The original Shadow Warrior, from way back in 1997, was an FPS that featured tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with action-heavy gameplay. Devolver Digital’s reboot of the original title introduces its own unique style of hack and slash combat while still keeping a sense of the sarcastic humor from its predecessor, although it does lack some polish in its design.
Shadow Warrior begins with Lo Wang, a corporate agent working for Zilla Enterprises, attempting to purchase an ancient sword known as the Nobitsura Kage from its mysterious owner. However, the deal quickly goes wrong and things take a dark and mystical turn as demons from the Shadow Realm begin invading Japan. Wang then teams up with an exiled demon named Hoji, and starts out on a quest to find the Kage and hopefully send the invading otherworldly forces packing. As far as action games go, Shadow Warrior‘s narrative isn’t terribly involved, but definitely makes you feel like you’re playing through a cheesy 90’s action movie, complete with an overabundance of explosions. Wang himself delivers plenty of off-color commentary and sarcastic, action hero one liners as you battle your way through the game (though, thankfully, their delivery is spread out.)
Your primary method of dispatching the demonic hordes will be by using a katana to cut your opponents into pieces (and I mean literally into pieces – Shadow Warrior can become surprisingly gory) while quick-dodging to avoid their attacks. You’ll gain experience (called Karma) through killing enemies, which in turn can be used to supernaturally boost your health or stamina, and unlock various combination attacks. The combo attacks are, at least in theory, simple to use; All of them require you to double tap in one direction with your movement keys and then hold down the attack button to charge it up before unleashing it to devastating effect. In practice, though, there are several instances where combat descends into a confusing slog of hammering away on the attack button in an attempt to hack your enemies to death. You may find it easier to just try dodging your opponents’ attacks and spam the attack button versus trying anything more complicated. Wang also has Ki powers at his disposal, which grant you the ability to partially heal yourself or stun enemies that have gotten too close for comfort. However, much like your katana abilities, it’s easy to forget to use them in a close quarters battle and you may find yourself focusing on a particular favorite versus trying to combo them all up in conjunction with your katana combos.
There is incentive to use the various combo moves. After most combat sequences you’ll receive a rating on a scale of 1-5 shuriken and receive bonus karma based on the variety of attacks and weapons you used, and how much damage you dealt (or received). In addition, as enemies become tougher, larger, and start blocking your regular attacks with shields or clawed hands, using a well placed combo can often spell the difference between getting to the next section of the game versus restarting at the last check point.
As the game progresses, you’ll also pick up a variety of ranged weapons like a heavy revolver, a machine pistol and a flamethrower, giving you much-needed ways to take on foes at a distance. You’ll pick up money along your gory adventure, which you can use to outright purchase ammo for your weapons, or to upgrade their effectiveness. These range from simple damage or accuracy boosts to more outlandish upgrades, such as turning your double-barreled shotgun into a quad-barreled death machine. Unless you take the time to check out every corner, or hunt down every one of the game’s secret areas (a throwback to the original Shadow Warrior), you’ll almost never accumulate enough money to purchase every upgrade that’s available for your armory. Depending on how much you prefer sword combat, this may not bother you much, but if you’re the kind of shooter fan that loves switching from weapon to weapon in a firefight, you might find it disappointing that you can’t use each gun’s unique powers to full effect.
While combat is enjoyable, Shadow Warrior has a few other blemishes here and there that can pull you out of the experience. The game has a flow-breaking tendency to pause every few minutes to load the next section in a level (though thankfully it never did so in the middle of a fight), and the levels themselves, ranging from serene Japanese shrines to gritty industrial buildings, can become slightly maze-like in their design. On more than a few occasions you’ll be wishing that the level designers included a few more landmarks to make them easier to navigate or at least a minimap to help you get around. You’ll occasionally find yourself needlessly backtracking in the hopes that you didn’t accidentally overlook something vital to your current objective or the glow of a door that leads to the next section. Plus, (in what is likely another throw back to shooters of the 90’s), many of the levels send you off in a key hunt to pick up a set of padlock keys or smash a colored shrine in order to open a door elsewhere in the level. In concert with the awkwardly designed level sections, Shadow Warrior can become annoyingly repetitive during these parts, but thankfully you won’t lose more than a few minutes trying to figure them out.
Bottom Line: Shadow Warrior isn’t free of some design flaws that can take away from the experience, but as an action game, its combat is solidly put together. While not the easiest to use, the various weapons and sword fighting combos you have really make you feel like a badass warrior whenever you pull off a gruesome decapitation.
Recommendation: If you’re nostalgic for some old school style shooter action, or are eager to try out some first-person slasher combat, Shadow Warrior‘s the game for you.[rating=3.5]
Game: Shadow Warrior
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital