If asked for a game that (positively) surprised me quite a lot recently i would mention “Shadow Warrior” by Flying Wild Hog Studios as my absolute number one. This game is an awesome re-boot and also an homage to the identically titled shooter from 3D Realms back in 1997. If that has been your era of gaming and if you’re looking for a shooter that aims for simple, sometimes extremely stupid fun while not taking itself serious as much as modern games, just keep reading on!
You’ve got the touch
Same as in the original, Shadow Warrior puts you in the role of Lo Wang, self-proclaimed ninja and hired assassin – which also happens to be equipped with quite the huge ego and a bad mouth to boot. It won’t take you very long to realize that this game is by no means as serious as any modern-day shooter. Give yourself 5 min. and you’ll find yourself slashing through tons of baddies using a Katana, featuring lots of gore and many dark moments where the protagonist adds insult to injury to every on-screen death of your opponents.
This game doesn’t hold back in stating that YOU are the bad guy here, literally playing an asshole that enjoys what he’s doing – killing tons of bad guys. This shooter has no room for self-reflection, social criticism or political statements. It’s about mass-killing your enemies as quickly, stylishly and diverse as possible, rewarding you for graceful katana melee combat and precise gunplay alike. Luckily, both of those elements are perfectly integrated into the gameplay.
You’ve got the power
While being pretty classic in its choice the arsenal in Shadow Warrior leaves nothing to be desired. You’ll start with a bulky revolver and a katana, both of which will be quite viable until very late in the game thanks to constant upgrades. Later during the game you’ll also get well-known weapons such as Uzi, Rocket Launcher, Shotguns and other usual suspects that you quickly recognize from other games. Those “classics” left aside there are also some exotic weapons to be found, but spoiling those would ruin the fun, so i won’t.
But the most surprising fact to me: The guns, while being implemented perfectly, are quite negligible and completely optional. This is simply due to the fact that the swordplay in this game is just as great as in “Red Steel 2” on the Wii. Just after using it for a few slashes you will realize that the katana is the real star in this game, allowing you to clear groups of enemies without even missing a gun. Given that you switch the sword movement to “advanced” in the options menu you will be presented with a lot of upgradeable special attacks and combos which seamlessly integrate into your combat. No matter if you’ll simply hack and slash your way through masses of enemies or throw in perfect cuts – the sword is just amazing to use.
There are also some magical abilities that you’ll learn during your journey. They can be freely combined with either the sword or any gun you’re currently holding, enabling you to chain long-range slashes with dash movements and devastating group attacks by using (just for example) a rocket launcher. In addition to your abilities you can also upgrade all weapons with a secondary mode and passive effects, which keeps the combat fresh and motivating.
You’ve got to move, you know the street
With so many options at your disposal, being a keen observer is a key element to success in this game. Unlike modern-day “tube” shooters the levels in “Shadow Warrior” are huge and sometimes allow for quite a lot of exploration with many secrets to find. During a level you’ll open up areas that were previously not accessible and the game doesn’t do much to explain where those areas are hidden. Sometimes you’re not even told where you need to go next, giving you the choice if you want to sprint through a level as quickly as possible or find every secret there is on your way to the end.
While this lack of guidance may not be to everyone’s liking, exploration is something that is greatly rewarded within “Shadow Warrior”. Not only do you find money to upgrade your weapons, but also rare Zen-Crystals to unlock special abilities that would otherwise be inaccessible later on. Also there are a ton of easter-eggs hidden throughout the levels, motivating you to keep an eye open even when moving through unimposing parts of a level. Maps can also get quite extensive, stretching each of the 15 chapters to a good 40-50 min on average which sums up to quite a lot of playtime while adding replay-value due to the rating you get at the end of each level.
When all hell’s breakin’ loose
For a retro style shooter the storyline of “Shadow Warrior” is surprisingly diverse and entertaining. With the game being loosely set in the eastern culture you’ll be confronted with Japanese mythology, fighting mostly demons. The levels are also quite varied, ranging from suburban streets to high mountains or old shipyards. In between the vast levels the main storyline is narrated using still-image cut scenes. The art style resembles old Japanese drawings, which are all partially animated in layers and well-narrated on top, keeping you interested until the very end.
That said the array of characters is kept relatively small, allowing you to quickly dive in and out of the storyline. I don’t want to spoil too much, but during the course of the game you’ll take sides with a demon, which from then on lives within you. The inner dialogues helps to get the game interesting and the cynical remarks and witty comments are some of the best i had to experience in a shooter. Since some of the dialogue is tied to your fighting or level-exploring performance you’ll be motivated to explore the game even further.
All in all “Shadow Warrior” is not flawless, but oozes originality and charm. The levels, while nicely designed and colorful, can feel a bit maze-like and monotonous at times. The combat is demanding and allows for diversified strategies, but the sheer amount of moves and guns can get overwhelming especially for beginners. The storyline is surprisingly different and feels fresh thanks to the eastern setting. If you want to criticize the game you would have to nitpick. The overall quality is great and the game keeps you coming back for more, wanting to do better thanks to the satisfying combat. If you’re looking for an “old-school” shooter in the best sence, look no further and give “Shadow Warrior” a spin.