These old-school reboots are a funny thing. When they’re developed by the same teams who brought us the original 90’s versions, they end up sucking. The problem stems from a pressing need to modernize for current audiences, and that doesn’t bode well when 90’s first person shooters were about running forward, causing as much chaos and mayhem with as many weapons as possible. Sure, all we had for variation was colored keys for doors, super fast running speed, and twitch mechanics to keep up the action, but that’s all we needed. What we don’t need is a Halo style 2 weapons max system, sluggish controls, and corridor shooting. That’s the difference between a PC shooter, and a console shooter.
Creating a 90’s style shooter in the style of a console shooter doesn’t work. Thankfully, in the vein of Hard Reset and Serious Sam, two games Shadow Warrior references more than once, Flying Wild Hog hasn’t done that. They’ve created a 90’s style shooter for PC, and whilst they’ve notched down the sexualisation and controversy the original faced a tad, the gore, cheesiness, and style of gameplay remains largely the same. This is a reboot done right.
Slicing your way through crowds of humans and demons has never been more fun for Lo Wang, the games original and current protagonist. A Japanese Chinese-Japanese goof-ball and bodyguard for Zilla Enterprise, Wang is sent to obtain an ancient sword from a temple complex for the tidy sum of $2m. Before the deal could be accepted (or in this case rejected), demons spawn around Lo Wang, marking the setting for the rest of the game: slicing demons.
In true 90’s style, this isn’t a game about story – but it’s not a game without some depth. When I said that Shadow Warrior wasn’t in a rush to modernize, I didn’t mean they made no effort what-so-ever. Three upgrade trees mark Lo Wang’s combat progression, able to upgrade weapons, learn new skills, and improve his attacks in various ways through their own meta-upgrade trees. Arguably, the success of a 90’s shooter resided primarily in how interesting the weapons were. With many games running the same engines with a few sprite or voxel changes, things were a little samey other than the tools you had to do the job. Shadow Warrior does a pretty good job at throwing in some interesting weapons, but the primary mechanic – and the most fun – resides in the blade.
Lo Wang’s blade is another example of logical modernisation. Unfortunately, the player can’t choose which direction to slice in, but enemy models can be cut up into pieces very easily with strategic blows of the sword. This certainly beats hitting 90’s sprites with pixelated blood squirts until they fall like a sack of potatoes to the floor! Your movements are determined by the direction Lo Wang is planning his attack, since holding the right mouse button primes a powerful strike, and this is a bit of a shame since it’d be nice to have some Chivalry style control over the direction of the swipe.
That said, it’s easy and satisfying to dodge bladed human enemies or demons, laying down that perfect Samurai slice across their body, slicing them in half, even if you don’t get to pick the direction of the slice. Hitting for the head with the crosshair is a sure fire way to dismember their skulls, though. Although slicing is the most impressive combat mechanic, it doesn’t go as far as something like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, with many of the set pieces either invulnerable to slices, leaving a mark, or simply exploding. This seems like a bit of a shame, and a missed opportunity.
Alongside the explosives, demon weapons such as a heart that causes them to explode, and pistols you’d expect, there’s the crossbow. With an upgrade, you can prime it to deliver a powerful blow that’d explode almost any enemy, or for the costly sum of $4000, attack exploding bolts. I remember the first time I had a weapon that could pin people to walls in a videogame, and that, to me, as a child, was one of the greatest innovations in gaming. Pinning people’s heads to the wall. It made sense to include it here, and the variety of play-styles and attacks outside of the regular blade strikes makes this a dynamic game. You can carry as many weapons as possible, which is quite a big fuck-you to Duke Nukem: Forever, also a 3D Realms game.
If there’s one mechanical place Shadow Warrior falls short, it’s that movement speed feels dramatically reduced over the original. This is a common change in reboots and I guess it was to be expected, but there’s side-step strafing and a sprint which changes the FOV to something silly like 110 to make up for that. However, stamina reduces pretty quickly which forces you to slug it around looking for objectives quite slowly on some of the larger maps. That said, with super-explodable environments and a ton of different ways to kill the enemy, things never really get boring – which isn’t something you can say for 90’s shooters, typically played for an hour or so at a time back in the day.
Environments in Shadow Warrior are highly detailed, and there’s some fantastic art design here. This remains true for every level of the game, but after some time environments feel pretty samey – old Japanese temples, or streets and lakes with cherry blossoms are consistently pretty, but with the same enemies attacking you over and over again, in similar locations, it does feel a little as though Shadow Warrior is clawing away at your attention.
There are new enemies sprawled throughout the game, however, but I can’t shake the sensation that chopping up humans with Samurai swords felt much more tactile and enjoyable than mowing down hordes of demons which sort of just run at you. That’s personal taste, though, and it wouldn’t be a Shadow Warrior game without demons. Throughout the game, just to remind you, you’ll find quite a few easter-eggs to the original, such as the one on the right here.
Although this is a very pretty game, the graphical fidelity itself isn’t necessarily as high as you’d expect for the £29.99 price tag. It very much looks like an indie title, and in places it’s a little rough around the edges. Performance isn’t too hot on a high end system, with the game dipping to about 12fps inexplicably in places, but there are a lot of in depth graphics options for you to customize your set up.
With a great sense of humour that makes Lo Wang a cross between Dexter’s Masuka and South Park’s City Wok dude, Shadow Warrior has all the requisite features of a Shadow Warrior game, with sensible modernisation which doesn’t really impede player choice or combat. Use as many weapons as you want, enjoy a new upgrade feature, and slice your way through multi-directional sword combat, with a variety of tools at your disposal. It’s 90’s enough to make veteran PC gamers happy without bringing with it the host of problems that makes those titles feel so dated today.
Shadow Warrior is a little rough around the edges, and performance needs to be tidied up a little, but this is a sensibly crafted, fun filled, hilariously vicious adventure that’s worth it for fans of classic PC gaming, or anyone looking for a lethal romp.