It turns out that the biggest danger in the cyberpunk fantasy world of Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown isn’t dragons, reckless gang members or shady corporations. It’s not even orcs with flamethrowers. The real danger is lag. Horrible, game-crippling lag. For an online-only experience, that’s a pretty big problem.
Things start off reasonably promising. Character creation is robust, and gives you the freedom to create basically whatever horrible abomination you want from Shadowrun’s various fantasy races; want to play a troll wearing Mad Max armour, a roadside ‘Stop’ sign and carrying a big concrete club? Go ahead. Gruff, beardy dwarf wearing hotpants and chomping a cigar? No problem. There’s a huge wardrobe of cosmetic clothing that can be cycled through whenever you’re in a hub zone, so making a cool or crazy-looking character is as easy as pie.
I’m also a fan of the familiar Shadowrun ‘Karma’ tree, which is basically your XP progression path. There’s a variety of different skills to choose from, from rigging (controlling drones in battle) to summoning creatures, to shotguns and blunt weapons. Each separate skill tree eventually branches off into two paths, offering a slightly different take on the same core abilities. One of the great joys about this RPG system is that it doesn’t force you into rigid classes. As in any team-based game specialising in at least one area is probably a good idea, but you’re essentially free to play the character you want to. My only problem with the system in Lockdown is that a few skills have lost some of their flavour – decking is now essentially a form of magic, with a roster of damaging and de-buffing ‘spells’. Magic in general lacks complexity, and ends up feeling a bit bland, like you’re just hurling different coloured fireworks at people. Though I have to admit that dropping a spirit bear summon into a group of hive-scum and watching him maul them to shreds is a good time.
Despite those minor flaws though, for the most part developing your character is a lot of fun, and the game’s turn-based combat system is functional and enjoyable, if slightly unexciting. Enemy AI is generally pretty smart, making good use of flanking attacks and tactical items, and on the larger maps just getting to your objective is an impressive achievement. It does feel a little cheap; there’s an attempt at XCOM-style kill-cams that typically show little more than your character’s flatly-textured arse, and skills and sound effects are disappointingly underwhelming. Shotguns are tiny, for some reason – I don’t know why that stood out to me, but it looks like my dwarf mechanic’s holding a child’s popgun. Sounds like it too.
I’m also not a huge fan of the lack of a over watch ability. I understand developer Cliffhanger’s reasoning, not being able to turtle up forces players to adopt a faster-paced, more ambitious style of play, but it’s still frustrating to see enemy gang members nonchalantly wander up behind you and splatter your brains against the wall when a decent reaction shot could have dealt with them.
Grouping together with friends or drafting in NPC companions is nice and easy, though the latter lack any real character
The biggest killer, however, is the game’s unreliable servers. Things have improved in the last few days thanks to regular server resets, but I had long stretches where the game was essentially unplayable. Orders would take upwards of ten seconds or so to register, which as you can imagine doesn’t do much for the flow of combat. Disconnections were common. That’s death to a game that requires you to be online at all times, even when you’re playing solo. Cliffhanger’s been working on improving performance, but as of this review, you should go into Lockdown expecting frequent disruption, and that’s just not acceptable.
I could put up with a few connection issues if the story and world hooked me in, but Lockdown’s take on the Shadowrun universe is a limp and lifeless one. The dialogue and voice acting are generally fine, but basic presentation and a linear, forgettable plot struggle to capture the pulp charm of the property. It suffers very badly from a lack of memorable characters – you can hire AI partners to fill in for co-op partners, but they’re little more than badly dressed puppets – and unremarkable writing. Perhaps after playing Harebrained Schemes’ clever, funny take on the universe in Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall I’m feeling spoiled. Shadowrun’s a setting that features ancient dragons running worldwide conspiracies, dwarves in leather jackets, and chain-smoking trolls. I shouldn’t be this bored.
Combat is entertaining enough, but because it's basically all you do in Lockdown, repetition quickly sets in
You could argue that Lockdown is intended as a multiplayer game rather than a compelling singleplayer RPG of course, but even with that in mind, there’s nothing here that stands out as particularly exciting. Fans of the setting will have fun teaming up with friends to take on story missions, and the game does a good job of making grouping up nice and easy, but there’s little sense of a social community. The main hub is a dull box packed with static NPC’s, and though the community is helpful and friendly, there’s little to do other than head off to club more bandits unconscious. That gets old pretty quickly.
SHADOWRUN CHRONICLES: BOSTON LOCKDOWN VERDICT
Even without the frequent sever issues, Shadowrun Chronicles : Boston Lockdown would be hard to recommended to anyone but the most rabid fans of the setting. Even they would be better served seeking out superior adaptations. Which do exist, so it’s not like this is your only option. Lockdown commits the worst crime of all; not being terrible, but being boring. Given free reign to go wild in such a ridiculous, lively setting, it’s desperately disappointing to see such a lack of character and inventiveness in both world-building and storytelling. Yes, it’s the only way you can play a Shadowrun game with friends, but really it’s only got repeated use of a mostly competent combat system to offer, and this is a setting that should be about so much more than that. In a world where the director’s cut of Shadowrun: Dragonfall exists, I just can’t see a place for Boston Lockdown.
TOP GAME MOMENT
There is a sense of satisfaction to be had in efficiently cutting down a horde of security goons, but it quickly begins to feel repetitive.
Character customisation is solid.
Connection issues and lag.
Fails to capture the lively, pulp-fiction character of the setting.
The story is linear and forgettable. With little to do other than team up for those unremarkable story missions, it struggles to justify being online only.