Remember when first-person shooters were just about having a load of fun killing imaginative monsters with some crazy weapons? When people look back on this ‘90s era, the games that mostly come to people’s minds are the likes of Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem. But one game that isn’t mentioned enough is Shadow Warrior, a game that caused a lot of controversy upon its release due to its stereotyping of East Asian culture and society. These sorts of games seem to be few and far between in today’s videogame industry, but developer Flying Wild Hog wants to put a stop to that as they bring back Shadow Warrior in the form of a remake for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. So, is Shadow Warrior still as fun and interesting as it was back in 1997? Hell yes.
Shadow Warrior follows Lo Wang, a member of Zilla Enterprise who is ordered to purchase a legendary sword for his employers. This transaction goes south, but it is at this point Wang learns of the sword’s power and its connection to another realm. The main objective of Shadow Warrior is then formed, to recover the three pieces of this magical sword which will send the mythical monsters appearing within our own reality back to their realm. However Lo Wang is not alone in this journey as he is joined by Hoji, a spirit that was banished from the realm in question. Both Lo and Hoji are brilliantly directed and voice acted, as they share banter between each other which will have both them and the player laughing out loud. They’ll crack jokes, reference movies and generally approach everything with a light-hearted tone, which serves to make the game even more enjoyable. Despite the story sounding like a bit of a cliché on paper, it actually goes deeper than this and visits some very interesting locations, both within our world and the other realm. Shadow Warrior’s story is both interesting and fun to follow thanks to Lo and Hoji’s humour, and culminates in an ending that is far more intriguing than the player might have been expecting.
Lo Wang begins his quest with just a katana, but this weapon is easily one of the most enjoyable and satisfying to use in the game. Shadow Warrior is extremely gory, this is in part thanks to the katana and is perfectly demonstrated in the game’s very first level. Within the first ten minutes of firing up Shadow Warrior we had severed more limbs than we could possibly count, blood was everywhere and entrails were scattered all throughout the level. At first players will have access to a basic sword slash, a stronger charged attack and the ability to throw shurikens at incoming enemies, but more complex moves become available as you progress through the game. The combat is over-the-top in the most enjoyable way possible, and after every fight you’ll look back on the destruction you’ve caused with your mouth hanging open. Shadow Warrior’s sword combat is everything that Red Steel dreamed of.
Mr Wang will also pick up a few guns in his travels, including a revolver, SMG, crossbow, shotgun and a rocket launcher, along with a few others. You can switch between all these guns and the katana on the fly using the weapon wheel which allows for easy access to any weapon if you are stuck in a tight situation. Every gun has its own unique traits and each is useful in different situations, which made us the quick and easy to use weapon wheel even more. While the guns are all very useful, it is clear that the katana is the main attraction in Shadow Warrior, as so much work has been put into making it just a lot of fun to use.
The majority of Shadow Warrior’s seventeen chapters follow a very similar structure. You will be dropped into a level, fight waves of enemies as you progress through the mission and unlock doors by destroying colour-coded shrines which are hidden within the area of the locked door. There are some standout levels such as one where you have to blow up a ship, but generally most of the chapters have you do similar things, with only the location being different. Thankfully the boss fights make these levels worth slogging through, as they are very imaginative and have you do things that aren’t in the standard levels. Unfortunately this repetitive level structure really starts to drag the game down past the halfway mark, as we felt like we were just doing the same thing over and over again, with the only difference being a location change. We would like to have seen a new mechanic or two introduced within the latter half of Shadow Warrior to keep it fresh and engaging. Despite this, Shadow Warrior’s minute to minute gameplay is still so much fun, we’ve never felt more satisfied after cutting a monster’s head off and leaving its guts strewn across the floor.
Shadow Warrior has three separate upgrade trees, which all benefit different parts of Lo Wang. The powers and skill trees give Wang new sword moves, the ability to heal himself on the fly, powers that weaken enemy attacks and many more self-improvements. Along with these comes the weapons upgrade tree, which is funded by the money you collect throughout levels. Gun upgrades include extended barrels, increased damage and rate of fire, and weapon specific upgrades such as firebombs for the rocket launcher. The unique thing about Shadow Warrior’s upgrade trees is that they also affect Lo Wang cosmetically, in that each new upgrade will add a new tattoo to his body which is viewable in the pause screen. While you can’t actually see these tattoos within the game, they still look pretty cool when you go to pick your next upgrade.
Shadow Warrior’s graphics are a bit of a mixed bag, the big open environments particularly in later levels look stunning, but up close some enemy models and textures can look a bit dated. Unfortunately the technical issues don’t stop there: we suffered from occasional texture pop-in, sound randomly cutting out during cut scenes, and severe frame rate drops when there was a lot of enemies on screen in the PlayStation 4 version. The majority of the time Shadow Warrior runs smoothly at 60fps, which only makes the drops even more noticeable. Another annoyance are the load times between levels, which can last up to a minute. These can really suck you out of the experience if you’ve just finished a particularly enjoyable level, only to be greeted by a minute-long load screen. The game also loads during levels too, but these were never long enough to cause us any pain.
We finished Shadow Warrior in ten hours, at which point a new game+ option was unlocked where we could play through the game again on a harder difficulty with all our weapons, skills and powers in-tact. There aren’t any other modes in the game so we were grateful for the decent campaign length and the option of a second playthrough.
Shadow Warrior’s fun factor is off the charts, its swordplay is entertaining and the game’s story explores so much more than you might think at first glance. Repetitive level design and technical issues do hinder the experience somewhat and make the later levels a bit of a drag, but then Lo Wang and Hoji will crack a joke and everything is almost forgiven. If you’re looking for humour and a bucket load of fun in this busy gaming period, then look no further than Shadow Warrior.