GAME NAME: Shadow Warrior
DEVELOPER(S): Flying Wild Hog
PUBLISHER(S): Devolver Digital
PLATFORM(S): PC (Steam, GOG.com)
GENRE(S): FPS, Action
RELEASE DATE(S): September 26th, 2013
Ah, Shadow Warrior. The original game was basically Duke Nukem 3D in an Asian setting, where you were placed in the role of a ninja janitor and the perfect amalgamation of action heroes and Japanese stereotypes. Bad taste aside, it was a right romp of a shooter which left many ’90s PC gamers with fond memories. Now, Flying Wild Hog have been kind enough to treat us with a re-imagining, but the question remains: who wants some Wang?
A good sensei humour
The main protagonist, the rather crudely-named Lo Wang (ha ha) has been given a makeover. Here, rather than being an elderly janitor, he is a young and more insecure assassin who is an avid comic book collector and aspiring warrior. While on a mission from his corporate boss to retrieve an ancient sword of mystical proportions, he is quickly sucked into a wild adventure involving living dolls and bloodthirsty demons. Although the plot is paper-thin, it’s a bit more nuanced than its predecessor and can be intriguing in parts, especially due to the incorporation of Japanese mythology.
Like the original, there is an element of humour, albeit it slightly toned-down and with less reliance on stereotypes this time around. It is of the mostly immature variety, with lots of toilet references and vulgarities. Lo Wang is not your enlightened martial arts practitioner, but a lovably foul-mouthed jerk with an insatiable blood lust and sadistic streak.
The game is unabashedly old-school and takes several cues from FPS’s of bygone eras. We all know what a risky business this is; one only needs to point to Duke Nukem Forever and the Rise of the Triad remake as examples of the dangers of trying to make ’90s shooters appeal to modern gamers. Shadow Warrior, however, pulls it off quite tactfully. Relics such as key-hunting and switch-puzzles are present but toned-down and infrequent so as to not to give the game a dated feel. Lo Wang, likewise, can carry an insane amount of weaponry, as though he had a Tardis for a backpack, in addition to the various moves and skills he learns.
I call Shogun
That’s right; taking a cue from their previous FPS Hard Reset, Flying Wild Hog have incorporated a slight RPG angle. The world is littered with money, which the player uses to buy upgrades for their weapons, or, if in dire straits, purchase ammo in a hurry. Alternative firing modes are also purchasable items, which is a slight annoyance but acceptable. Another annoyance is the fact that the player is required to hold down the right mouse button to activate akimbo Uzis, but this doesn’t detract too much from the game’s overall enjoyment.
Besides money, players can earn “karma”, which is rewarded to them by stringing together combos and special moves during fights, or by uncovering some of the game’s many secrets. Karma can be spent on learning new mêlée moves, heightening Lo Wang’s base health, multiplying the amount of damage he puts out or increasing the likelihood of bonuses appearing. Finally, a third form of currency appears in the form of “ki”, obtainable by finding hidden crystals. Ki is used towards augmenting Wang’s fighting with new, supernatural powers such as slamming the ground and sending forth a stream of mystical energy that incapacitates enemies.
This game is far more focused on sword fights that in the original 1997 title. I often found myself resorting to the trusty old blade when cornered, and quite frankly, the moves are a lot more impressive than just endless shooting. These frantic firefights, with the hordes of enemies and combinations of guns, swords and magic, make the combat insane-yet-satisfying. It almost has a button-masher quality to it, and it encourages the player to apply more thought in their fancy fighting styles.
For goodness’ Saké
Unfortunately, this title stumbles over itself in a few respects. Probably the most gaping fault is the omission of a multiplayer mode. While it can be argued that a singleplayer-only game is more focused, Shadow Warrior’s crazy combat and weapons would have lent themselves perfectly to some arena-style deathmatching, and the lack of its inclusion seems like a wasted opportunity. Speaking of arenas, sometimes the level design feels a bit uninspired and consists of little more than connected boxes with ridiculously long “dead spots” in-between.
Presentation-wise, the game is a loving and delightful rendition of Japanese locations mixed in with modern industry and fantasy. Bamboo mazes are not uncommon and many of the locations are saturated with crimson aftertones. As for the sound, the music takes obvious oriental inspirations to capture the game’s atmosphere near-flawlessly, while the occasional death metal track during enemy fights help cement the game’s hardcore attitude. Voice acting is decent and doesn’t sound like a parody as in the first game, while Lo Wang’s quips are funny and infrequent enough so as not to get on the player’s nerves. Finally, enemies are standard b-grade monsters, though the inclusion of Asian attires makes them feel perfectly in place within the game’s setting.
Shadow Warrior is living proof that a remake can be done right. It’s certainly not flawless, but the way it skilfully weaves together old and new FPS conventions is something to admire. Fans of the original will love it and the younger generation will be pulled in, too. Forget realism and forget battling your mates; this game is the solo, brainless FPS guilty pleasure you’ve been waiting for.