I’m not a terribly huge fan of first person shooters, but every so often a special exception comes along that I simply have to indulge. The new Shadow Warrior, developed by Flying Wild Hog, is one such exception, and for many good reasons (but not as many as there are Wang jokes, which is reason number one).
Shadow Warrior plays out through seventeen chapters. The majority of them consist of Lo Wang slaughtering his way through hapless demons with his wise cracking pal, Hoji. His quest is to obtain a powerful sword called the Nobitsura Kage, but it is also sought out by shadow beings and megalomaniacs. It might not be contender for video game narrative of the year, but I thought the tale of Shadow Warrior had some cool moments. Overall, it’s a ludicrous, sword swinging action game.
The trail of guts spills through a beautiful range of settings. These stretch from lush Japanese gardens, to graveyards, industrial shipyards, frost-bitten mountaintops, and alternate worlds. Just for a bit of fun, there are plenty of barrels, glass cases, and cars for you to destroy. Some of these are useful for damaging enemies in battle, so you should keep an eye out for them. The other stuff is just for fun.
There is the occasional boss battle to break up the game. These pit Lo Wang in a show down against giant suits of demonic armour. They’re an absolute blast, but they’re also a bit repetitive. The method of defeating them is the same for each; you shoot bit of their armour and then shot the weak points underneath them. Other major confrontations are rather disappointing. They end only with a short cut-scene where an epic battle could have been fought. One example is late in the game where I was sure an awesome swordsman duel was about to ignite, but it was over in a single cut-scene where the game did the attacking for me.
Shadow Warrior offers a small selection of weaponry for when you want to mix things up. What the game lacks in numbers, it makes up for with variation. Each weapon is unique from the others, and you get the fun of totting them all around at the same time. Weapons can be upgraded using the money Lo Wang picks up during his shenanigans. The prices vary, and weapons you obtain later on usually cost more. Most upgrades are simple increases on stats, such as fire rate and damage. The most interesting upgrades are the secondary fire mode that each weapon can use by pressing the right mouse button. These range from duel wielding PDWs, to guided rockets, and sticky bombs.
The flaw of Shadow Warrior’s weaponry is that until you obtain the right upgrades they tend to be quite boring. Compared to the katana, the other weapons just don’t have the same blood-pumping sensation at first. With upgrades taking time to acquire, it may mean that some weapons will fall by the wayside.
The katana is the crown jewel of Shadow Warrior. The greatest source of pleasure the game provides is in slicing through hordes of demons. When ammo is low the sword can always be counted on. Lo Wang’s trusty blade is capable of using area of effect and ranged attacks. Enemies fall into bloody pieces as they get hacked apart. It’s gratuitously violent and unrealistic, but it’s so awesome that just watching the mess unfold each battle is half the fun of the game. The katana is the glue that holds the game’s intense combat together.
Aside from money, Shadow Warrior offers karma which is used to buy skills. The katana attacks are the most attractive skills to unlock early, but outside them there’s a wide range of handy supplements. There are also ki crystals which buy powers. These include the vital healing and the power to suspend enemies in mid-air. The powers are activated using fighting game style button presses. This can often mean you’ll fail to pull off the move when demons are swarming you.
Shadow Warrior offers a menagerie of monsters for Lo Wang to slice his way through. At first they come in simple melee and missile varieties, but the difficulty increases as new demons with special abilities – like shields and cloaking – start to appear. Battles will require different tactics depending on what kind of demons fill the horde. They certainly provide more of a gripping fight than gangs of funny talking non-Americans. Enemies have weak points which you can attack in order to put them down swiftly. While for early demons this involves trusty head shots, other enemy aren’t so obvious. Some demons know to take a beating, and you can find yourself wasting a lot of ammo. This means you’ll be falling back on the katana a lot.
Shadow Warrior scores you out of five for each battle. To get the higher scores you must slay the demons with a variety of combos. Getting good scores give you karma bonus which can go to purchasing new skills.
Unless you discover every secret, or get five stars from every fight, the likelihood is that you will not be able to unlock every upgrade. I actually don’t mind this one bit. It makes picking upgrades feel like a real choice. I spent plenty of time in the menu genuinely asking myself whether I would get any use out of a certain power. Perfectionists however might find it irritating.
Shadow Warrior is a mostly linear game, but it does offer little detours to discover secrets. The sweetest thing of all is that beside the secrets that give money and karma there are little nods to unveil. It encourages players to search every blood-stained corner of the level in the hopes of finding something awesome.
Shadow Warrior is a bit of a rough blade though. There are a couple of frustrations to deal with. My biggest gripe is with the fall damage, which I felt was ridiculously overblown. There were times when Lo Wang would dash down a small incline and flat out die upon hitting the ground. That’s with full health, mind you. For a game which feels old school in so many ways it does lack some vertical game-play, which would have added to the thrilling action. Instead however, I avoided jumping out of the fear Lo Wang might stumble and take damage, or worse.
Leading from this is the issue of the death pits. When it’s obvious what will kill you, like chasms, that’s acceptable, but when jumping into innocent looking pools of water slaughters Lo Wang in an instant it becomes hard to forgive. With so many secrets in Shadow Warrior it’s unfair to kill people for taking a peek in a place that to their eyes looked perfectly safe.
At the end of the day, these are minor niggles in Shadow Warrior’s parade of carnage. It’s an action packed thrill ride from start to finish. Even though Shadow Warrior is unrefined around the edges its combat is sharp. If enjoying bloody destruction is immature, then I don’t care much for growing up. If you’re interested in picking up this title you can buy it from the official website for $39.00, or from gog.com and steam for similar prices. If there’s one FPS you play this year, it should be this.