun setting is a mix of cyberpunk and Tolkienesque fantasy. The bulk of the stories take place in urban locales, and this game is no different.
- Video Game Caring Potential: There are plenty of opportunities in both games to do nice things for NPCs, both recruitable and otherwise. For example, you can donate over a thousand nuyen to Samuel Beckenbauer's charity for disadvantaged orks and trolls. This results in him upgrading the shelter to a proper community centre, named after the player character.
- We Cannot Go On Without You: If the Player Character is incapacitated on a run, the game is over. Apparently they could not get a DocWagon contract. Especially annoying because the player character is a higher priority target for enemies than even mages, so long as they have a clear shot.
Eventually averted in the same patch that proceeded the release of Dragonfall. Player Characters who are reduced to zero hit points are "down but not out", and can recover if provided a healing item designed to wrest them back from death's door if used within the next few turns.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: As a gameplay mechanic. Every three turns in the Matrix equals one turn outside.
The Dead Man's Switch
- Abnormal Ammo: Project Aegis, modified shotgun shells loaded with what is effectively magical insecticide, the only weapon you have to kill the bug spirits.
- Author Avatar: The "Ghost of Grizzled Veteran" in the Seamstress Union is one for Jordan Weisman, sharing his appearance and Breaking the Fourth Wall by talking about how after he died he ended up in a ghost in a story he created, how you gave him support while he was alive, and sharing stories about his inspiration and the process of creating the Shadowrun universe. He shows up to deliver bonus content for Kickstarter backers.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Boy, who would have thought that the exceptionally-ugly elf (so much so that you can comment on his ugliness) would turn out to be a bad guy? Subverted with Jessica Watts, who is notably described as attractive... but then played straight after The Reveal when she gets a brand new "crazy bug lady" portrait.
- Been There, Shaped History: Your runner ends up leading the team that stopped Seattle from ending up the same way as Chicago in the backstory of the main Shadowrun universe, using prototype technology that would later be used by Ares to battle other Universal Brotherhood chapters and purge Chicago.
- Bedlam House: The Snohomish Mercy Hospitalnote is a mental treatment clinic. However, the place is run-down, the grounds unkempt, the paint peeling, and the patients are poorly cared for and rarely leave. To say nothing of what happens in the basement...
- Brainwashed and Crazy: The junkies in the Better Than Life dens are usually placid, lazily lost in their own little world... unless someone overrides the settings. By removing the BTL chip's motor inhibitor function and feeding them horrifying visions and messing with their neurotransmitter levels, they can be sent into an unwilling aggressive rage as they fight demons that only they can see who happen to be in the same place as actual people.
- Broke Episode: The game begins with one, with the Player Character a down-on-their-luck Shadowrunner living in a dingy safehouse after a run against Renraku went bad some time ago. Their savings exhausted, their equipment sold, their contacts either missing or dead, and only another week's worth of living expenses left in the account. An unexpected video call from an old friend gives an opportunity to change all that, though it means going back to the city they once fled...
- Bug War: The two raids on the Universal Brotherhood headquarters involve fighting extra-dimensional bugs.
- Call Back: The game begins with the Player Character coming to Seattle to investigate a murder (as in the Genesis game), and the first area is a morgue (as in the SNES game). Polite runners will find Jake Armitage (hero of the SNES game) sleeping in a morgue drawer (it's cheaper than a motel).
- Call Forward:
- There are campaign posters for Dunkelzahn's 2056 presidential run found in some of the locales visited during the campaign.
- Project Aegis, what you try to steal from Telestrian, is a prototype version of FABS III used by Ares Macrotechnology in their Bug War in Chicago.
- City of Adventure: Seattle, a familiar setting to most veteran Shadowrun players, is an excellent place for a Shadowrunner to ply their trade, given the presence of several megacorporations and the sizable criminal element in the city.
- Cyberpunk with a Chance of Rain: Always overcast, often drizzling. But then, that is nothing new in Seattle. The Cyber Punk just makes it all the more acidic.
- Dead Man Switch: This trope is in fact the given name for the device that allows the player to be contacted by the third Emerald City Ripper victim at the start of the game, which gives the campaign its name.
- Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: The prototype Aegis launchers are shotgun-like weapons which launch canisters that rupture on impact and disperse a fluid that carries a genetically-engineered and magically-infused bacteria tailored for killing astral spirits. This technology would later be licensed to Ares Macrotechnology, who would mass-produce it and use it to contain insect spirits in Chicago.
- Difficulty Spike: The raid on Telestrian's headquarters is a lot harder than previous stages. Among the problems is that the enemies can and will flank you by spawning from different entrances, there are a lot more of them than you're used to dealing with, and there are mandatory decking sequences which spawn heavy guards that can hit five times in one attack just to capitalize on your lack of manpower. Justified in that you are hitting an office of a major Mega Corp., something that would not be done unless you are just that desperate.
- Disposable Vagrant: Specifically mentioned to be the favorite targets of the Universal Brotherhood.
- Dirty Cop: Two examples with Detective McKlusky and Officer Aguirre. McKlusky is portrayed negatively, more concerned with being promoted than catching the bad guys. Aguirre, on the other hand, is just willing to take bribes in exchange for inside information on the cases he's working, and is nothing but helpful.
- Donut Mess with a Cop: Early on, you can convince a Lone Star officer to let you look around the crime scene where Sam was murdered by giving him a doughnut and soykaf. note
- Exact Words: One of the questions you can ask Harlequin is if Hans Brackhaus really works for Lofwyr. Harlequin simply replies "No". As mentioned above, this is because Hans IS Lofwyr.
- Fan Disservice: Orks and female feral ghouls are shown in skimpy lingerie. Neither are pretty.
- Anyone that familiar with the Shadowrun timeline can tell that the Universal Brotherhood building means bad news. This is also complemented by Jake mentioning Chicago and several posters of the city. It is even where the character Coyote was born. They should also be aware that you can't kill insect spirits through regular means. This becomes a plot point later on when your team has no idea what exactly it is they were just witnesses to.
- When you ask Johnny Clean about his janitor uniform, he tells you that he was able to pull off many of his most infamous hacks by disguising himself as a janitor and infiltrating the target building. You yourself can use this tactic to infiltrate the Universal Brotherhood, and later in the last part of the Telestrian Building run.
- From Bad to Worse: The plot seems simple enough. Track down a killer, get a big life-insurance payout from one of the killer's victims. However, every time the player seemingly lays one problem in their path to rest, another bigger and uglier thread is revealed running just underneath it. The plot keeps ever thickening and the stakes keep getting higher...
- Godzilla Threshold: Late in the game you end up launching a run on a major corp because they have the things you need to kill the insect spirits. In other words, you're incurring the wrath of a major corporation just because the things you're fighting are even worse.
- Grand Theft Prototype: You end up attacking Telestrian to acquire a prototype magically augmented biological weapon that can kill the insect spirits in the Universal Brotherhood.
- Hate Plague: Some Yakuza thugs use the BTL control computer to make a bunch of BTL junkies attack your team.
- Hopeless Boss Fight: Its impossible to kill the insect spirits inside the Universal Brotherhood. Your only hope is to hold out until a decker can hack a nearby door to let you run. Finding a way to kill the insect spirits is a major plot point.
- Local Hangout: The Seamstress Unionnote is the local watering hole for the Redmond Barrens, a place where information, company, and all kinds of legal and illegal distractions can be had. It functions as the Player Character's "home base" for their stay in Seattle. It is also secretly a front for an underground safehouse and Runner black market, for those who are trusted enough and can afford the fees...
- Lotus-Eater Machine: Several small ones in the form of Better Than Life chips, specially enhanced simsense chips which allow users to explore stored memories with a greater intensity than legal chips, which are intentionally capped in how strong of a feedback they can give. The player has the opportunity to raid some BTL dens during the campaign, which are presented like a crackhouse would be in the present day, full of junkies lost in their own little world or begging to get their next fix, and dealers with recording equipment to make their often cruel product.
- MacGuffin: Most of the loot you sell to the Fixers is this. The various stuff is not usually of use to you, but to the right group, it's invaluable.
- MacGuffin Melee: You accidentally cause this when you break into a warehouse to perform a spirit summoning ritual. The problem is that another Shadowrunner team in there to steal a MacGuffin and think you are trying to take it from them. For bonus points you can decide to take it from their corpses and sell it as an afterthought.
- Magi Tech: As expected from a setting in which Functional Magic and technology are both the subjects of intensive corporate research, there are some examples of things which combine both disciplines. The Aegis formula McGuffin is one such thing, a genetically engineered and magically-infused bacteriological weapon designed to kill astral spirits who are otherwise immune to more conventional physical and magical dangers.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Well, Major Crime Reveals Colossal Plot. The Universal Brotherhood's plan to summon an Insect Queen and infest Seattle would have gone off completely without your involvement if their head shaman hadn't killed every person who got an organ donation from her mother out of sheer spite.
- Mock Guffin: The 100,000 nuyen Sam promised you for capturing his killer. As if a drunken loser like him could or would pay for life insurance.
- Mythology Gag: The ram's skull which formed the banner image on the covers of the 1st and 2nd edition Shadowrun rulebooks can be seen hanging behind the bar at the Seamstress Union.
- Obliviously Evil: The Emerald City Ripper's troll assistant is implied to be mentally challenged and unaware of what the Ripper is really doing.
- Organ Theft: Modus operandi of the Emerald City Ripper. Turns out it's a job and he is getting paid quite a bit to do it.
- Path of Inspiration: The Universal Brotherhood has a chapterhouse in Seattle, near the Pike Place Market. Of course, anyone familiar with the timeline from the tabletop game knows that they are a Cult-like organization which seeks to allow insect spirits into the material world by possessing human hosts.
- Phone Call From The Dead: The game starts this way thanks to the Dead Man Switch implanted in the victim.
- Previous Player-Character Cameo: Jake Armitage, the Player Character from the SNES Shadowrun game, is a recruitable party member in Shadowrun Returns.
- Punny Name: One of the hirelings is named Justin Case.
- Recycled Soundtrack: An updated, fast-tempo remix of "Walking the Shadows" from the SNES game is played during the Final Boss battle.
- That's not the only musical nod to the SNES game: "Walking in the Shadows" is also remixed in the action part of "Shoot Straight" and a slowed-down remix of the default battle theme is used in "Null Sheen". Both songs feature prominently during various shoot-outs.
- Religion of Evil: You should have known this was coming the minute you saw the words Universal Brotherhood.
- Save the Villain: Able to be done with Jessica Watts, so that she can face the FBI rather than be gunned down or devoured.
- Sex Slave: The Emerald City Ripper turns out to have been making them to "custom order", by harvesting fresh components that match requested descriptions from chop shops, then grafting them to patients of a mental hospital, and inserting a chip into their brain to make them completely obedient with the requested personalities. These are then sold to discrete but high payers with loose ethics. As evidenced by his killings, he is not adverse to making more select material available when he needs it.
- Dowd, the never-seen shadowrunner who died in the prologue, is a nod to Tom Dowd, another FASA game designer.
- Stevie J is Steve Jackson. (He, along with many others who backed the Kickstarter, were rewarded by having their likeness turned into NPCs.)
- The Grizzled Veteran is Jordan Weismann.
- Jake Armitage is two Shout Outs at the same time. The character himself is from the SNES game. The name "Armitage" is a Shout-Out to the character Armitage from William Gibson's Neuromancer, the book that is credited with creating the cyberpunk sub-genre.
- Jake makes a rather cringe-worthy crack about liking library windows if you ask him for a rifle, referencing the Kennedy Assassination.
- Harlequin is a major background character from the pen-and-paper game. And if you try to ask him who he is he answers "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together".note
- Scribbled on this couch is "Bad Wolf," "Rapture" as well as Jack, the Vault logo, the resistance's Lambda symbol, and possibly a stylized Chell running out of a portal.
- You need to know musical notation to get it, but the notes you play to open the safehouse under the Seamstress Union are G-A-F-F-C.
- When you meet the coroner at the Pike Place murder scene, he wipes his hand on his scalp in probable sanitary violation, showing the beginnings of burnout about this case.
- When you exit the morgue, you'll find Kaneda's bike parked next to the door.
- There's a coroner named Dresden and a cop named Officer Kuprik.
- The password to Coyote's computer is "trustno1", the computer password of choice for Fox Mulder.
- A computer in the Universal Brotherhood chapter offices has a list of chapter members. This list is the names of the Kickstarter backers who contributed over a certain threshold (along with a few named NPCs from the game). A different computer in the same facility lists several high level members of the chapter as the names of producers from the game.
- Shown Their Work: The development team working on the game is located in the greater Seattle metropolitan area, and their familiarity shows by peppering small Real Life landmarks around the game's environments. For example, the Pike Place Market sign is still present, though the neighborhood around it has changed. Sometimes this is reflected in the concept art, like a piece which shows the Smith Tower against the background of the Renraku Arcology.note
- Summoning Ritual: Something the Universal Brotherhood engages in to bring insect spirits into this realm by anchoring them in human hosts. Their Evil Plan is ultimately to find a suitable host for an insect spirit queen, and bring her into the material realm to infest the entire city and, eventually, the entire world. Stopping this ritual proves to be the player's final objective.
- Theme Music Power-Up: During the Final Battle, an up-tempo remix of "Walking the Shadows" from the SNES Shadowrun game plays.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: While investigating Sam's murder, you can find a photo of him and his twin sister Jessica as children. In the present, he was a drunken loser (who, in his own words, probably deserved whatever killed him) and his sister has become a cold, Corrupt Corporate Executive who had Sam and several other innocents murdered because she wanted to bury their mother with the organs they'd had transplanted from her. And that's not even getting into her new friends...
- Unwinnable by Mistake: During your first big fight with the Insect Spirits, they will automatically resurrect themselves and take up a combat space. Your only option is to run. If one blocks the single-square exit . . .
- Video Game Caring Potential: The Player Character is given several opportunities to Pet the Dog, like recovering a homeless man's belongings from a cordoned-off crime scene and returning them to him.
- Video Will: Sam leaves you one, which sets the plot in motion.
- Villain with Good Publicity: The Universal Brotherhood. They manage to run a major damage control story through the media in the aftermath of your attack.
- What the Hell, Hero?: One of your side missions involves 'liberating' a scientist from a Renraku research facility for a rival corporation at gunpoint. When you finally get to him he tears you a new one saying that he isn't property, he shouldn't be a slave and he should have some say in who he works for.
- World Half Full: Harlequin gives a small speech at the end of the game on while the world is run by corrupt megacorporations and that the average person is powerless to change how crappy the world is, he says that there will always be Shadowrunners that refuse to play the loaded game.
- Ace Custom: Racter is a unique take on the Rigger in that instead of being able to switch between various off-the-shelf drone models, he instead has a custom drone called Koschei that can be modified in capability as the game goes on.
- Life Drain: One of the options on Gaichu's Ghoul Track gives him a bite attack that restores his health.
- Opposing Combat Philosophies: Several of the characters' tracks are opposed to each other. One of Duncan's tracks focuses on AP damage and other nonlethals, while the other focuses on direct damage. Is0bel's focus on either Matrix or meatspace combat. Racter's configure Koschei either towards Close Range Combatant or Long-Range Fighter.
- Playable Epilogue: The Shadows of Hong Kong mini-campaign.
- Seppuku: As part of the Red Samurai code, Gaichu was supposed to have done this after he got infected by HMHVV. He refused and took to the shadows instead, dishonoring the rest of his unit. In his side mission, his old comrades come to collect, and you happen to be in the way...