Wot I Think: Shadow Warrior

By Adam Smith on September 26th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.

This was unexpected. I was willing to believe that bringing Lo Wang back was a good idea but far from sure of it. Two days of carnage later, I’m convinced. The biggest problem with the Shadow Warrior reboot is that it isn’t a Blood reboot because if Caleb ever does return to our screens, he’s probably not going to do it in this much style. Here’s wot I think.

Flesh slides apart, splitting at the lines traced by Lo Wang’s katana. Limbs pirouette through the air like distressed ballerinas, Black Swan’s painting oozing red slugs of viscera in the air. Heads topple from shoulders and the last demon, its remaining hand held up in surrender, limps and cringes, surrounded by the remnants of its allies. Shadow Warrior is excessively gory and I find its brand of ultraviolence fantastically entertaining.

It’s the bloodiest game I’ve played for a good while, but even on the rare occasions that enemies are human rather than demonic, the dismemberment has a slapstick quality. It’s a claret-covered Looney Tunes cartoon, in the style of Evil Dead 2 or Jackson’s Braindead. That’s a mark that many modern games miss, or refuse to aim at, and it’s the first reassurance that this is a reboot that understands the appeal of its predecessor. I also think it’s a better Serious Sam game than Serious Sam 3, despite never reaching the scale of the series and despite the fact that I liked Serious Sam 3.

Here are a few of the things about Shadow Warrior that work well and conjure up memories of the glorious nineties.

Killing bad guys is fun! In the nineties, we were usually supposed to kill the things in computer games without thinking about it too much and without regretting it at all. I forget that because these days, even when I’m playing games about atrocious hell-monsters, moral dilemmas occasionally hit me in the face and the reward for my gleeful clicking is images of horrific suffering. When I chop a monster into messes, I don’t want its grieving widow to billow into view, holding out a tear-stained invitation to the closed casket funeral.

That sort of thing has its place but I’m incredibly pleased that Shadow Warrior unashamedly revels in carnage, rarely feeling the need to explain or to question. Mostly, the plot speeds along like a deranged buddy movie (Wang’s buddy is a camp demon that has attached itself to him), with only the occasional detour into mythology that threatens to suck the energy out of proceedings. I don’t care about the backstory or sad memory-golems because when I am being told about these things I am not dancing through the armies of darkness, a death-dealing dervish with a sharp-steeled circumference.

Secrets! Yes, number two on the list of things that Shadow Warrior does (mostly) well are secret areas. They usually contain one of the three upgrade resources and the best ones will have a retro reference or two. I found the subway station from the original Shadow Warrior’s opening level behind a wall, which I naturally blew up by shooting a barrel. Not a modern recreation of it but the original thing, with giant pixelated walls and a train texture that is almost identical to a wall texture. There are also sprites hidden in the game – dead characters, in their old-fashioned form, ripped straight from the Build engine.

I thought I was the best at finding secrets. It’s a forgotten skill in this sort of game and I figured I was one of the few who still had it. Smugly collecting hidden stashes of money and karma, I was always dismayed and impressed that I’d found an average of three out of eleven or so on each level. It’s a game worth exploring a second time. My hint? Shoot everything. Do that anyway, the first time. There’s a reason you have so many bullets.

There’s a negative side to the secrets and it ties into the upgrade system. I don’t like missing secrets because it means I’m missing out on upgrades and quite often, finding a hidden cache simply means walking in the wrong direction. Given two corridors, one will lead to the next stage and the other will lead to a dead-end with a prize hidden in it. There are smarter examples but I did feel like efficiency was being punished at times.

Swords! This ties back to ‘killing bad guys is fun’. Killing them with guns and crossbows is fine, but killing them with a sword is better. Any sort of weapon will make them fall to pieces but it’s good to see that process up close and personal. The shotgun is handy on that count as well, being effective over a range of about a metre as shotguns should be, but it comes relatively late in the game.

Swordfighting isn’t complicated. At first, I was irritated by the lack of a parry or block button, but I quickly realised I was thinking wrong. Shadow Warrior is like a racing game that really doesn’t need a button for the brakes. There are, initially, two types of attack, a charged chop that splits enemies down the middle and the standard slashes, which build into simple combos.

Later, there are upgrades, many of which add new katana abilities. I wanted all of the upgrades and even enjoyed the beautiful menu screens for each of the three types. They either show gun models, painted scrolls or Wang’s tattooed body (but not wang). Guns require cash and the other two are filled in using one of two types of spiritual currency. Each has several mini skill trees associated with it and there are a wide range of powers available, either passive or activated using a double push in a certain direction and a click of one of the mouse buttons. Forward, forward, LMB charges the katana for a powered forward thrust, for example, and sideways twice followed by LMB performs a whirling attack, striking in every direction. The latter is particularly brilliant. There is little more pleasurable than running into a group of demons, shrugging off their blows, guns holstered, and decapitating six or seven simultaneously.

Explosions! Is there a car, motorbike, barrel or crate of fireworks nearby? You’ll definitely want to shoot at it. Often, a single well-placed bullet will cause a chain reaction of destruction and chaos, ripping an entire street or room to pieces and leaving every once-living thing charred and ruined. If anything stumbles from the wreckage, pop a bullet between its eyes or prepare to slice and dice. A variety of killings in any given area provides a greater karma reward. That is how karma works. Yes.

Characters and humour! Oh, wait, this is the bad bit, but thankfully it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Lo Wang is still called Lo Wang, which says a lot about the sort of funny bone the jokes are aimed at. A few of the more unfortunate Fortune Cookies aside, there’s little to raise either eyebrows or smiles. I appreciated some of the posters hanging around the world, with their sly allusions, but I laughed more at the violence than the dialogue.

In fairness, I grew to like Lo Wang by the third chapter or so. He’s a hired killer, sure, but there’s a slightly naïve and sympathetic quality to him, even when he’s dripping with entrails. Aside from the demon companion – a lightweight Darkness with a whinging voice that doesn’t come close to Mike Patton’s possessed performance – there are few other spoken parts and I’d prefer the game with less story altogether. Go here, kill that, pick up a new sword, kill something bigger. That’s all it needs.

Environments! There’s less variety than I would have liked but I like the look of the world. It’s mostly a series of arenas, connected by tight corridors of bamboo or graves, but there’s a consistency to the design, part cartoon, part reality. The strength of the layouts is that they allow for large amounts of enemies in tight spaces, encouraging swordplay but rewarding varied combat techniques. Larger monstrosities drag Lo Wang toward them even as he fends off their minions, and switching to a shotgun and blowing their arms off during the approach doesn’t stop being amusing, even after twelve hours.

The Build engine games – particularly Duke Nukem 3D, Blood and Shadow Warrior – occupied more of my teenage time than id’s first-person slaugherfests, despite hours upon hours spent with Quake and Doom. The three games mentioned were full of borrowed catchphrases, and playful takes on pop culture and genre movies, but despite the spoofing and mockery, they were also creating levels that resembled reality. The opening levels of all three took place somewhere that I recognised, at least vaguely: a cinema, a train station and a funeral home (I was a morbid youngster).

That familiarity was a huge part of their charm, as was the interactivity of the environments. Granted, ‘interactivity’ mostly meant you could have a wee, flush a toilet and blow everything up, but it was gratifying to leaving a mark on the world. A step toward convincing the player that the avatar had solidity and presence, even if that presence was directed toward violence and destruction.

The new Shadow Warrior, thankfully, demonstrates a fine understanding of these things. Its environments are sensible, if simple, and most of the objects scattered across them explode, shatter or burn. It’s a game about inflicting harm on everything on the screen and by concentrating on that experience, without the distraction of puzzles or platforming, Flying Hog have captured a great deal of what was special about early first-person shooters.

There are complexities to master, particularly in the karma reward system, but combat doesn’t change a great deal throughout. Monsters that can resurrect the dead need to be targeted before the rest and flying enemies require a few sharp shots, but Shadow Warrior is the same game at the end as it was at the beginning. For me, playing over a couple of days, it did become repetitive, but only toward the end of the story. I’d rather that than forced puzzle sections, added to extend the length and add the spectre of variety, or more of the boss fights that are the most tedious encounters.

Completely against my expectations, I can’t think of a first-person shooter I’ve enjoyed more this year. Owing as much of a debt to Serious Sam as to the game that it takes its name from, Shadow Warrior rarely pauses for breath. In fact, it rarely changes pace at all. Wang’s movement seemed erratic to me at first, too fast and slippery, but I soon realised that I had it all wrong. Other games are too slow. When there are this many demons to kill and so many ways to kill them, it’s better to move fast and to carry a big sword. Job done.

Shadow Warrior is available today.

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66 Comments »

  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Oh goody. Wasn’t expecting much, like yourself, so this is a lovely surprise!

  2. Deathmaster says:

    So… a 7 on the Wang-o-Meter?

  3. Abendlaender says:

    How difficult is this game? Hard Reset was…..hard. Too hard for me on the higher difficulty settings, so I’m curious how this is.

    • Adam Smith says:

      I played through on normal to make sure I could finish before embargo since I’ve had a busy couple of days. There are tough moments later on but nothing too difficult. Played the first few chapters on insane and it’s fearsome. Needs proper and timely use of powers from an early point. Never found normal at all frustrating. Insane would be on a first attempt, I reckon.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        More importantly, does it have the same problem where you have to completely restart the game when trying to switch difficulty?

      • maximiZe says:

        I would really appreciate if the difficulty/difficulties the author played on were always mentioned right in the text.

        • Adam Smith says:

          Good point. I tend to play on the setting above whatever is ‘normal’ on a first play through of anything action-based. But when there’s limited time before a review embargo, I’ll play on normal so as not to spend too much time replaying sections, and then go back in and try a harder difficulty if possible.

    • romXXII says:

      I’m currently playing both Hard Reset and Shadow Warrior on the second-to-the-highest difficulty. Hard Reset is definitely more unforgiving.

    • Harlander says:

      How does it compare to the difficulty of the original Shadow Warrior (which I found really, really hard – much harder than Duke Nukem 3D, for example)?

  4. MuscleHorse says:

    And here I was ready to self-flagellate over my drunken pre-ordering of this. Glad it lives up to the silliness of the trailers. That you compare it to Evil Dead 2 and Braindead has made me very excited to go into this tonight.

  5. derbefrier says:

    yay! I too was hoping this would turn out good and from the sound of it it has. Iooks like my weekend will be full of wang!

  6. Alien.Nated says:

    How does this hold up in comparison to CoJ Gunslinger ?
    Normally I’m not big on fps but Gunslinger was really a bloody good time. I hadn’t had that much fun in an fps in like forever. If this evokes similar feelings of unadultered joy I’d be down with it.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Only had time to play the first hour or so of Gunslinger, but that’s the one shooter I was thinking of that would definitely challenge had I played it all.

      • Alien.Nated says:

        Alright right ‘en gonna get my hands on this.
        You should really get back to Gunslinger sometime, totally worth it !

        • Kobest says:

          Wholeheartedly agreed. I had so much, unexpected fun with CoJ: Gunslinger that I easily maxed out the game (arcade levels, new game plus, etc.) without ever feeling bored.

          • dE says:

            Another endorsement from me. That game… I can’t stand the wild west and its tropes, the movies they bore me to death. Especially those held in high regard in this genre, make me cringe. Against my own judgement, I bought the game when friends went raving mad over it. I actually can now stand wild west. I can now respect it, yeah… that’s actually fairly decent. I liked it.
            Which is, given my distaste of the genre, nothing short of a miracle.

          • Cybert says:

            I loved Gunslinger, the story, gameplay, and sound are all wild west themed, but making it so that you don’t even have to pull back the hammer on a revolver removes the entire point of the game part taking place in the wild west, even dynamite explodes WAY to early, making it a standard grenade.

  7. Jack_Dandy says:

    Hey, this actually sounds pretty good. Will look into it.

  8. CelticPixel says:

    Oh thank god, an unexpected surprise to get me through the great gaming drought of autumn/winter 2013. Purchased.

  9. GallonOfAlan says:

    I really wish someone would do Blood. Even a source port would do.

  10. Mbaya says:

    “Granted, ‘interactivity’ mostly meant you could have a wee, flush a toilet and blow everything up, but it was gratifying to leaving a mark on the world.”

    Is that the same excuse you give when you piddle on the toilet seat at home and the missus has a go at you? (Hmm, that has made me think…toilet seats in games are rather clean considering you can rarely raise and lower the seats themselves).

    Sounds like a fun and enjoyable game…think I’ll add it to the list after I get around to Far Cry Blood Dragon.

    • dextronaut says:

      why would you add it to the list then? why dont you “add it to the list” now?
      Pretty late there with Blood Dragon dontcha think? Though to tell you the truth, Ive wanted to play it to, AND i have it downloaded, but havent gotten around to installing it.
      But play Shadow Warrior first. It’s amazing.

  11. Utsunomiya says:

    What’s up with the games using the word “karma” for collectible resourse? Really?
    Why don’t you go around acquiring Divine Grace? Or parts of the Body of Christ?
    Because it’s fucking stupid, that’s why!
    Oh, and by the way, it’s great that the game’s fun! Preordering right about now.

    • jorygriffis says:

      I agree that using “karma” in this way is total bullshit, but part of the idea of karma is that it’s a natural part of the way the universe works; a practical result of an all-encompassing universal force of cause and effect. So while it’s bullshit it at least makes a tiny bit more sense than those specifically religious powerups would.

      That said, it’d be funny/nice to see more games that fuck with Christian themes…

    • chargen says:

      Sweet! It would be called Sanctifier, rated E for Everyone.
      “The Scripture”: Dual pistols
      “Eucharist”: Shotgun
      “The One True Cross”: Rocket Launcher
      “His Mercy”: BFG

      You collect Divine Grace by forgiving (press f to forgive) the chunks of bodies you have gibbed. Also by helping the sick, the poor, and the elderly (press v to give water) and maligning others’ biological urges (press g to shame).

    • binkbenc says:

      Katakarma

    • Bisyss says:

      Or parts of the Body of Christ?

      Only if it means that I can shoot my fingernails at people. And make reaching manga references…

  12. Potajito says:

    I don’t know why people were so pessimistic towards this. This is from the people that brought Hard Reset, I thought that was mostly praised.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Hard Reset had a few distinct strengths and a few distinct weaknesses. I guess the big question was whether they’d kept the first and learned from the latter.

  13. Kobest says:

    I cannot wait to play the shit out of this game. I’m so happy that they brought back the fun ol’ FPSes, in fact, I would argue that 2013 was one of the greatest years of really enjoyable FPSes (Blood Dragon, CoJ: Gunslinger, Shadow Warrior, the new RoTT…).

  14. Lagwolf says:

    I thought Hard Reset was pretty rubbish. However, I have to say that they did well with this game Shadow Warrior. I have a few niggles with it, but very minor compared to some of the other first person games that have come out of late. It is a great game at a reasonable price.

    Oh yes and you don’t have to rely on annoying checkpoints if you don’t wise to. Like the original you can actually save where ever you damn well please.

  15. jorygriffis says:

    Completely serious question: How embarassingly offensive is it, all things considered? The trailers don’t look too bad but I wasn’t sure whether to trust that.

    • Adam Smith says:

      The Fortune Cookies have some naff innuendos and one has a ‘soap in the prison shower’ gag. Otherwise, it tends toward silly, occasionally endearingly so. It’s embarrassing in a ‘caught watching a daft film’ sort of way rather than an offensive one, if that makes sense.

  16. the_old_pk says:

    I am glad to hear/read that this turned out so well. I had very bad expectations and thus did not make the preorder jump.

  17. Creeping Death says:

    After Rezzed this was the game I was most excited about. Glad to hear the final product is just as good as what I played there.

  18. cpt_freakout says:

    Ok guys, since no one is doing this…

    WANGFACE

  19. AlienMind says:

    How is Multiplayer? Any LAN?

  20. strangeloup says:

    This sounds really fun, but I’ve got to admit I’m not entirely sold at the £30 price point, even with a few quid off for launch. At £20 I’d have a punt, though.

    • Maritz says:

      That was a major plus point for CoJ Gunslinger when it came out: I picked it up for only £12 on release. This looks like it could have benefitted from a similarly aggressive price. I’ll get it when it hits sub £20 I reckon.

    • Abtacha says:

      You can get it at http://shadowwarrior.com/ via the Humble Store for $35.99, that puts it pretty close to £20.
      That way you’ll also get both a DRM free copy and a Steam key.

    • zakihashi says:

      The prices on this game confuses me. My steam tells me
      -10%
      24,99€
      22,49€ This is the price.

      Steamprices.com tells me the price is
      € 34.99 € 31.49 » $ 42.68 (+18.59%)

  21. dirtrobot says:

    So refreshing to fight monsters who have melee attacks! And how could I have known I missed exploring for secrets and items. VO is surprisingly good. No bugs (yet), sword play and powers are fun – a solid 8 so far.

  22. Spacewalk says:

    OH LOOK, YOU COMING APART.

  23. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    I think I want this game.

  24. Nim says:

    Ok, I was initially very grumpy about this title but now I feel like I have to at least check it out.

  25. Nortros says:

    You mentioned that the game owes much to Serious Sam. Could you clarify in what respect? Does it have the same encounter design, i.e. enter room/doors close/kill all monsters/doors open, or just the same pacing or the same amount of enemies?

    • Teyaric says:

      Its a MUCH more tightly confined experience than Serious Sam, Wang uses a nifty quick-dash mechanism you can spam for getting around a medium range of space in incredible time, so that tight space is actually a lot more flexible than it looks – Like a thresher obstacle course.

      It shows hints of bringing FPS closer to Character Action games, at times.

      • Nortros says:

        Thanks for the answer that sounds nice already. Could you tell me more about the encounter/level design? Is the player forced to kill every monster in each room before he/she can advance or is he/she free to roam the level with only obstacles? Because, whilst I do like Serious Sam and Hard Reset, I prefer the more open level design of Doom/Quake.

        • ViktorBerg says:

          People shouldn’t compare it to Serious Sam. It’s Painkiller in China with Ki powers, through and through. The level design is not stellar, and usually some of the bigger fights are arenas that you have to clear out to proceed. Granted, it’s definitely not a boring experience. The aforementioned dash is both an extremely useful and a very fun ability, giving you the maneuverability to position yourself in the most advantageous ways.

          Also, surprisingly, I loved the story. It’s not apparent at first, but the narrative gradually picks up throughout the game, with several small culmination points through the first and second thirds of the game, only to reach an emotional climax all throughout the third part, with a finale that… I think I got something in my eye.

          • JakobBloch says:

            Tears? really. Next thing you tell me it is going to rain.

            I enjoyed the story as well. There were holes here and there and some lost opportunities but as a whole I was into it. The mythology sucked me right in.

          • Nortros says:

            Thanks for the answer. In this case, I will probably wait until it is a bit cheaper as I really dislike this kind of level design.

          • ix says:

            I am extremely confused since it looks really fun to me (I only ever played the demo of the original) but I don’t like either Serious Sam or Painkiller (I find them both quite “empty” feeling). Are they bringing out a demo any time soon?

  26. MaryRCobb says:

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    last month her pay was $14500 just working on the laptop for a few hours. this article ……

    http://www.jobs53.com

  27. phylum sinter says:

    My vote for best WIT for 2013 so far.

    Idea: RPS writers awards (do those happen?)

  28. HattieTWilliams says:

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  29. HattieTWilliams says:

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  30. Delicieuxz says:

    Large secrets should make a game more challenging, not easier. Otherwise, how can someone access them without deflating the game experience for them? It means that people taking on the game head-on have to avoid them in order to keep the game’s chosen level of challenge up – which is contrary to the drive to dominate everything within a game. Secrets are wanted to be found and exploited, but that isn’t wanted to diminish the rest of the game, which is what powerful bonuses do.

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