Shadow Warrior PC review
The 90s FPS classic is back in rebooted form, but should you still not mess with Lo Wang?
Back in the 90s the first person shooter was galvanised by a selection of critically important titles that spearheaded the genre's rise into the massively popular slice of gaming it is today. Without these titles there'd be no Call of Duty, Battlefield or even Half Life, and we owe a lot to these ground-breaking releases.
We all know the importance of the likes of Doom and Quake, as well as the excellent Duke Nukem 3D, which took the genre into a less serious, but also more technically proficient place, but there were other, arguably less well known titles that also graced the FPS genre. Rise of the Triad was one such title, which has recently been brought back into the fold (see our review), and another is Shadow Warrior.
Coming from the same company behind Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior was, essentially, Duke Nukem 3D with a far eastern skin applied. Duke was replaced by Lo Wang, an intentionally clichéd martial arts master who spouted one liners whilst slicing through foes with his katana and blasting them away with a range of high-powered weapons. The game's style was almost identical to Duke 3D, only with far more gore. It was a great game that expanded on the Build engine established by Duke 3D, whilst keeping the gameplay so demanded by gamers at the time.
It's been a while, but now Lo Wang is back in a reboot of the title, and like Rise of the Triad, this is a reboot that aims to preserve the classic 90s-style FPS action, mixing it in with a dash of modern day tech and enhancements.
This new Shadow Warrior, developed by Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digtal still stars Lo Wang as the hero, although this incarnation is a younger, more contemporary version of the wise-cracking warrior. He still spouts cheesy dialogue, but the whole tone of Wang and the game in general is far more modern.
In this game, Wang is in the employ of Zilla Indentures and is sent to buy an ancient sword. However, what should be an simple transaction soon turns into an all-out battle, and Wang finds himself involved in a much larger plot involving demons and ancient gods.
As with the original title, melee combat is featured thanks to Wang's expertise with the katana sword. In fact, here melee is far more of a focus, and Lo Wang has a range of powerful special abilities, and skills he can use whilst wielding a sword, and these are complemented by his range of firearms.
Using button combinations Wang can execute a selection of special attacks alongside normal light and heavy slashes, including powerful thrusts, spinning attacks and shockwave launching swipes. These abilities are learned using the game's power up system. You earn Karma points as you fight and progress (as well as finding special items), and ki crystals can be found in the levels. Karma points are used to unlock stat-buffing skills like more health, fire resistance, extra damage and so on, whilst ki crystals are used to learn new skills, such as the aforementioned sword attacks. Along the way you also find money, which you use to buy enhancements for your weapons, such as laser sights, sticky bomb crossbow bolts and a quad-barrel for the shotgun.
There's a god deal of skills and buffs to learn, and the range of combat skills can turn Wang into a veritable whirlwind of spinning steel. This is fortunate, as the game doesn't shy away from assaulting you with legions of foes, which you can use said skills on.
Although there's not a great deal of enemy variety here, with rank and file demons forming the bulk of your opposition, the game does posses some challenging foes with unique attacks and defences. These foes require the use of special tactics and weapons, and in order to prevail you'll need to master all of Wang's arsenal, especially his sword.
This combat flexibility and opponents that take some beating makes the game challenging, but the overall design suffers from an over-reliance of enclosed, often very telegraphed battles. Shadow Warrior's levels are littered with fights that funnel you into arena-style fights that seal you into an enclosed space and force you to fight waves of foes in order to progress.
Now, this is hardly a unique tactic, and many games use this method with decent results. The problem here is that the game relies too much on it to create a challenge. Rather than possess levels that challenge with cleverly designed obstacles and balanced battles, the title simply drowns you in masses of foes, sometimes locking you in with so many foes at once that the action can slow down to a slideshow if you've not got a ninja PC to handle it. This is especially apparent when you go up against creatures that can summon an endless wave of minions. After a while, there's a very real risk of things becoming tiresome, and one 90s trope I could do without is the old find the key for the locked door mechanic. Seriously, do we still need this kind of padding?
Fortunately, there's not a great deal more at fault with the game, save for a strange default key setup that uses X for iron sights, and RMB for alternate sword attacks. Although this makes sense when using a sword, it's far too unwieldy when using ranged weapons, and using standard WSAD movement makes aiming using iron sights almost impossible, as this is a game that requires constant movement and circle strafing. You can change key bindings, but it would be far better if the game used RMB for alternate sword attacks when holding a blade, and then switched it to iron sight aiming automatically when holding a gun.
You got Wang
Unlike the reboot of Rise of the Triad, which diligently attempted to preserve no-frills classic FPS play, Shadow Warrior isn't afraid to update itself with more modern gaming conventions, and on the whole, it works. This is a visually attractive and fairly polished release that incorporates some interesting melee FPS combat with a rewarding upgrade system and some tough challenges. It's not all old school, thanks to the more contemporary design and structure, but it's heavy on twitch-centric action, so should please veteran FPS fans regardless. And yes, it's a far, far better return than stable-mate Duke Nukem's now infamous resurrection, and unlike the king's recent revival, this is well worth a punt.
Shadow Warrior can be grabbed from Steam, Humble or GOG.com.
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