Back in the ye olde days of gaming things were much more simple when it came to first person shooters, they didn’t have to have thousands of carefully rendered and meticulously crafted setpiece explosions, you had a gun ,there were sprite based enemies, and they died in their thousands. Amongst Doom and Duke Nukem there stood a game called “Shadow Warrior”, where the protagonist Lo Wang ran around shooting demons, throwing shurikans into demon, cutting demons in half with a sword, punching demons in the face with his fists, blowing up demons with rockets, and so on, so forth. In 2013, Flying Wild Hog took on the challenge of remaking this epic game, no mean feat.
The game opens with Lo Wang singing “The Touch” by Stan Bush as he drive towards a temple of some sort, it’s brilliant and sets the tone for the entire game, the crazy over the top action and comedy with a touch of reference to pop culture through the last 30 years feels like a huge self aware breath of fresh air after the endless grey and brown modern military shooters which have plagued the last generation. Shadow Warrior doesn’t hold your hand and force you to look at the cool setpieces, YOU create the setpieces, with a huge arsenal ranging from a demon’s head to a crossbow, the methods of slaughter available to the player in this game are as numerous as they are thrilling.
The piece-de-resistance however is not a gun, or an explosive, it’s the sword. Wang is always armed with a katana of some kind and it’s easy to forget there are other weapons available because the sword is so much fun to use. Whilst the light and heavy attacks are meaty enough on their own, Wang can perform power attacks by double tapping a direction movement and holding down primary attack, this added complexity to the swordplay system, combined with a series of supernatural powers make combat both hugely compelling and insanely cinematic. In short, the sword fighting is better in this game than most games which focus on swords alone.
Let us not forget the guns, each one feels very different and clearly has a very specific purpose. Like the games of the past Shadow Warrior emulates, each weapon has a purchasable secondary fire, for the SMG, this is dual wielding, every secondary fire has a positive and a negative effect (even if that is merely running out of ammo faster) this makes it possible for the player to engage every encounter differently. Onto of the secondary fire modes being interesting, many are clearly designed to adhere to the “rule of cool”, which fits so perfectly into the game thematically. Above all Shadow Warrior encourages movement, sitting behind cover will likely end with you being swamped and swiftly butchered, so players are encouraged to dash and sprint around the area to avoid taking too much damage, which is a great deal of fun.
Story is something that isn’t exactly centre stage in this game, but there is one, and whilst it is very basic it doesn’t detract from the experience at all, in short, you captured by some bad guys and you escape when demon start attacking, you team up with a demon called Hoji who explains you have to find a the parts of a sword called the “Nobitsura Kage”. This leads you on missions in all kinds of environments, from snowy mountain tops to the desolate plains of the Shadow Realm, every level feels like something different and expansive, with lots of chance to explore. Despite the tone of the game being somewhat detrimental to what most would consider a well developed narrative, the characters do feel highly complex in most cases, and there is a whole plethora of backstory for the demons and gods, which all ties into the world of Shadow Warrior being thoroughly envisioned, meaning that the world isn’t just a series of corridors and arenas for Lo Wang to paint with blood, but part of a story much larger than the protagonist.
The game’s masterstroke when it comes to characters is Hoji, he’s perfectly voice acted and provides a certain comedic sarcasm, which bounces off Lo Wang’s arrogant yet hilarious personality to generate some really fun and titillating dialogue. If there was something to complain about with Shadow Warrior, it would be the bosses and minibosses, essentially all the boss fights are the same; shoot the glowing spot until it opens up then shoot the crystal inside. It’s fun the first one or two times by by the last boss fight you know what to do and are so practised that there really isn’t a great deal of challenge. Frequently you will run into an arena type section where you have to fight one or more minibosses, these can be a skeletal giant who summons minions or a Minotaur who can lasso you or shoot fire balls at you. The problem with these enemies is they are just bullet sponges and their ability to kill means you can’t be hugely creative with your fighting while they are still alive.
In terms of performance, Shadow Warrior is no slouch, even on mid range systems you can hold 60 FPS with medium to high settings, and the game does look very good, not a winner of awards by any means but given the amount of blood and body parts which will fill the screen, alongside explosions and firey projectiles, it is impressively stable, rarely encountering significant frame drops. Shadow Warrior is a game that tries to be one thing, fun as hell, and for the most part it succeeds. The combat, the dialogue and the style blend together to create an experience which is only entertaining. Despite the flaws, with a re-release coming up on PS4, Shadow Warrior is a game you should definitely play if you can.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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