Best described as Duke Nukem meets Big Trouble in Little China, Shadow Warrior steps in to the spotlight as an unashamedly nostalgic love letter to ‘90s first-person shooters – albeit with a couple of modern affectations.
At its core, Shadow Warrior – like its 1997 namesake – is a linear story-driven single player FPS where you control the sword arm and trigger finger of Lo Wang. In this rebooted version, Wang is a corporate enforcer tasked with purchasing the Nobitsura Kage, a katana of mysterious and mystical origins.
Wang is soon dropped into quite literally hell on earth when the deal goes south and a demon army invades. From there it’s a nonstop flurry of decapitations, dismemberments, bullet-spewing ultra-violence, and deliberately cheesy ‘90s action clichés.
Broken into 17 chapters, Shadow Warrior offers up some pretty expansive levels, and herein lies its first issue: the level size and layout leads to a lot of pointless wandering and backtracking. When this happens the game loses all momentum, and the hidden nooks and secrets scattered about the place can’t distract from the fact that there is too much empty air in some levels.
The story is pretty flimsy as well, and amounts to little more than a dangled carrot to propel the player to the next level exit.
Early on Wang meets a wisecracking incorporeal demon named Hoji, who acts as both guide and travelling companion.
The banter between Wang and Hoji can be hilarious at times, but just as often the jokes fall flat, and the mileage the player will get from these conversations will vary depending on his or her ability to appreciate the thick layer of cheese applied to the dialogue.
Add to this Wang’s constant observational quips that stop being entertaining well before the halfway point of the game, and the player might just wish for the ability to mute them both.
Fortunately, Shadow Warrior is more about killing demons than providing a rich narrative, and killing demons is something that it does very well indeed.
Enemy AI for the most part is very effective at bringing the fight to the player. Low level enemies will attempt to gang bang Wang in an effort to overwhelm by sheer weight of numbers, while larger or more powerful enemies will use special powers such as teleportation and creature summons, or long range attacks to harass and beat on Wang.
All this necessitates swift reflexes and precise hand-eye coordination if death and dismemberment are to be effectively dealt to the demonic horde hell-bent on flaying Wang’s delicates. This is not the cover-based corridor shooter modern audiences are used to seeing, and holding back to make that perfect shot will see Wang in a world of hurt in pretty short order.
His primary means of demon destruction is the katana, and for the majority of the game it is the go-to weapon. It slices, it dices, it decapitates and eviscerates, and it is also hugely entertaining and endlessly satisfying to use.
Swift mouse or directional movements and mouse clicks will see Wang cutting down demons in rapid succession. The downside to this, however, is that in the first half of the game the guns by comparison feel rather redundant.
It’s really not until about the halfway point that the other weapons come in to their own. However, when the more powerful minions of the shadow realm start appearing, swapping between these long range weapons and the katana becomes the key to efficiently and effectively dealing with them.
The projective weapons are for the most part the usual FPS fare, and include a pistol, submachine gun, crossbow, double-barreled shotgun, and flamethrower – all of which are upgradeable using money scattered about the levels.
Every one is a joy to use, but the shotgun in particular is one of the most satisfying weapons of any FPS of the past generation, and at close range transforms any low- to mid-level demon into a meaty bloodsplosion.
There are also a few unique “weapons” that Wang can acquire by quite literally detaching them from slain demon corpses.
Combat is fast and frantic, and careful deliberation is not an option, but that isn’t to say that Shadow Warrior lacks flair or strategy, only that the skill in combat is measured in efficient wholesale slaughter rather than the more measured pace of many modern shooters.
There is a combat rating system built-in, and effective combat techniques are rewarded with the player receiving a rating of one to five based on the effectiveness and skill displayed.
Higher ratings earn more Karma, which are essentially experience points used to upgrade Wang’s skills. These skills are primarily passive abilities such as speed, stamina, hit points, resistance, damage potential, as well as money and ammo pickup rates.
Wang also has access to active arcane powers which provide defensive options such as health regeneration and shields, or offensive abilities like stun and knock back. These powers are upgraded by spending crystals, at least one or two of which are located in each level.
From a technical standpoint, Shadow Warrior is very impressive indeed, especially for a non-triple-A title, and runs on an upgraded version of developer Flying Wild Hogs’ own Road Hog Engine – the same engine used to power Hard Reset. Levels in Shadow Warrior are more often than not set in sprawling outdoor environs awash in vibrant colours like pinks, oranges, blues, and greens, all of which help bring a fantasy Japanese feel to the game.
In fact at times the game is quite stunning, and obvious care has been taken to present not only a truly beautiful world, but also horrific Asian inspired demons and enough blood and gibs to keep any gore hound happy.
Shadow Warrior is also blessed with a full range of settings and sliders that PC gamers will appreciate. Display options are numerous, with all of the expected options present from multiple resolutions to screen space ambient occlusion. Its game options are equally as rich, with everything from HUD removal, crosshair shape and size, and FOV adjustment available for the player to tweak for an optimal gaming experience. The only disappointment here is a less detailed audio options menu, which features little more than a volume slider for music and voice.
Shadow Warrior succeeds in providing a visceral and satisfying sword-wielding, gun-toting splatterfest – one which no doubt will find an eager audience with FPS fans looking for a pure action experience. Where it stumbles in storytelling and pacing it more than makes up for in balls-to-wall action. This is a game made by a team that clearly loves old school shooters, and via Wang they want to share that love with you.