PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Shadowrun: Hong Kong - Extended Edition' Is Better Left in the Shadows

Shadows of Hong Kong seems more like a perfunctory Kickstarter obligation than a legitimate epilogue to the exceptional Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong - Extended Edition

Publisher: Harebrained Schemes
Price: $19.99
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Number of players: 1
ESRB Rating : Mature
Release Date: 2016-02-05

You know what bugged me most about Shadowrun: Hong Kong's extended edition epilogue, "Shadows of Hong Kong"? Characters kept referring to my female ork as “he”. On a metanarrative level, there was something deeply off-putting about that. I mean, my player character had saved Hong Kong from an unimaginable evil and became an ambulatory war-machine of implants and cyber-weaponry in the process, and nobody can refer to her by using the proper pronoun that is associated with her gender?

Orks don’t get no respect.

Facetiousness aside, misgendering is only one problem that contributes to "Shadows of Hong Kong"'s whole heap of them. Every single section of this expansion seems riddled with little oversights and exhausted potential. One can forgive that sort of thing when it can be buried in the overwhelming mass of a good game, but a short expansion -- no matter how good the writers and the core game -- riddled with rough edges verges on unacceptable.

Gaichû’s ghoul powers don’t work in the prologue mission if you bring him along. The police in the impound lot seem to have entire dialogue trees, but they still exhaust their conversation options almost immediately. Moreover, those same NPCs continue to behave as if they’re in the original hub, even after being moved to the second. The whole “Southeast Asian pirate armada” thing is a Chekhov’s gun of immense proportions that goes nowhere.

Most enemies seem to be loaded with the magnetic arm cyber-implant, meaning that grenade-based party members -- such as Is0bel -- are rendered pretty much useless. Beyond grenadiers, certain character classes are going to have a hard time with the unbalanced combat. Close-quarters fighters have to deal with enemies, who (with a single successful attack) can paralyze them for an entire turn and leave them vulnerable to a hail of automatic fire. Shamans have very few summon spots in the environment and will quickly run through all of their talismans when dealing with the endless stream of enemies. And so on.

I also found that the gameplay itself didn’t exhibit the right kind of challenge. Granted, the main game concluded with the characters being capable enough to fight a cosmic evil for the heart of a city, which meant that the developers had to find a way to push the challenge horizontally rather than ratchet it up vertically. I also understand that the developers were creating an expansion that was less than half the size of the main game. Still, the primary challenge set out for the player is -- cops. A whole bunch of cops. The big bad is set up to be Krait, the police mouthpiece of the corporate powers-that-be in Hong Kong.

It’s all disappointing. Krait, for one, is just so irrelevant as a villain that no matter how much the developers try to pump her up as some kind of devious mastermind, it just comes off as a decision with authorial fingerprints left all over it. To me, Krait was just sort of an afterthought in the main game; a mere corporate mouthpiece without any real role in the misfortune of the player character. In other words, I don't care about her, and I highly suspect that most other players don't, either.

When I talked about cops being the challenge, I wasn’t joking. One had best be prepared for fighting enough HK cops and private security forces to transform battles from “I’m outnumbered -- and, yet, what a fun challenge,” to “Holy God, this game is honestly throwing another wave of armored bullet-sponges at me.” All of this is justified in the narrative, but it isn’t hard to see that instead of crafting unique enemies and challenges, the developers fell back on the interminably boring theory that quantity has a quality all its own.

One particular mission stands out as an example of this: the “Detention” mission. It's actually a fairly interesting little mission. It seems well-planned, the NPCs involved are appealing, and there are even a few twists that I wasn't expecting revealed in it. Then you get to the climactic fight scene and the pleasant feelings evaporate like a midsummer puddle.

When I played it, I intentionally chose a path that made the battle more difficult, but I wasn’t expecting the sheer, interminable grind that would result (to be fair, the mission is set up in a way that even choosing one of the “easier” options would have still been a slog). After defeating the first wave of enemies, a second one shows up, then a third, and then a fourth...

In the Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun series, one expects to face superior numbers, but the game is a process of creating a strategy to deal with that challenge. Controlling defensible positions, picking off big hitters, and targeting weaknesses using the party’s skills are all part of the fun of the series. A well-strategized mission will leave the player’s party banged up, but relying on only one or two healing spells or items to survive. However, the “Detention” mission becomes a battle of attrition that flies in the face of the game’s systems.

My team was taking enough little damage that I simply couldn’t deal with the “death by a thousand scratches” in a timely manner. I burned through medkits and resurrection items, trying to alternate healing spells and running after stragglers before ten new enemies with sniper rifles and shotguns showed up on the scene. “Detention” may have been the worst offender, but after the first hour, the game seems to consist of a series of different justifications to have the same copy and pasted Hong Kong police show up by the boatload. It was vaguely laughable that the big scary unique enemies in the final mission were nothing more than “an homage” to Ghost in the Shell. To me, at least, it really hammered home that this “additional content” was a slapdash way of fulfilling their million-dollar funding goal from Kickstarter.

One almost wishes that the developers had taken the material in "Shadows of Hong Kong" and either rolled it into the main campaign or spun it off into a full-fledged sequel. As it stands, it reminds me of Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening in that both expansions were sketches for full games shoved into an uncomfortably small box.

I found the ending of "Shadows of Hong Kong" to be oddly sour for what was meant to be an “affectionate send-off” to the current crop of Harebrained-Schemes-developed Shadowrun games. Without spoiling anything, the ending is as close to a “rocks fall, everyone dies” scenario as can be presented in the series. The player is railroaded into a no-win situation, and the (potentially) positive ending of the main game is swept away in favor of a sadistic choice that betrays one side or another. This is especially jarring when one of the major concepts running through the main game is that the thoughtful and determined individual can refuse to accept a no-win dichotomy and find a third option. The “golden ending” of "Shadowrun: Hong Kong", for example, depends on boldly exploiting certain magical constants of the universe originally aimed at one’s player character.

It’s distasteful. That’s the best word for it -- distasteful -- to see the story of the main game left emotionally hobbled by its epilogue. The Shadowrun setting is a fantastical take on the cyberpunk genre, but it’s still cyberpunk nonetheless. And while individuals in a cyberpunk world are unable to effectively fight the inscrutable power of a techno-bureaucracy, they are capable of cultivating in Hugh MacDiarmad’s words, “some elements of worth” that “with difficulty persist here and there on Earth”.

In the golden ending of the main game, you don’t get sunshine and roses, but you’ve reconciled with your adopted brother, you’ve made a new family with your team, and while you’re still an associate of a gang, you have the option to provide a gentler touch to that gang than some other ne'er-do-well might. You’re acting as the protector of the people of your new home in Heoi. It’s a satisfying ending for a cyberpunk story.

The developers at Harebrained Schemes have the freedom, of course, to do what they want with their games, but what they chose to do in the last five minutes of this epilogue was so repugnant by comparison to what they had crafted in the main game that if this were the coda of a good campaign in the tabletop version of Shadowrun, the players would probably mutiny and demand that somebody else run the sessions from now on.

This expansion or additional content or what-have-you isn’t really fun. I’m tempted to suggest that you should only buy the "Shadows of Hong Kong" campaign if you’re a real fan of the Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun series and you’re jonesing for more content. However, speaking as a real fan of the aforementioned series, I found this content to do a major disservice to what was a stellar game, and I found myself mentally uncoupling what I had played from the story of the superior product.

It's hard to argue against something given away for free, but if you'll forgive me for mixing metaphors: sometimes a gift horse is actually just a white elephant.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.