Shadow Warrior was a game I missed out on first time around, which is strange given the amount of 3D Realms related games I played growing up on shareware. The first person shooter genre has come a long way since 1997, and despite the critical failure that was Duke Nukem Forever, there’s still an appetite for reviving some of the better games from 15+ years ago. This year we’ve had Wolfenstein, a game we really liked here at Codec Moments, and now there’s this. It’s battled from PC to console and kept out of sight for many, but should you let Shadow Warrior creep in to your collection?
Lo Wang is an assassin. Supremely confident in his abilities; a lover of fast cars, loose women, and belting out 80’s rock ballads; he’s your typical anti-hero, and you should really hate him. Maybe you don’t start out detesting him and his ego because how can you dislike anyone who answers the phone with the line “You got Wang”. Yes people, that’s the type of game we’ve got here – crass humour, homo-erotic undertones, and more innuendo than you can shake your own wang at. Let’s be clear though, this game knows what it’s doing and is very playful in the setup and execution of its dick and fart jokes. The original didn’t take itself seriously, neither does the remake, and it reminds you from the start with the inclusion of a full level from the 1997 version played for you whilst the first level loads.
Given that this is essentially a late 90’s game, do you really think there’d be a story to get in to? There is, and it’s reasonably engaging too. After being tasked with purchasing/stealing a sword from a collector, Lo Wang is unwittingly caught up when demons appear on Earth and start killing everyone in sight. Naturally. Allying yourself with Hoji, a lost spirit who seems to know what’s going on, you set out to recover the Nobitsura Kage (the sword in question) and rid the world of the vicious invaders, as well as uncovering Hoji’s family secrets and helping save the Shadow Realm too. It’s time to slice, dice and blast your way through 18 chapters of classic corridor based action.
One of the most engaging parts of the experience is the back and forth banter between Lo Wang and Hoji as you progress through the game. It isn’t clear from the start if Hoji is evil or mischievous, and you don’t quite trust him. Neither really wants to be paired up, both have ideas on how things should be going, and there’s a grudging respect appears as the story progresses. It won’t win any awards, it just made the journey enjoyable as it fits right in with the overall aesthetic. A “forced into working together against their will” premise works alongside the snippy comments and growing reliance on each other. You’re feeling comfortable and familiar with the setup almost immediately so that you don’t have to think about what’s going on, which also allows you to pick up on the many references to pop culture or outright fun-poking that’s going on all around.
Mechanically, there’s nothing exceptional about Shadow Warrior, it’s a straightforward FPS with the basic aim-shoot-navigate-jump-duck controls. Keeping things simple frees up the game to focus on speed and stability so that it remains slick throughout nearly everything it chucks at the player. The environments are nicely detailed without being cluttered, the animations smooth, and the enemies have reasonable intelligence – though not too much to spoil your time. As with any game, this lives and dies on making you feel badass whilst tackling the hordes hellbent on stopping you, and what better way than giving you a sword to wield. Melee is the main offensive approach to take because it’s effective and fun. Cutting angles are determined by you as you position the left and right sticks, though this can be made semi-automatic (or fully) in the options menu if needed, and enemy limbs drop off left, right and centre when you get a flurry of strikes going. I never got tired of beheading a demon.
There’s the usual FPS arsenal available as well, ranging from pistol to rocket launcher, and all have their distinct uses as the bullet fodder becomes more varied. With this being a game in 2014, everything is upgradable too, from firearms to your actual arms… in the form of tattoos. Modifying your Wang means unlocking powers and skills to make him even more formidable by adding new sword attacks and mystical powers. The abilities bought by finding special crystals amount to little more than push, block, heal and freeze, but they’re a nice diversion and offer some decent combat variation to stop things getting stale. The more you use them, the more bonus karma you get to spend on the skills section where you get the options to find more cash, ammo or improve your base health and stamina. It doesn’t break the mould in any way, it’s implemented well, and at your convenience so that you can upgrade on the fly instead of finding specific locations or travelling salesmen.
Looting makes an appearance, and this too can be automatically done by picking the right settings. You still have to open (lots) of containers, but don’t have to make the effort to pick up everything inside. Pretty handy as you’re really unlikely ever to leave things behind. In fact, for a console game there’s a lot of settings to customise, even down to different crosshair patterns and colours. All the better for marking your targets… There’s are a few different enemy types, and the approach to difficulty with them is classic 90’s 3D game style – throw more at you than you think you can handle. The healing ability certainly comes into its own! Then on the other side of combat there’s the boss battles, which end up being far easier than you expect. Particularly near the end, I found what felt like a Royal Rumble of standard enemies much more challenging than the actual end of game boss. Not necessarily an anticlimax, but certainly not the finale it was building too.
Shadow Warrior’s intent is to give you a modern-retro experience by bringing a classic game up to date, and it achieves this with a degree of style and confidence. It knows what it is, where it’s going, and most importantly, who’s playing it. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, and new game plus options allow you to return to the beginning with all your skills and abilities intact, increasing its longevity as you hunt for the extremely well hidden secrets you missed first time round, and earning those last few expensive upgrades. This game isn’t about warring PMCs, regenerating health and hiding behind a wall whilst your AI squad clears your path. You are Lo Wang. You are all alone. You are the best assassin in the world. You are going to get out there and kick some ass.