I’ve written already about Shadowrun: Hong Kong, a smartly, often amusingly written RPG with infuriating combat, stealth and hacking. In that post, I failed to mention one persistent frustration I had with the game, namely how it limits what kind of character you can play. I don’t mean in terms of your class or stats or equipment, where the options are robust, but rather your background and attitudes. Where other RPGs (and even earlier Shadowrun games) are vague enough in your background or flexible enough in its detail to allow you to play the character you like, Shadowrun: Hong Kong dictatorially imposes a particular view of who your character is, what their motivations are and where they’ve been. You might call this the Mass Effect approach to player characters except that in that series its limitations are made clear from the start and ultimately BioWare made the writing of Commander Shepard, the player, one of the series’ strengths. Hong Kong vacillates on the question of what kind of character you’re playing, and the game is worse for it. It allows neither the freedom to play your own character nor the useful limitation that comes with players taking on a definite role.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong likely had an excellent script. It is an entertainingly written RPG with particularly vibrant companions in a spectacular setting which blends cyberpunk and fantasy. Its mystery is, conceptually at least, as compelling as its predecessor’s, Shadowrun: Dragonfall. In the translation from script to game, however, Hong Kong has suffered badly. Combat, an unavoidable and crucial part of the game, is at best simplistic and trivial and at worst infuriating. New additions to the series like stealth sections are appallingly barebones. A matrix system revamp was earned by the community when Hong Kong’s Kickstarter raised $700,000: the disastrous result will likely make fans wish the game had earned less so the old system would still be in place.