I need to preface this by stating that I had a good deal of personal hype and hope for this book. I have been working on some things for a while and as a stopgap was trying to reverse engineer the drone and vehicle stats from 4th edition into something that fit in 5th. I think I did ok-ish... but this book does amazingly well, and more.
The first thing I want to note about the book in question is actually not what it contains, but what it lacks. Up until now almost every main book for the current Shadowrun edition has had a good deal of its content devoted to the ongoing metaplot with headcrashers and AIs and the like. Maybe It has to do with Deus, maybe not. It's interesting enough... but it is also something I would prefer to see left largely to Novels. When I am looking at a game, any game, the books I want are the ones with tons of crunch and enough fluff to keep me interested in and inspired with that crunch. I already have my ideas for my games, and tomorrow night the small team of runners hitting a gangs pseudo-fortress in an old public works building to get at the decker who sold some of them out won't have anything to do with Boston, head crash, AIs or anything else.
This book, thankfully, keeps more on task talking about riggers in general and primarily focused on the vehicles and drones needed to keep that aspect of the game going. Rigger culture and new rules are covered rather well in my opinion along with some rule tweaks that I think will make chases and other longer term travel far more interesting. It is especially nice to have a good way to put a rough MPH (Or KPH I guess) on things. But if you are like me you bought this for the vehicles, the drones, and the mods.
And boy do they deliver.
So long as you don't mind the 'counts as' to milk a bit more diversity out of what is already presented you will end up with a vast array of things ranging from commuter cars and bikes, to bigger civilian vehicles, up to milspec and commercial vehicles. Then you have boats of various shapes and sizes including housebotes. Helecopters, T Birds, even a Zeppelin or two.
The diversity in vehicles is nice and lets you give each runner who has their own mode of transport something a bit more unique than what is presented in the core book. Hell even if you aren't a rigger many of these things should be considered for characters who may have abnormal modes of transit or special/specific conditions just for the sake adding a bit of personality to the things.
Vehicle mods are mixed between old and new, with the old ones all seeming to get a very nice cost revamp to them. The rule-set designed to accommodate all of this actually makes for a very interesting setup since you don't have to apply all mods to one pool but have different pools for different types... which makes sense since you really aren't inhibiting your capacity for armor by shoving in better electronics or throwing in real leather seats. There is still a decent deal of kajoling to get everything you want out of these things, but A rigger with a vehicle or small stable he or she can baby will find it very rewarding. Just be wary if you are the GM because this is exactly the type of thing a cash heavy rigger will be looking to break at character creation.
Drones are likewise diverse, perhaps even more so. They give a good mix of military and non military drones with a wide array of applications. I still think the Shamus looks like a goat, but maybe that is the point. They even get into the huge and the humanoid, which with the right mods can apparently simulate a person to a decent degree, which gives me quite a few ideas for later.
Now with all of that said I think the Drone Mods are where this book falls flat, and would likely be my only real criticism. They have a good selection of them, and as implied before I like the 'realistic' mod as it allows you to ensure your drone looks far more real be it fly or new secretary for an exec. Unfortunately they don't leave much room for mods in most drones. The system is based on body like you see in previous editions and it could work, save for the simple fact that Drones by and large are not given enough points in body to accommodate... well... anything. They give a rule that lets you swap out a point of body for more overall mod points but many of the drones in there only have two or three body to start with and that just does not allow for anything at all.
Now granted if you are willing to tweak things a bit (I have my eye on one drone where I'd likely drop the speed and up the body by a couple points in a custom variant or something) then this might work out ok with some drones. But the fact is that in many cases you simply can't do anything beyond the stock creation and that can feel very, very limiting. I understand vehicles are bigger and there should be more options to customize them, plus it shouldn't really be possible to mount a Predator on a fly drone. But it still feels off to me. The problem also crops up a bit with vehicles (can't seem to stick a rank 3 speed mod in a sports car sadly) But at least then you can understand it may be a balance issue. Drones can have stats tweaked, but can't really fit much change of any sort to them, and it feels like basing it on body when so many drones of medium size or larger have body below what they 'should' really limits the customization.
But considering the gripes I've had at a few of the other books in this series, I frankly think that is a pretty small 'nitpick' to gripe about. In the past the overwealming amount of fluff, the details for locations I simply was not going to use and worst of all the insanely small amount of crunch for character growth in things like Data Trails left me a bit cold on continuing to buy the hard copies of these books. It wasn't really worth hunting down something like that when I might be buying a book for ten or twenty pages of crunch, maybe some semi usable expanded rules in the back and tons of stuff I didn't' want. This book appeals to me far more and gives me far more of what I am looking for in a book.
Now I want to make that clear because this is a very biased review. This is my impressions based on how I run my games or play my games. I am that guy who thought the 'complete' splatbooks for 3.5 and things like Weapons of Legacy were largely brilliant because he already had his own setting. I am that guy who disregards every shred of location based fluff in the Fantasy Flight 40K stuff because I know the setting just fine and I don't even run it in that area. I want weapons and armor and equipment and gear and abilities and things to shape characters and NPCs as I see fit, and if they are written well some nice expanded rules to help flesh things out. If that sounds like you, then I think this will be among the most satisfying books Catalyst has put out this side of Battletech's core stuff. If not, well I'd still recommend it as the book does cover the weak core book rigger setup, just take my gushing with a few grains of salt.
Me? I think I'll be seeing how my Adept can jam a Thunderstruck pop-up under the hood of his new Dodge Charger. God I love GM Characters.
[5 of 5 Stars!]