Review: Shadow Warrior

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Of all the characters from the late 90s to be brought back to the forefront of gaming culture, Lo Wang is probably one of the easiest for me to be completely indifferent toward. When the original Shadow Warrior was released after the success of Duke Nukem 3D, I can say that at that time I had the impression that the game was trying to be a quick attempt to cash in on the popularity of the sexist big man, by re-skinning the world of Duke with an Asian theme and adding a sword. I admit that I didn’t play the game (other than the demo) back then because I was still in college and could barely afford text books and didn’t have money for video games, but as it turns out the game proved to be ahead of its time in many ways. Flash forward to today, Flying Wild Hog’s highly impressive re-imagining of Shadow Warrior gives Lo Wang another shot at stardom with many of the trappings of modern shooters while retaining the essence of the original game.

Potentially mixing iconography, Shadow Warrior begins with Lo Wang over indulging his self-confidence by cranking Stan Bush’s The Touch.  This opening sets the tone for the entire game. Lo Wang is a caricature of 80s cool, while being a bit of an oblivious doofus, and yet he manages to beat the odds time and again when facing swarms of enemies bent on killing him. Lo Wang is sent to retrieve a sword but ends up being refused the money he was offered and instead is captured when he tries to steal the sword. He is then released from his cage by a demon from the Shadow Realm in the hopes that he can retrieve the sword which turns out was split into three pieces to keep the ruler of the Shadow Realm from becoming too powerful.

Why the sword was split into three, and the ancient love story surrounding it initially feel like filler material used to deliver flashy cutscenes, but ultimately culminate with a satisfying resolution that provides a great reason to switch the gameplay between the modern world and the Shadow Realm, as well as offer a mix of enemies that vary between supernatural and human. The level design also feeds off of this dichotomy where often times a battle encounter will take place in a shipping yard or some other normal surrounding, but holds off turning into a derivative experience by having demons teleport in from the Shadow Realm. What really makes the game shine however is the banter between Lo Wang and Hoji, the shadow demon who set him free. Often they take jabs at each other or Hoji will quip snarky remarks at how foolish Lo Wang is for charging into a situation without properly assessing what could happen. Hoji is sarcastic and a bit of a trickster, and is a good foil for Lo Wang’s personality as a brash buffoon who still manages to slaughter hundreds of enemies.

Combat is a mix of melee and shooting from a first-person perspective. Adding to the combat is the ability to collect money, Karma points and KI crystals, which can then be spent to unlock additional offensive and defensive moves. Playing with a 360 controller translates some of the unlocked moves into a specific set of flicks on the analog sticks. These stick flicks add to the immersion of melee combat to a slight degree, but from time to time aren’t properly recognized by the game, causing attacks or defensive maneuvers to fail on occasion. This is one of the more frustrating aspects to the game overall as combat can be relentless with the sheer number of enemies that are thrust upon Lo Wang. If a special move for a wide area attack doesn’t trigger at the right moment, or if a healing move doesn’t register, then a death screen will appear more often than you will enjoy. Especially when it feels like the fault is more with the game’s controls and not your actual ability.

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Enemy variation isn’t the game’s strongest suit, as many are just more heavily armored versions of basic grunts. Some have the ability to spawn in annoying smaller fodder, while other enemies are massive beasts that are quick and require a solid mix of all of the unlockable skills in order to slay successfully. My least favorite type of enemy also makes an appearance in this game–small flying creatures that shoot and move too fast for any normal gun to hit effectively. Shadow Warrior has these in spades. Enemy encounters are consistent and predictable, almost to the point of being overkill. Just when you think you’ve killed the last enemy and can take a breather, one more wave of enemies spawns in (usually with a dozen flying annoyances for good measure), which can make some encounters too exhausting by the time a level is complete. I also found it a bit strange that most of the game pushes you to rely on the use of swordplay, and then suddenly starts throwing enemies at you that just can’t be reached without switching to guns.

Playing through the campaign can be tough, but for gamers who seek out additional challenges, a Survival mode has recently been patched in. This mode allows you to choose between three maps and four different difficulty settings for a horde mode showdown. Unfortunately, all skills and upgrades earned during the single player campaign are wiped. Firing up the Survival mode after playing through the regular missions to suddenly not have a full complement of attack, blocks and area effect skills makes it feel like you are starting over from square one. Granted, this is a Survival mode so having a fairly steep curve to master does make sense.

One final thing worth mentioning is the Viscera Cleanup Detail companion game that is included with purchase as a separate title on Steam. During the opening mission of the game, Lo Wang slaughters hundreds of enemies, cutting them into small gibs of arms, legs, heads, torsos and other bloody bits. In the Viscera Cleanup side game, you play as a janitor tasked with cleaning up all the blood and gore. What makes this game downright hilarious is the fact that the controls are about as refined as those in Surgeon Simulator 2013. You’ll be mopping up blood carefully with clean water, but go to squeeze out the mop and accidentally knock over the bucket and all of the blood will be back on the floor. Picking up body parts and disposing of them is just as hilariously frustrating.

Shadow Warrior is a solid experience with a well-crafted story and challenging single player melee focused combat. Visually, the game also is one of the most striking and vibrant titles I’ve played recently. Combat does grow a bit repetitive and can feel punishing toward the end due to the over indulgence of enemies that appear on screen at one time. Flying Wild Hog have created a world that is fun to be in and breathed new life into a franchise and character that I would love to see again in another adventure. Shadow Warrior is well worth playing overall, just be prepared to deal with a few frustrations along the way.

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Pros:
+ Stunning visuals
+ Dark humor throughout
+ Epic story that has a fantastic payoff
+ Great Viscera Cleanup mini-game, a la Surgeon Simulator

Cons:
– Melee combat in first-person view can be tricky
– Activating special skills with the analog sticks doesn’t always register
– Enemies spawn in with an over-abundance just past the fun level too often

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Release Date: 9/26/2013
Genre: First-person shooter
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.