Shadow Warrior is a great throwback for anyone who enjoyed the time when shooters were at the top of their game.
I think I am in love with this resurgence for reboots of old-school first-person shooters. It wasn’t long ago that Rise of the Triad released, and while not perfected, the game was a rediscovery for the past – its challenging gameplay and complex level design were taken from the 90s first-person shooter library. Shadow Warrior falls along the same lines. It’s not copying from anyone else; it hasn’t got crappy, forced multiplayer; and it certainly doesn’t come across like a game that was crafted in an era where everyone is gung-ho for military themed shooters. Shadow Warrior feels like it has come from a time where developers were having fun making games and coming up with interesting mechanics, refreshing settings and crafting diversity to make sure their games stood out from the crowd. A period where No One Lives Forever, Blood II, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, Star Wars: Jedi Knight, and Kingpin: Life of Crime were great showcases for the genre. If you enjoyed any of those games, then Shadow Warrior will be worth checking out, as it invokes so much of that history in its design.
Shadow Warrior is a reboot of a game with the same name that was released back in 1997 by 3D Realms, the team that created the excellent Duke Nukem 3D. This new take on Shadow Warrior isn’t developed by the same crew; instead, the team at Flying Wild Hog decided they wanted to have a go at bringing back a well-known first-person shooter and adapting it to their vision. Flying Wild Hog has some experience in crafting such a title, since their first game, Hard Reset, upheld those old design beliefs – it was a run and gun shooter covered in striking visuals – and this is carried into Shadow Warrior.
Lo Wang is once again the star of the game. He’s a corporate shogun on hire for the Zilla Enterprise to hunt down a mystical sword known as the Nobitsura Kage, a katana that links to the realm of the ancient gods. The game begins with Lo Wang driving towards a destination to meet a collector and claim the sword, but it soon spirals out of control when demonic creatures are involved and Wang ends up meeting an unlikely ally in the form of a banished demon called Hoji. In classic storytelling fashion, it’s up to Wang and Hoji to stop this demonic invasion from spiralling out of control. It’s a rather simply plot, but one that’s enjoyable, thanks to the humour driven dialogue.
Wang’s a likeable guy, too. Unlike Duke Nukem, who was still stuck in the olden days while everyone around him moved on in Duke Nukem Forever, Wang has been upgraded with a personality that’s a mixture of action hero crossed with a nerd. He likes his superheroes; hell, he even has a “bat cave,” with full security to boot, where he stashes all his favourite comic book issues and his most loved car. It was a good move by Flying Wild Hogs to move Lo Wang away from the race stereotyping and into a character that you can happily nod along to his smart-ass attitude and witty humour that can make people laugh without cringing inside.
The blade is what makes Shadow Warrior so satisfying to play. It’s so destructive, so powerful, that I often ignored my firearms just to experience more of the katana slicing. There is something rewarding about going up to demonic fools and decapitated their bodies, dicing their torsos or cutting off their legs, forcing them to crawl on the floor, as you finish them off with a furious sword swipe. The only time I didn’t use it was for the bosses – it’s hard to, thanks to their height – but for every other enemy in the game it’s possible to kill them with Wang’s swordplay, and it doesn’t take long. These enemies aren’t immune to the power of the blade. Even the big dudes will lose an arm in a couple of swipes. It gives off a sense that the katana is a weapon that can cut through anything with ease. Seeing a dude split in half from waist down never gets old – it’s bloody, visceral and gory. It also helps that the melee is solid. It’s not revolutionary, but as melee combat goes for swords in first-person video games, it’s one of the better attempts.
Controlling the blade is so effortless, since it’s all based on clicking the attack button and using your movement as the direction in which the sword swings. If you just tap away to slice, then the game will make the sword swipe at random angles, but if you tap a direction just before hitting attack, then the blade will follow with a strike in that direction. Tapping forward will make a vertical strike from top to bottom, tapping down will do the opposite, bringing the katana upwards instead. Of course, left, right and diagonals also work, offering six ways to decimate fellow bodyguards and nasty demons.
Lo Wang’s adventure has takes from Serious Sam - there are points in the game where heaps of enemies are waiting to get a taste of Wang’s silver blade. Unlike Serious Sam, I never once felt that Shadow Warrior was using them to extend the length of the game – enemies are littered everywhere, but not too much to make it a drag. It also helps that the combat is constantly updated through the use of a skill tree system, coming in two forms, Karma and Ki, which unlock magic powers. Once upgraded, Wang can use his katana to send powerful trusts that break shields, whirlwind his katana for a 360 attack that often ends up with heads rolling everywhere, and he can even send out a sonic boom-esque fireball from his blade. These powers aren’t all based around sword play, for example, one allows Wang to hit the ground to create a shockwave that launches enemies into the air, leaving them struggling for their life as you deviously amputate their feet.
Activating powers isn’t done in the most ergonomic way, as they require you to double tap directions on the joystick or your movement keys, along with the attack or magic button. It feels awkward to do at first, and it doesn’t always seem to come out correctly when you’re in the heat of battle. There are a lot to skills to choose from that you’re always unlocking something, even when the game is finished. Luckily, there is a EX-mode that lets you start the game again with all your abilities still intact from the previous completion.
I have focused this review on the sword play, but the weapons on offer, pistol, shotgun, machine gun, crossbow, rocket launcher and a demon’s head (it shoots lasers from its mouth while you hold it in your hand!) are all useful to some degree. Each one of the main human weapons can be upgraded by money that you find around the environment. These are, for the most part, typical upgrades that you see in shooters, such as better accuracy, larger clips, explosive rounds and sticky bombs. No matter what weapon you use, you will always see a style system in play (think Bulletstorm) that pops up words when performing their specific requirements. Karma is one thing that will always be rewarded, but if you manage to keep styling on enemies, say getting a shredder bonus for hacking someone to bits or doing a headshot, then you’ll get a chain combo that offers more karma bonus, which will eventually transfer into a karma point to spend on an upgrade. While it’s not as deep as Bulletstorm‘s, the scoring system in Shadow Warrior works well to offer a way to reward players better abilities for Wang.
Bringing the vision of classic first-person does mean that the game suffers from some mediocre AI. These opponents don’t dodge you; they just want to kill you in the most rudimentary way possible – shoot or come at you. This might feel shallow for some gamers, but I personally found that being constantly on my toes, due to the enemy count, kept my adrenaline running towards the end of the game. The designs for the enemies don’t stand out, and the variety is lacking – more enemies could have been implemented. Even the boss battles, which feature towering monsters, don’t offer anything exciting.. You blast off body parts and then shoot the weak point to drain its health. This is the same for all three of the game’s major boss fights, serving up nothing but battles that you’ll quickly forget about.
But on the plus side, the levels are jammed with secrets and Easter eggs; you’re going to need the skills of Sherlock Holmes to find everything in Shadow Warrior. Upon completing a level the game will show how many secrets found, along with the time spent on the level, how much money collected and how much karma bonus earned. There’s a lot to take in, and I can’t imagine anyone ever maxing the results screen out without mastering the game. In regards to the map design, the levels aren’t that open. They offer more than a typical modern Call of Dutymap, but still feeling linear at the same time. For people who enjoy their multiplayer, there is nothing in Shadow Warrior for you as this is solo experience. Although, just thinking about aGoldeneye inspired slappers only, but with katanas, makes me giggle a bit.
Thankfully, Shadow Warrior makes the 10 hour adventure a visual pleasing one. It’s a rather gorgeous looking game, only brought down by some average looking character models. The world that you traverse is blessed with bright, rich colours, as you start in an oriental themed environment, with sections filled with temples, cherry blossoms and bamboo, to eventually hitting snowy mountains, with snow particles blowing around in the wind. Textures are very detailed, and when you’re playing on maximum settings, the lighting gives off this warm, mystical bloom, like you’re in some oriental fantasy dream. I had an issue with having it on the highest settings; it requires a lot of horse power. The game doesn’t seem set up for crossfire cards, as my 6990 was dropping from 60 FPS often. I also had three crashes to desktop, but I have no idea why.
Shadow Warrior is a great throwback for anyone who enjoyed the time when shooters were at the top of their game. Those people are the ones that will surely appreciate what Flying Wild Hog delivers with this re-imagining. You don’t even need to have played the original to appreciate, as even though it’s using the themes and characters from the 1997 shooter, it ends up better off, thanks to its superior personality. First-person shooters are never going away, but, if you fancy a great and bloody time pretending to be a katana wielding, nerd assassin after getting drained on role-playing military soldiers, then you can’t go wrong with jumping into the role of Mr Wang and slicing up some demons.