How many Wang jokes could they possibly make? Turns out quite a lot
Shadow Warrior is back with a modern HD reboot like so many games recently and it’s just as offensive and crass as ever. While other games have changed with the times, Shadow Warrior remains stubbornly faithful, for better and worse.
The original game was a FPS very similar to Duke Nukem 3d, but even more offensive. You play as Wang, a westernised ninja with a fondness for a bit of the old ultraviolence. Whereas Duke Nukem and Doom had big guns and chainsaws and fists, Shadow Warrior had a trump card, a Katana. It’s one of the first games we can remember having a sword in first person mode, and it felt liberating to hack and slash your way through hordes of enemies. The update works in much the same way, you play as Wang again and while there’s a full selection of weapons you can use, the Katana is by far the most original of the bunch. Hacking apart and dismembering monsters is the key to getting higher scores (each fight ends with a score rating) and since ammo is often quite scarce, you find yourself wading into enemies more often than not. It feels decidedly old school, with huge groups of enemies in rooms that need to be cleared before you can progress. Health doesn’t regenerate, instead there’s pickups and sometimes heals spawned by dead enemies (giving you a chance when you’re in the middle of all of it). The enemies have very little variation between them, but that doesn’t matter because you’re usually fighting 5 or 6 at a time, sometimes more. There’s some standout minibosses and huge end-level bosses, but for the most part it’s strafing, stabbing and shooting your way through Japan, Hell and beyond.
Mechanically, the game is entertaining, and captures that retro FPS feel without feeling too dated. Ploughing through enemies is satisfying and there’s a wealth of tools at your disposal once you’ve levelled up a bit, with different sword and magic attacks allowing you to control the battlefield and heal yourself. Graphically it looks quite nice at times, although the simple geometry and repeated textures could easily lead you to believe this is a budget game (it’s currently £29.99 on Steam, which counts as a full-price title in our books). Lighting and art design is used to great effect at times, but the vistas that are truly spectacular like cherry blossom trees and lanterns over lily-strewn ponds, or stalactite ridden caves illuminated by lava are reused so many times they quickly lose their effect. It runs without a hitch on our machine (using a 2GB 7870HD Radeon) at 1080p60 but the fan was working overtime implying it was using every bit of power we were throwing at it. While the lighting is nice, it’s not that nice and hints at some poorly optimised-code.
The big problem with Shadow Warrior is that it’s not nearly as funny as it thinks it is, and at times it’s just plain crude. There’s odd little moments like the opening that will have you chuckling to yourself, and at times your assistant Hoji can be fun is a slightly unhinged Heath Ledger Joker kind of way. But the rest of the time it’s a throwback to 80s action films and terrible Western Kung Fu attempts that might appeal to some but just left us cold. Like Far Cry: Blood Dragon laughing at how bad 80s entertainment was isn’t that much fun when the jokes are simply imitating it. The ‘satire’ of Asian culture is at times horrifically blatant, all we could do to not think it was racist was assume it’s actually making fun of the way Asian culture is represented in Western media. Media like this… oh dear.
Overall Shadow Warrior is a fun old-school FPS, and much better than Duke Nukem Forever or even the latest Serious Sam game (although it lacks any kind of multiplayer which is entirely the joy of Serious Sam). But once you’re over the joy of mindless violence and you’ve seen some of the prettier sights the game has to offer, you’re left with a shallow vaguely offensive husk of a game that you’ve paid £29.99 for. Some people are going to love it, and that’s fine, but for us, Shadow Warrior is better left in the past.
Where’s our Blood reboot?