Platform reviewed: PS4
Every so often, an experience comes along in this industry that simply doesn’t care that its mechanics are dated, or arguably “obsolete” by modern standards. These experiences thrive on the self-aware nature that they exhibit, and don’t shy away from attempting to make a statement that perhaps old-school isn’t necessarily a bad school. It’s a gamble to be sure, especially in the first-person shooter arena that has practically exploded with titles in the last decade or so that continually build upon more recent trends, rather than adhering to the past. This approach could yield something special like this year’s amazing Wolfenstein: the New Order, or something abhorrent, such as the abysmal Duke Nukem Forever. Thankfully, Shadow Warrior for the most part, belongs in the former’s camp.
A remake/reimagining of a PC shooter from 1997, Shadow Warrior puts you in the shoes of Lo Wang, a man working for the Zilla Corporation who has been tasked with the retrieval of an ancient katana by his employer. Things go South of course, and Wang eventually finds himself doing battle with dark, otherworldly beings in an effort to uncover the narrative’s secrets with the assistance of an ever-present, wise-cracking spirt named Hoji. If things sound a bit on the eccentric side, it’s because they are. Shadow Warrior makes no attempt to take itself seriously through its lengthy plot. The level of absurdity in the narrative begins from the offset with an amazing use of Stan Bush’s “The Touch” and continual quips made about the protagonist’s obviously perverse name, to then escalate to levels that would make even the most skilled Hollywood blockbuster director jealous. This is pure, unadulterated fun at its purest, and those looking to turn their brains off for around 15-20 hours can definitely find a lot to enjoy from Shadow Warrior’s insane plot.
Visually, Shadow Warrior isn’t the most impressive game I’ve witnessed thus far this generation. There are definitely some great uses of lighting, and the frame rate maintains itself fairly well for the most part. Character models and textures aren’t jaw dropping, but are excused a fair amount by the game’s art style that draws upon a variety of styles from Japanese flair to Brooding Demonic Influence. Not helping matters is the generic roster of baddies you’ll be bringing to heel. Human enemies generally feel very generic and similar to one another, and there are only several variations of the demonic enemies you’ll encounter, making the experience feel a bit stale as time goes on. It’s clear that Shadow Warrior may not have the budget that so many triple-A titles boast, but it makes a solid attempt to do what it can with the assets it has.
As previously mentioned, Shadow Warrior roots itself in the yesteryear of first-person shooters. There are no regenerating shields, twitch-based gameplay, or linear level design to be found here. Players are forced to scavenge for health packs and ammunition in order to survive against the demonic hordes, and find their own way around the larger, open levels that Shadow Warrior employs. It’s a breath of fresh air for older gamers, but there’s still a fair chance that one will get a bit lost from time to time, inciting potential frustration. There are secrets littered around the environments, rewarding players that love to stray off the beaten path, and this approach brings a sense of non-linearity to the experience.
Through it all however, it’s not the old-school approach that acts as Shadow Warrior’s claim to fame. Rather, it’s the impressive swordplay at work. Shadow Warrior boasts an impressive first-person sword combat mechanic that may leave the player forgetting that they have firearms at their disposal at times. It’s incredibly satisfying to cut through the demonic hordes, and with a straightforward upgrade system in place to add combos, abilities, and weapon improvements to the mix, confrontations remain fresh and fun for a fair amount of the experience. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the game’s campaign that I felt things beginning to run on fumes. Additionally, combos that Wang can unlock can get to be a cumbersome, as the game expects players to double-tap the left stick, and then hit a corresponding face button to execute a particular attack. They’re not necessarily difficult to master or pull off, but when enemies are swarming you and the action is hectic, you could easily find yourself foregoing combos in favor of feverishly mashing the right trigger inadvertently.
In conclusion, Shadow Warrior is a love letter to the PC first-person shooters of the 90’s. It’s a wild, blood-soaked ride that keeps you engaged for a fair while, but overstays its welcome over halfway in. Those looking to relive the glory days of more open and adventurous shooters need not hesitate to pick this one up.