Shadow Warrior Review – Wang is Back
You’ve got Wang in this new adventure from Hard Reset developer Flying Wild Hog. In our Shadow Warrior review we’ll remind you why 2013 has been a good year for FPS fans even though the blockbusters like Call of Duty Ghosts and Battlefield 4 have yet to drop. Will this revival of the classic PC FPS soaked in controversy show any signs of growing up? Or should this shadow warrior commit seppuku?
Who knew that in 2013 we’d see the release of a game bearing the Shadow Warrior name? The original 1997 3D Realms shooter received fair criticism for its use of straight up racist and stereotypical humor – so much so that developer Flying Wild Hog had to immediately clarify upon the game’s announcement that they intended to go in a different direction regarding the game’s sense of style. The adventure takes place in modern Japan where renowned samurai hero Lo Wang is tasked with retrieving the legendary katana, the Nobitsura Kage, for Master Zilla, one of the most powerful men in the world. Of course, demons are unleashed upon the world and Lo Wang must travel between the Shadow Realm and Japan to recover parts of the sword.
Alongside to help is the mischievous outcast Hoji who was banned from the Shadow Realm hundreds of years ago for mysterious reasons. The banter between the two mismatched loners is charming and the humor straddles a line between genuinely funny and just plain dumb. Hey, I’m not here to judge what people think is funny or not, but generally speaking, if you like lots of puns on Lo Wang’s name then you’ll get a chuckle out of the dialog. The writing is clearly not trying to be too clever, so if you set your expectations at a pretty low, potty-mouth level then there are plenty of jokes to like. It’s tongue-in-cheek and Wang seems like less of a stereotype in this iteration.
On the linear journey, Lo Wang uses an arsenal of weapons and abilities to help him fight the demon and human hordes – not only can each weapon be upgraded using cash, but new skills and powers can be purchased with karma points and Ki crystals, respectively. Karma points come from combat and a shuriken rating system encourages players to fight well and make use of all available skills to get the best bonuses. I found the combat to be exciting, not just in terms of available abilities but also in terms of enemy variety: Use your katana to do a 360 degree swipe on lesser demons, shoot sticky bombs with your crossbow at hulking behemoths, or mow down hordes of flying harpies using akimbo uzis.
Admittedly, at the start of the game your options are limited, but as you grow in power the combat becomes more fun. As far as melee fighting goes, your katana can only attack – instead of blocking or parrying, your main defense is your mobility. Lo Wang is an agile warrior who can sprint and dodge in any direction. The movement reminded me of the recent Rise of the Triad reboot, which is appropriate considering both games hearken back to the days of yore where FPS protagonists moved at speeds up to 60 MPH. A quick tap of the shift key while moving in any direction will dash you over, which is great for both clearing out of the way of attacks and closing the distance on enemies with your katana.
While it takes some getting used to, the power combos are easy to execute and require you to simply tap a movement direction such as AA or SS and hold either left or right click to active the power. What I didn’t care for was when the game simply wouldn’t recognize when I was trying to do a combo. There are statues you have to destroy to open magically locked doors, and there’s one specific power you have to use to destroy them. Frustration would set in when I’d be trying to use the special attack on the statues only for the game to not recognize my input. My guess would be that the timing is super specific so that players aren’t always unintentionally activating their powers, but it’s still irritating when you’re running from enemies futilely trying to trigger the heal power and it’s just not activating.
Like the original game and its contemporary, Duke Nukem 3D, the environments are full of things to poke at and blow up. Plenty of references to other games from publisher Devolver Digital are present, such as arcade machines depicting scenes from Hotline Miami, the Serious Sam games, and of course the original Shadow Warrior, complete with classic Lo Wang voice samples. Tables and tombstones can be diced up depending on how your sword slash hits them, similar to how your foe’s bodies react to a little melee action, and everything from soda machines to scooters can be used as explosive barrels, including literal explosive barrels. Careful searching around levels will reveal secrets, many of which take you back in time to entire rooms full of classic late-90s Shadow Warrior environments, complete with scantily clad 2.5D anime girls. Levels are littered with money, ammo, armor, and sassy, sarcastic fortune cookies to pick up.
The audio is a treat, with Stan Bush collecting a paycheck with an early game appearance of his Transformers: The Movie anthem “The Touch,” and the voice acting helps with some of the game’s flat jokes about asses. Lo Wang is a lot less of a stereotype compared to his 1997 appearance and companion Hoji’s voice is appropriately otherworldly and nefarious. As you slice and dice enemies, there’s a satisfying meaty sound, and all the demon enemies sound as hellish and shadowy as you’d expect. Graphically, the game scales well to lower end systems, but with all the sliders cranked up it occasionally looks rather gorgeous. The Shadow Realm environments are particularly evocative, while the serene Japanese gardens of the early game seem almost calm until all hell breaks loose. I found the game performed well on my mid-tier system even with the graphics set at high and dozens of enemies flooding the screen.
Shadow Warrior is far from a perfect game, but this is probably the best we could have hoped for when it comes to an update of a sixteen year old game. There’s a linear campaign with some secret rooms to discover but I found that each individual level was too long to warrant a ton of replays for higher scores. The game lacks a multiplayer mode, and considering the crazy weapons, skills, and powers available, it might’ve actually been an interesting addition.
Shadow Warrior is only $40 and the campaign will take anywhere from 10-12 hours to complete – longer than average for FPS games with similar production values these days. Combat is fun and chaotic as hell and the characters are charming, if a bit one-note and dopey. So far this year, we’ve had such games as Farcry 3: Blood Dragon, Call of Juarez – Gunslinger, Rise of the Triad, and now Shadow Warrior – all games filling a bizarre niche in a genre normally dominated by triple-A modern military shooters. These are all weird FPS games, worth celebrating for the mark they make within the genre.