This is a top down 3-D, RPG-LITE, turn based tactical game with short, combat-oriented missions. The game design decisions are built around the idea of quick play for Co-Op: from the UI, to the tactical choices to the repercussions for individual actions, everything converges to generate a combat-focused fast-play experience by turn-based standards. RPG or Tactical?
As something of a hybrid Tactical-RPG title, I would say its leaning markedly towards the tactical end of the spectrum. If you’re coming in expecting a full-blown RPG with a dynamic interactive story, you’ll likely be disappointed, as the efforts of the developers is more oriented towards generating a dynamic tactical game with high replay value on their content (ie. mostly gratuitous gun-fights with bodies dropping all around). The story telling emphasis has increased markedly with the latest April updates, so while it's not a branching story with player choices altering the narrative, it does have a good plot and a good immersion with a large number of NPCs to interact with (and mixed but overall very good voice acting mixed in too).Character Building
Character creation is also more like a richer version of a tactical squad based game than a full-blown RPG. Everything is skill tree oriented, and its like a much larger X-Com mechanism with a linear progression down each tree and many of the progressions offering “this or that” choices. Characters can have two weapon trees active, plus two trees filled with passive abilities, which in many cases are kinda like what attributes would do in a traditional RPG system.
It seems implicit that they first decided on the combat mechanics and then built the character skills and abilities while trying to keep things balanced, like you’d expect in a tactical game. It was not designed to cater to people who bought the game so that they can build a very specific sort of mage or what have you, so everyone would do well to know that before purchase.
Visual customization of your character is all about a wide and ever growing wardrobe of exotic fineries and sultry rags. Its still a work in progress, but it's extensive now and will continue to get expanded upon post launch.Combat
This is really the strength of the game. As noted, the core philosophy is quick play, and this has come together very nicely with game mechanics that generate decisive results off of single actions. What does that mean? Well, good shots with a clear line of sight or done with melee weapons have a VERY high chance to hit. Likewise, getting hit does a LOT of damage in relation to most characters ability to take damage. Things are quite furious here, so its basically the opposite from the Shadowrun Returns attritional combat model where firefights drag out and sometimes see characters get hit with an assault rifle and it degrading their hit points by 8% in extreme situations. Conversely, targets that are buttoned up behind cover have a much lower chance to hit, so you're really encouraged to use sound tactics and maneuver.
There’s also interesting dynamics with a rock-paper-scissors aspect based on physical-tech-magic damage and armor, some targets being extremely vulnerable to one, but immune or resistant to another (physical damage being the ‘safe but doesn’t open vulnerabilities’ option). There’s also a marking system where deckers and magic users can “mark” a target that opens up the abilities for other team members attacks.
I personally would endorse the AI as being respectable as well. The melee based enemies are aggressive and generally just try and bum-rush you, while the missile enemies play it much more conservatively and use cover. While there are the occasional bad moves, they generally put together a coherent strategy with the more purely missile oriented forces I've seen in the game really trying to probe around my flanks. Multiplayer or Singleplayer?
You can play either way. There’s 4 player Co-Op, but you can also easily play single-player by running the whole team yourself (your main character and 3 Henchmen). Co-Op is REALLY fast as everyone is allowed to move right when the player turn starts - when one person initiates a move, everyone freezes while that's finished, but there's no waiting on someone else unless they're the last person to move that turn. Get with a team that knows what they're doing and its maybe 30 second turns - very fast pace for turn based! It takes a whole different tactical approach and I found myself fairly terrible at it after being used to controlling the whole team, but all the mechanics come together beautifully to keep the game moving.
There’s also global chat and I’d say its generally quite friendly, as we might expect in a game that’s currently Co-Op oriented.
There isn't PVP yet, but they’re working on it, though deathmatch style PVP between mature runners probably isn’t coming anytime soon (major balancing issues there with the high end PVE abilities, stun combos and so on). However, one of the ideas is to have asymmetrical PVP where one set of players takes the runners and the other controls the Gang or Corporate troops. The other option is for an “Urban Brawl” with set teams of combatants without the high end abilities/kit. Not sure when this will be implemented.Bugs
Overall this is quite stable for me on a Mac. A new update can see problems but they get sorted quickly enough, with most bugs being more of the nuisance variety rather than CTD type stuff.Future Content
One thing to keep in mind with SRC is that launch isn't launch in the way that a singeplayer game is. Its a pay once to play business model, but they're planning ongoing content updates for free combined with quarterly DLC, so development is ongoing in the style of Online games. So, expect lots of changes from the features offered, the game balancing and so on.
Apparently new squad building mechanics are on the short list of features with the NPC Henchmen runners, which will add a lot for single player runs (or runs with 2 players with each controlling a single henchman).Overall
Whether or not this is a good purchase for you really just comes down to the preferences of the individual here and your expectations. You’ve got a number of things that are well developed or emphasized and then a number of things that RPG fans would be disappointed not to see (and if its something that's going to really slow the gameplay down, it might not ever make it into this Co-Op focused game).
SRC offers a unique package of turn based Co-Op (that can easily be played singleplayer) with brutal fast play firefights that still have that heroic feeling of "I'm gonna rush in there with my Katana". The story and atmosphere have improved by leaps and bounds this April, so you've got a good context to draw you in too. So long as you're not looking for a pure RPG experience, I feel confident to give SRC a solid recommendation as the 15-30 minute gunfights are great fun with a seriously addictive quality.