Shadow Warrior Review
This isn’t 1997′s Shadow Warrior. Above all else, this reboot of the Build engine… err… “classic”… makes great strides to play nothing like its predecessor. For those with fond memories of the original, this may come as a great disappointment, but it highlights a significant element that has been missing from many modern day reboots of classic shooters. Earlier this year, Rise of the Triad came out, and was as accurate to the original as a remake can be. The key word there is “remake”. They were not making a new Rise of the Triad, they were making another Rise of the Triad. And believe me, I love that game to bits, but it does feel more oddly cynical, in a way. A starry-eyed rehash is still a rehash, after all; new ideas are not at a surplus, resulting in a product whose overt familiarity is its biggest strength. Also, Rise of the Triad ran like crap and was so fast it was barely controllable – there, I said it.
Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior, conversely, is as close as a franchise to get as wiping the slate clean. It retains a lot of the quasi-Duke Nukem 3D sequel’s more pervasive elements – swordplay is as heavily emphasized as gunplay, there’s a focus on large, open-ended levels that call for equal measures of exploration and combat, and the sense of humor is… well, the main character is a Japanese katana expert named “Lo Wang”. Many jokes center around Wang-related puns. In many ways, that’s everything there that is unique about the original Shadow Warrior (pervasive racism notwithstanding): Lo Wang and a sword. That’s in Flying Wild Hog’s reboot, and should satiate fans of that particular niche in the market. The Lo Wang niche.
Everything else in the new Shadow Warrior is… well, new. It plays nothing like a Build engine game. I’d liken it, pleasantly so, to a inspired and satisfying combination of Red Steel 2 and Serious Sam 3: BFE. Lo Wang’s walk speed isn’t so ludicrously fast that he’s uncontrollable – in fact, at times it can almost feel relatively slow. There are cutscenes that bookend the stages, as well as pre-baked story animations within them and, while certainly wide-open and roomy, combat areas are connected strictly by a linear progression. Serious Sam is a good comparison indeed – to say nothing of Painkiller, from developers People Can Fly (of which developers Flying Wild Hog are alumni).
My Red Steel comparison comes not from that it is a disappointing Wii launch title, but from the focus on blade-based melee combat. Not to resort immediately to hyperbole, but I honestly believe the swordplay in Shadow Warrior could be the most satisfying swordplay in a video game, ever. It’s not deep at all. There’s a light and heavy attack alongside various fighting game-style combos (double tapping a direction key and hitting the mouse button), but the katana slices through enemies like butter which often causes them to gib or split in half delightfully or – as many things do in this game – explode into fountains of blood. (This game likes exploding things into blood.) It is combined, though, with a combat system that favors the removal of limbs and other various bodily protrusions – think like a less plodding Dead Space – which takes away the ability to randomly flail away on the left mouse button. You have to aim your strikes, but it’s never so “tactical” (for lack of a better word) that it isn’t graceful. Melee combat in first-person shooters has never been fantastic, but Shadow Warrior does it at a gold standard.
The gunplay is less innovative, but no less satisfying. The starting pistol kicks like a mule and the arsenal of things that go “boom” only keeps getting better. There’s a lot of crazy and zany stuff; all of it definitely harkening back to the established tropes of 90′s FPS (though not explicitly the original Shadow Warrior). Triple-barreled rocket launchers, explosive crossbows and dual-wielded SMGs are aplenty, but my personal favourite has to be the quad-barrel shotgun. It looks like a brick and it’s almost impossible to actually aim, but if the starting pistol kicks like a mule, the shotgun kicks like the surface of the goddamn sun. Pleasantly, every weapon is upgradable, so the starting pistol – a revolver, I should have mentioned – can be upgraded to be rapidly fired “western style” from the hip, like in a cowboy movie. The shotgun can be upgraded to reload all its barrels at once, which is actually far more useful than firing all its barrels at once.
Weapon combat is where most of Shadow Warrior’s meat is found, and is most noticeably removed from the original. The game has a typical ammo system, with reloading and picking up bullets being some of the many modern concessions the game makes. A lot of guns also have iron sight aiming, though the usefulness of such a feature is debatable – and the default key binding is to the “x” key, so it’s hardly an encouraged feature, either. The gunplay feels far more grounded and “edgy” as a result, though; the gunfights are very “real,” so to speak, and it’s a change to the formula that I surprisingly welcomed. The entire tone of Shadow Warrior has been revamped – more on that later – and it is certainly driven home by the more “realistic” gun handling.