Shadow Warrior is Flying Wild Hog’s reboot of 3d Realms’ classic FPS of the same name from 1997. The game maintains some of the distinct features of the original Shadow Warrior while updating the title for modern sensibilities.
Lo Wang is a modern day shogun for Zilla Enterprises. He is effective, but unpredictable. As Lo Wang puts it, he is an asshole. His boss Zilla sends him on a quest to purchase a katana known as the Nobitsura Kage for the princely sum of two million dollars. The plans go off the rail when Wang is captured. Demons begin crossing over to the mortal realm and slaughtering everything in between them and the Nobisura Kage. Lo Wang is soon joined by his sharp witted companion Hoji, an ancient who is also seeking the katana. The two start on a journey together that will send them to hell and back in search of the Nobisura Kage.
The overall plot is rather forgettable. It is not bad, but it is not great either. The back story of the ancients is actually a great plot of love, deception, and betrayal that is has all the right trappings of a classic legend. However, Lo Wang’s journey feels more like a B movie that tries to salvage some deeper meaning in the end. Either situation on their own is great, but the combination seems a little awkward.
The actual writing on the other hand is snappy and very funny. Easter egg and pop culture reference nerds will have a great time with Shadow Warrior as both are liberally salted throughout the game. The banter between Hoji and Lo Wang has some serious laugh out loud moments. Their in-game relationship reminds me of a good buddy cop film. Lo Wang has some great corny one liners that pay homage to the Duke Nukem 3d era of gaming. The fortune cookie pick-ups hold some funny jokes that often have little relation to the game. I found myself laughing out loud after reading several of these fortunes and even memorized several of them to be shared with friends at a later date.
The original Shadow Warrior was met with great criticism of its portrayal of Asian culture. Though the new reboot does not get the difference between Chinese and Japanese culture quite right, the game does at least make a serious effort to poke fun at the fact Shadow Warrior is modeled after cheesy kung-fu flicks. Frankly, as a person of Chinese descent, I find it hard to take the game’s cheesy racial stereotypes seriously considering the game is chock filled with tongue-in-cheek humour.
Flying Wild Hog has some extensive experience developing old school styled shooters with modern technology and their experience shows in Shadow Warrior. Those who have grown up in the era shooters based on real eras of human warfare like Call of Duty and Battlefield may be in for a surprise. Shadow Warrior is a fast paced game where waves of monsters are hurled at the player. There are some concessions made to the modern FPS gamer. For example, although right mouse button is by default the secondary fire mode, players do have access to a zoom key that provide a bit of an iron sight effect. There is no automatically regenerating health, but in addition to health packs, Lo Wang can channel a healing spell that will put his health at 65 to 80% of his maximum health.
The katana takes centre stage in Shadow Warrior. Although it seems extremely difficult if not downright impossible to do a katana only run of the game, I was easily able to complete most of the game with the katana and the Ki based Katana abilities. The game is extremely gory as katana wielding players will be rewarded with fountains of blood and chopped body bits. Flying Wild Hog have provided a wide variety of control options for swordplay. Players can choose from three levels of control that will change how much the AI interferes with the sword. On Casual and Normal levels, the game will choose the best direction to slash the sword while Advanced mode will slash based on the direction the player is moving. Additionally, weapons inertia can be tweaked to affect how much the sword moves with the camera. I found Advanced mode to be an excellent balance of control and usability in the hectic battles. It allowed me to optimize my damage output without being overly complicated.
Lots of classic weapons make their appearance alongside the katana. Sticky bombs did not make their first appearance in Halo. In fact, the original Shadow Warrior introduced them four years before Halo’s release. The sticky bombs have returned in the reboot. Classic FPS staples like the machine gun, the rocket launcher, and the pistol are available along with some stranger weapons like demon hearts. Besides the katana, my personal favourite is the demon head. With the right skills, Lo Wang grabs the head of a fallen greater demon and fires a deadly beam from its eyes like Perseus wielding Medusa. Due to the vast number of weapons available, players will need to use the full set of number keys for selecting weapons quickly as it takes an awful long time to scroll through to the right weapon. Alternatively, those wielding a controller have access to a wheel that can select weapons with the thumbsticks.
Shadow Warrior’s controls are excellent for the most part. The game can be played with a controller or a mouse and keyboard. However, I found the spell and abilities system to be extremely awkward. To execute an ability or a spell, the player double taps a movement button then presses primary fire or secondary fire respectively. Old school shooters tend to be a movement heavy game and having to stop to double tap a key interrupted the movement. It is tolerable for the mouse and keyboard, but the spell/ability system made the game downright annoying with a controller.
There is an extensive upgrade system in Shadow Warrior. Weapons, Ki abilities, and stats can all be upgraded. Each has their own currency, which encourage a relatively balanced build. Weapon upgrades can be purchased with money and include secondary fire modes and some statistical upgrades. Ki abilities are the four active spells Lo Wang can access and are purchased with Ki crystals scattered across the map. The four spells can be further improved with more Ki crystals for bonus effects. The skills provide stat boosts and new katana based abilities. They are funded by the karma found around levels, rewarded by killing enemies, and awarded as a performance bonus. The system provides a lot of opportunity for players to create builds that will best suit their gameplay. My own complaint is that performance bonuses awarded after large fights seem pretty arbitrary and the game does not seem to provide clear guidance on what will result in a five star fight.
The level design in Shadow Warrior is mostly straight forward. There are lots of side paths to collect a plethora of secrets that include bonus money and karma. There is some incentive to veer off the path to collect extra currency, but the game will eventually lead the player back to the main path. Flying Wild Hog has added some hints to help players move in the right direction. Subtle touches like chem lights leading in the right direction and glowing objectives help players in the few sections that get a little maze like. The game will take roughly 8-12 hours to complete on normal difficulty.
There is a large variety of monsters to slay in Shadow Warrior along with three epic boss battles. Each monster type is unique and quite challenging in the right combination. By the end of the game, Shadow Warrior seems to toss the whole bucket at the player which results in some long and challenging fights. The multi-stage boss battles are entertaining, but the second boss battle easily outshines the first two as it requires some artful dodging to bring the boss down to the ground.
Shadow Warrior is a good looking game. There is a generic Asian vibe to the entire game that screams Shadow Warrior. I can see films like Kill Bill has influenced the visual style of the game. Bodies are chopped up with exaggerated gore and Lo Wang often leaves areas with the ground soaked with blood and scattered with body parts. The day levels are bright and very colourful, a nice change from the usual brown drab of modern FPS games. My only real complaint is that some levels use the bloom effect to the point of absurdity. There are some great subtle touches in the game. Reloading with a full magazine will have Lo Wang checking that his weapon is topped up. Falling down heights will cause him to hit the ground crouched with a hand down to stabilize him. There are extra details that really help immerse the player in the game.
Technically, Shadow Warrior runs well on single card systems. There are reports of kinks still being worked out with those using Nvidia graphics cards in SLI configurations. Although most of the load times when certain doors are opened, the game is interrupted by load times at seemingly random moments at times. They are not particularly long, but they are common enough to affect the flow of the game at times.
Shadow Warrior provides a good audio experience with a few hitches. The voice acting is strong, however, some may cringe at the terrible Asian accents presented in the game. Whether this is doen on purpose to parody the genre is unknown. The sound effects are bang on and Lo Wang seems to have a comment for just about everything in the game. I did notice one odd quirk where a Bic style lighter was used but the sound of a Zippo lighter is clearly heard, but it seems to be the only instance of the audio not matching the visuals. The music fits well in the game, but does have a habit of disappearing into the background as demons scream and roar.
Shadow Warrior’s gameplay is a solid throwback to a simpler era and the katana is incredibly fun. The audio and visual experience is good, though the bloom is way over used. The story is snappy and funny, but falls flat as soon as the plot gets serious. Shadow Warrior is like a good summer action flick. It is not Oscar material, but it is still wildly entertaining. It is a bit of a short game, but at $39.99, Shadow Warrior is still a great pick for FPS gamers looking for a vacation from a shooter taking place in some generic Middle Eastern desert.
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