Rebooting a series is tricky, on one hand you are bringing back an old franchise that many love, giving it a new coat of paint and ultimately making it better. On the other hand you can bring it back, give it a new coat of paint and completely miss the soul of why the original game was so great. Thankfully the latter is not the case with the 2013 reboot of the beloved Build Engine shooter Shadow Warrior. Developed by 3D Realms in the wake of Duke Nukem but focusing on Lo Wang, an absurd mash up of racial stereotypes and action movie heroes, Shadow Warrior contained the irreverent humor that everyone loved from Duke but also incorporated a melee katana. With the reboot, developer Flying Wild Hog of Hard Reset fame make this katana the focus and as a result it makes for some of the most fun I have had with a FPS in 2013.
Where most modern shooters follow the tired concept of growling stubbly men who grunt about morality while killing untold numbers of minorities Shadow Warrior sticks to classic 90’s FPS formua. Firefights take place in beautiful open levels with tons of enemies and plenty of different ways to dismember them. Kill ‘em all dead, drop a one liner, wipe the blood off your katana and move on. The pace never lets up except when Shadow Warrior sticks to classic design a little too closely, retaining the keycard fetch elements and button pushing that have been all but phased out in modern shooters. The story has a simple setup as Lo Wang (the humor is pretty low brow) tries to buy an ancient sword called the Nobistura Kage for his boss, things go wrong from there when the buyer refuses. There is a demon invasion, penis jokes ensue, and the body parts fly.
The story in Shadow Warrior was the biggest surprise, games like Serious Sam or Painkiller have some of the worst/basically non-existent stories and most classic FPS games use narrative as an excuse to move from place to place. The tale in Shadow Warrior is quite interesting, juxtaposing humor and absurd action with a somber tale of feuding god’s. After the failed deal to buy the Nobitsura Kage, Lo Wang is captured and subsequently escapes. It is in this escape that he meets and aligns with Hoji, a demon from the Shadow Realm. He acts as a guide but also a sidekick of sorts and ends up surprisingly being the source for most of the humor and emotional moments. The following tale of the battle between the Immortals, who in turn are all brothers and sisters, is interesting and rather dark and the game ends on a somber note. What I was most taken aback by is that this odd combo of humor and crazy action worked so well within the plot. The story isn’t exactly Bioshock Infinite or The Last Of Us but it is effective and tells an interesting tale. Hoji and Wang have some great banter and the hand drawn stills for the personal plights of the god’s look great.
Combat is the star in Shadow Warrior. Absurdly violent and incredibly entertaining, most of the games humor comes from slicing demons to pieces and seeing giblets fly. Lo Wang is a true sadist, after a violent encounter Hoji tells Wang “You really are enjoying this aren’t you?” This epitomizes him, reveling in blood, dropping absurd one-liners, Wang loves every minute of it. This is what makes Shadow Warrior great. Lo Wang, a relic of the past is more relevant than ever. In many ways Wang is also a breath of fresh air, he is not the typical grizzled protagonist of games today. Wang doesn’t slice through a thousand enemies and then stop and brood on it, crying aloud “Where’s My Wife!” or thinking of all the moral dilemmas he faces. Instead, he laughs, says absurd puns and has a great time. Wang can be crude but despite all his pomp he is actually fairly likeable. Empathetic in many ways, and acting as the player, he says what you are thinking whether is a “hell yeah” or “What the &$%#!” Combat revolves around gunplay and the katana but I used guns maybe 5% of the time. This is because the katana is so much fun, slicing enemies to pieces as they writhe in pain as blood sprays from their severed extremities is a cruel thrill. Where Shadow Warrior differs is in its depiction of violence, is that most of those being sliced like so much salami are demons and creatures of the games Shadow Realm. Human foes are rare and there is always a tongue in cheek humor to the gore. The opening battle is a katana showdown reminiscent of the Kill Bill dojo fight scene as yakuza in suits with atanas descend on Wang. The katana makes quick work of enemies as they can be sliced through in a number of ways and while it isn’t as detailed as Afro Samurai or Metal Gear Rising it gets the job done, having 20 demons sliced through at once makes for quit the spectacle. The guns and katana can be upgraded fully in a very deep system that involves paying money for gun parts or using karma points gained in combat to gain new moves. The menu’s for the respective upgrades are beautiful and this sense of high production values carries throughout the game. The katana combat is easy to grasp and very rewarding with plenty of moves and unlocks to keep it interesting for the 8-10 hours the game lasts. The issue with the katana being so rewarding is the guns feel useless. They are powerful and satisfying but the katana is so effective and so much more fun that I barely touched any of the firearms.
Shadow Warrior is gorgeous, being a PC exclusive helps as it makes full use of current graphics tech. The environments are varied and gorgeous, the lighting is amazing and stylish and the physics are awesome. The levels are large and multi-layered, containing plenty of room to make encounters feel free form and give the player a feeling of agency within the fights. There is no sort of map or guidance system so it is easy to get lost, especially in the bamboo forest areas early in the game. Lo Wang and Hoji do a great job, their voice work is generally funny and well acted but the supporting cast is ultimately forgettable. The music does the job but is lost in the cacophony of combat, the only noticeable tunes being the absurd heavy metal that plays when you bust in on two rabbits doing the whoopee and end one of their lives mid coitus.
Apart from getting lost in the large levels or the dragging on in the latter half, Shadow Warrior keeps the blood pumping. The humor can be hit or miss but is generally funny, the game is beautiful, the story is surprisingly interesting and the katana game-play is superb. Any good PC gamer would be hard pressed to find a shooter that is as pretty, fun, and funny as Shadow Warrior for two tens and a twenty.
+Katana game-play is superb
+Funny (for the most part)
-Keycards and fetch objectives
-Dragged out length