Once upon a time in the 90’s there was a videogame developer called 3D Realms. They were in their prime with hits such as Duke Nukem, Blood, Rise of the Triad, and a little first person shooter called Shadow Warrior. Fast forward to today, their most popular games legacy lives on in remakes and re-releases: some have failed (cough Duke Nukem cough), and some have been remade from the ground up. Shadow Warrior falls into the latter category, thanks to the work of Flying Wild Hog. It is more a “re-imagination” of the world and the main character from the original game than it is a full remake.
You once again take the role of Lo Wang, whose job is to go pick up a rare sword from someone in exchange for a lot of money. Unfortunately, for Wang, the deal doesn’t go as smoothly as expected, and he suddenly finds himself involved with demons and faced with an end-of-the-world scenario. You won’t be going alone as a friendly demon decides to tag along to guide you on your way to stop the world from ending. So you grab a sword and any guns you can find in your adventure – you’re going to need them to survive.
You have two choices for how you want to tackle the control of the game: keyboard or gamepad. I could have used either, but went with my trusty XBox 360 game-pad, because I liked how the button layout was set up (I did try the keyboard & mouse combination for a short time but the gamepad felt more rewarding). You use the analog sticks to move and look around. The controller triggers are your hard and light attacks, the right bumper is dash/run, and the left bumper gives you access to your other weapons. The face buttons are: jump, use item/interact, secondary attack, and a quick-switch to the previous weapon. More functions are mapped to the directional pad, from being able to cycle through your weapons, a flashlight, and a reminder of your current objective.
When you first start out in the game you only have a sword. Swordplay in the game is the real star, but it makes the game more challenging too. You need to think before attacking, and what direction you want to attack in. A well-placed strike will carve the enemies to pieces – aim for the neck for a nice beheading, or a cross cut to take limbs off. Guns similarly have localized damage, but it’s less visceral than it is with the sword.
The overall gun play and variety of weapons was nice but, I did find the aiming to be a little off at times. However, that didn’t stop me because there always seemed to be plenty of ammo around. Depending on what weapon you have equipped, your secondary attack will change. For example, if you have your sword in hand you are able to throw ninja stars quickly. They don’t do much damage but can push enemies back enough for you to regroup. Having a gun equipped will make your secondary attack a short slash from your sword which is a good way of finishing someone off if they are crawling away from you on the ground.
As you are slashing and gunning your way through the game you will gain karma to fill a meter on the one side of the screen. Filling the meter awards you a point which you can use to unlock spells and buffs to assist you. These range from ones that give you better chances of getting a critical strike, move faster, luck in finding more ammo and money, taking less damage from enemies and environmental hazards, or unlocking powerful strikes with your swords. Some of these new sword moves are key in the game and are fairly easy to pull off by just tapping a certain direction on the left analog stick and hitting your attack trigger. Also hidden throughout the game are “KI crystals”. These crystals allow you to unlock a second set of “darker” spells and buffs that can come in handy. These cover healing, protection, and special sword attacks to handle large mobs.
You find cash as you play, which you can put towards upgrading your large arsenal of guns, increasing accuracy and power. Some weapons really pack a punch but have lousy handling, so I’d suggest investing in stability for most weapons if it offers it – you won’t regret it in the end.
As I made my way through the game there was really only one gripe that I had, and that was the long load times between levels and when you died. This could really break up the action and dropped the pace of the game, however this may improve with some updates in the future. To try and avoid the load-times upon death, I suggest investing a karma point in the Drain Soul buff. If your health runs out, this grants you a few seconds to take down an enemy and steal a portion of its health to get you back on your feet.
In a nutshell, the game looks awesome. Levels are huge and themed perfectly, from Asian gardens with lush colors and vegetation, to city streets that look like people just dropped what they were doing and ran, to monster-infested Demon realms. All are rather linear, but with huge areas in each level and plenty of hidden secrets, it never feels confining. The variety of baddies the game throws at you is also a bit limited. They range from human gangs dressed in street clothes to riot gear, and demons that are sometimes just given a new color on higher levels. I didn’t mind this too much, though, because the slice-and-dice animations were just bloody fun to watch, no pun intended. The game gets very bloody at times as you cut down enemies and fill them with bullets. I did experience some slowdown when there was a huge mob on the screen, and it did crash on me once, but there was a recent patch that came out to help with stability issues. It’s always nice to see a developer staying on top of things to keep their community happy.
What surprised me was the wide range of music in the game. From rockin’ tunes to gentle Asian melodies, the variety works well. Plus, any game that opens with the main character singing along to “The Touch” by Stan Bush while driving a high performance car scores some brownie points with me (what can I say, I’m a child of the 80’s!). The voice-overs in the game are done well and have plenty of character. That said, I did find some of the humor off-colour at times but that didn’t stop me from continuing on with the game. Sound effects round out the audio department nicely and everything is done well, from the automatic fire from your guns, to the sound your sword makes when cutting someone in half.
So in the end does Shadow Warrior live up to the original game? In my opinion it most certainly does. Is it far from a perfect experience but it is great fun for anyone who enjoys shooters or merely slashing away with a katana sword. Fans of 80’s action movies will unquestionably appreciate what Shadow Warrior has to offer. In the end, I highly recommend this game for anyone looking for a blast from the past.