Shadow Warrior Review

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Who wants some Wang?

Anyone who remembers the golden days of 3DRealms remembers the associated controversy with their games. They started the craze with an overly macho chauvinist in Duke Nukem and – in what some would call a lesser capacity – continued it with the overly racist pervert Lo Wang in 1997’s version of Shadow Warrior. Flying Wild Hog’s modern incarnation of Shadow Warrior, while noticeably less racist (if still satirically insensitive), leaves my expectations in the dust. It’s a refreshing reminder that while the state of the industry may have radically changed in the last 16 years, there’s still a developer that realizes how to craft a true 90s-style first-person shooter.

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Ancient Chinese Secret

Shadow Warrior takes us back to Lo Wang’s days as a Zilla Corp enforcer, content to carry out orders with comedic indifference so long as his paychecks clear. As Master Zilla’s favored “negotiator”, a young Lo Wang is tasked with retrieving the Nobitsuru Kage – an ancient sword of legend – from an eccentric collector. As the opening level plays out, Wang is plunged into a plot that will span across ancient realms and hold the fate of the world in the balance ( I couldn’t even type that with a straight face, just so you know).

All in all I have to say I was surprised how well the story was laid out. By the end of the game I wasn’t exactly attached to any of the characters, but I was certainly interested in their roles and how things would end. While most of the comedy was more shtick and satire, it got the occasional gut-laugh out of me and kept the overall mood pretty light. Still, for an FPS to really have any semblance of a story these days is not too commonplace – even more so when that story is actually interesting.

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The Touch

The most impressive thing about Shadow Warrior is how well it carries on in its predecessor’s spirit while giving a satisfying sense of play in; let’s face it, a very repetitive genre. The gunplay is well tuned and allows enough diversity to keep you using the weapons at your disposal while a decent array of upgrades will make them more useful. The real kicker is how awesome the swordplay is. Even though your arsenal includes some good old fashion killing tools, using the sword changes the dynamic from a typical point-and-shoot-bullet-o-rama to a meat-grinding-blood-spurting-slaughter-fest. Variable swordplay options and skills allow you to control your swings, allowing you to aim for limbs, necks, torsos, or entire groups of enemies. Upgradeable techniques allow for useful things such as healing, shielding and area stuns as well as specializations for combating tougher enemies, increasing mobility and endurance.

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The levels are the biggest breath of fresh air I’ve had in the FPS genre in a very long time. They really do capture the old school feeling that allows for a lot of exploration and secret hunting while giving you great areas to engage in some pretty intense onslaughts. A great addition to the level design is that the developers incorporated a lot of the old school elements from the original game into the secret areas. In quite a few instances I found myself in the middle of levels from the 1997 game in all of their pixilated textures and sprite animation glory. It was awesome to see how seamlessly they fit them into places and the liberties they took with the running gags (SPOILER: Including an appearance from The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.)

Shadow Warrior offers a lot of eye candy, and while not hyper-realistic, the graphics are quite beautiful. It’s the icing on the cake that, not only are the levels very old school in their nature and construction, but that they also take advantage of many of the new school graphics. While most of your time will probably be spent fighting off the hordes of creature sent after you through each level, you really should take a moment after the slaughter to just admire the levels that you’re playing through. Speaking of the hordes, creatures and enemies in the game are modeled after what we’ve seen from the previous installation but are given a much grittier and visceral tone. FWH has also gone out on tangents and created some pretty interesting demons and such from what you would expect an Asian themed Hell might produce.

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When it comes down to it, adding together the great gunplay/swordplay, nostalgic level designs, high-end modernized graphics, and an audio score that keeps it all very intense is an excellent combination all by itself. But the guys at 3DR/FWH didn’t just phone it in for the remainder of everything that has made these games memorable and timeless. They actually put some sweat and tears into the heart of the game. Granted those sweat and tears are pretty much washed out by the gallons of blood, but if gore turns you off, you shouldn’t be playing the successor to a niche shooter from the 90s in the first place.

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Fortune Cookies are not Chinese

I really do have to hand it to Flying Wild Hog, even though they had help from the remnants of 3DRealms. They’ve taken one of my personal favorites from the annals of FPS history and turned it into a game on par with what I’ve romanticized from my past. It’s not every day that a company will pick up an older title with the intent to remake it and do it any kind of justice, in fact it’s generally a disaster (I’m looking at you Gearbox.) That’s not to say that it’s never been done well, but in this instance, it’s done better than it has ever been done before. While we may never see solo projects from 3DRealms again, Flying Wild Hog has more than shown that they’re capable of taking the bull by the horns and ripping its head clean off.

mbrooksAbout the author:“I’m Michael Brooks, or “teh.ingway” in some PC gaming circles and I have been playing PC games since around 1993. Most of my time is spent alpha and beta testing upcoming PC titles and while I have eccentric tastes, I always attempt to look at what is good and bad in a game. Outside of gaming I’m a studying physicist and full-time misanthrope.”

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