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The original Shadow Warrior is one of the big three Build engine games which were known for their humor, pop culture references, interactive environments, and fun sprite-based action. Shadow Warrior in particular put you in the shoes of Lo Wang, a former bodyguard of Zilla Enterprises who sets out to avenge the death of his old mentor and prevent his former employer from conquering Japan using creatures from the dark side. While it has some issues, it’s a fun and humorous title and as of this review, it can be acquired for free on Steam and GoG. In September, 2013, a reboot titled Shadow Warrior was released for PC. I often refer to it as Shadow Warrior 2013. It was developed by Flying Wild Hog, the same developer that brought us the cyberpunk shooter Hard Reset, and it was published by Devolver Digital. It was released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in October, 2014. For this review, I played the PC version.
The protagonist is Lo Wang, an assassin who works for Orochi Zilla, a powerful Japanese industrial magnate. He is sent to purchase an ancient katana known as the Nobitsura Kage but when the collector doesn’t buy, Lo Wang tries to take it by force and is captured. After escaping, he teams up with a demon named Hoji who reveals the Nobitsura Kage is actually three swords and when combined, it’s capable of slaying immortals. Lo Wang seeks out all three which are being held by magical Golems. On his journey, he is attacked by demons from the Shadow Realm which is where Hoji is from but was banished for reasons he can’t remember. When Lo Wang slays the Golems, he absorbs their memories which reveals the back-story. I thought the plot was actually pretty decent and the voice acting is solid. I really enjoyed the banter between Lo Wang and Hoji. There are some pop-culture references peppered throughout the campaign and Lo Wang will frequently spout off one-liners, most of which are humorous and cheesy.
Lo Wang can run, sprint, dash, jump, crouch, and activate a flashlight. He will get his hands on numerous weapons and can utilize different powers. He can heal himself, protect himself with a shield, unleash a shockwave at enemies, and immobilize foes with the flux power. I think the game’s biggest strength lies in its upgrade system. You can upgrade Wang’s skills, powers, and weapons and the upgrade system is a great incentive to explore. Money is found throughout the environments and can be spent on weapon upgrades. Crystals are used to unlock new powers. And slaying enemies and interacting with blood vials grants you karma and when you earn enough, you’re rewarded with a point that can be spent on new skills. Using a variety of violent attacks and powers will grant you additional karma and you’re ranked at the end of each encounter. You can unlock new skills like increased health, being able to find more health, money, and ammo, and better katana effectiveness in combat among other things. Powers can be used by pressing the appropriate combination of buttons and can be improved by unlocking new powers with Crystals. You’ll go from simply pushing enemies back with the shockwave to taking away their rage. You can improve the healing ability to heal up to eighty percent lost health. There’s a lot of stuff to unlock and each power, skill, and upgrade has its benefits.
With the katana equipped, you can throw shurikens and I like using the katana in this game because there’s more to it than just pressing the attack button and watching the character generically swing it. There’s different types of strikes and swings you can perform and with the right skills, it can be a very powerful weapon. It actually remains useful throughout the entire game. Several of the weapons feel underwhelming until they’re upgraded which I suppose is the point. Although, I do think some weapons like the PDW could benefit from better visual feedback when firing. However, when weapons are upgraded, body parts will be flying around all the time. With the right skills and weapon upgrades, the arsenal can be a lot of fun. When upgraded, the PDW can be dual wielded, the rocket launcher can fire multiple rockets at once, the crossbow can fire sticky bombs, you can upgrade the shotgun with two additional barrels, and the flame thrower can lob fire bombs. Sadly, the railgun doesn’t make a return but you can utilize Demon Hearts and Heads which are dropped by enemies. When squeezed, a Demon Heart can instantly kill multiple lesser foes and the Demon Head will unleash a beam that is great against lower-tier threats. One of the best ways to take down foes is by blowing shit up. There are a ton of barrels, devices, and vehicles scattered around that will blow up and you can often cause a chain reaction. Everything seems to explode in this game and, of course, enemies will always be around or navigate near something explosive so you can easily wipe out a group of foes by blowing something up.
You’ll engage a decent variety of enemies, most of which are demons but every now and then you’ll engage human foes and it’s fun chopping them up and blowing off their limbs. Enemies can enter a rage state where they become more aggressive and some of the tougher foes like Warlords can force the lesser types into rage. The exploding foes are my least favorite because they usually appear in numbers and they can turn into a ball and roll into you. They’re not hard to kill but they can easily sneak up on you if you’re engaging other enemies. Common enemies include Crawlers, Birdmen, and demons carrying shields which can be a pain in the ass when you don’t have any of the deadlier firepower. A Shaman utilize ranged attacks but they can summon other enemies and create a protective bubble which shields them from attacks making them one of the most dangerous enemy types in the game. The Warlord is another strong type that can unleash fireballs, stun you, and drag you towards them. Warpers will either wield katanas or throw shurikens and they can move fast and disappear. Berserkers are probably the toughest types. They rush you, have a weak point on their backs, and usually appear in pairs. Individually, each enemy is not that difficult to deal with. However, they usually appear in numbers and it’s when you’re getting attacked by multiple enemy types that the gameplay becomes challenging, especially later in the game. You’ll be getting attacked from all directions and will have to run, jump, and dash around the environments to survive.
Shadow Warrior includes multiple difficulty modes and when you beat the game, you’ll unlock the EX and Heroic Modes. EX Mode is like new game plus. You restart the game with all of your weapons, skills, and powers. In Heroic Mode, you can’t save manually. There’s also a Survival Mode where you choose a level and engage enemies in waves for a high score. You’ll be given karma points, money, and Crystals in between waves so you can upgrade Lo Wang. I have beaten this game before and this time, I beat it twice. The first time on Normal and the second time in EX Mode on Hard. The campaign will take you to a variety of locations including a shipyard, docks, cemetery, mountain fortress, and the Shadow Realm. The environments are fairly linear with some branching paths here and there and plenty of rooms and small areas off to the side. Health, armor, ammo, and money can be found scattered around and in containers. You’ll have to find keys and destroy sigils to progress and there are a lot of secret areas which usually house resources and Blood Vials. This is one of those games where I found the upgrade system addictive so I always wanted to explore to find more money and earn some extra karma. You’ll have the opportunity to use mounted guns to mow down foes in a few areas and you’ll have to avoid some hazards like fire but the biggest environmental danger is anything explosive. Blowing up everything is great for dealing with groups of enemies but it sucks when you set off a chain reaction and something next to you blows up, resulting in a significant loss of health. Enemies can blow shit up, too, so you need to be aware of your surroundings.
Shadow Warrior looks pretty good although I do think some parts of the presentation are too bright and/or oversaturated and I did witness some pop-in here and there. Regardless, it’s a colorful game with detailed environments and beautiful backdrops in some areas. Dirt and debris kick up when you shoot parts of the environment and many things can be destroyed which looks cool during combat. As you progress, you’ll come across arcade cabinets for other games like Hotline Miami, Serious Sam 3, and Hard Reset. Dead bodies covered in blood are scattered around everywhere and the visual and weather effects like explosions and snowfall look great and the gore effects accompanying the gunplay make the combat feel viciously satisfying. You can blow off enemy body parts, blood will splatter everywhere, pools of blood will form under dead bodies, bolts from your crossbow will impale foes, and setting enemies on fire and watching them run around in a panic is awesome. The soundtrack is full of dramatic sounding tunes and that fit the tone of the game nicely and the sound effects are excellent. The weapons sound powerful and you’ll hear a nice squishy sound whenever an enemy explodes and foes will growl and screech during combat. On the technical side I did frequently see objects get stuck in mid-air, I sank into the ground and died at one point, and the game crashed on me twice.
I really enjoy Shadow Warrior and think it’s a solid reboot. The upgrade system is wonderful and it’s what drove me to explore and try new things. I always felt like I was growing and becoming more powerful. Each upgrade, skill, and power makes a noticeable difference and if you start on a higher difficulty, you might want to plan out what you should unlock and upgrade first. That being said, you’ll probably feel underpowered until you get some better weapons and upgrades. I played through the EX Mode mainly because I wanted to see what it was like to be fully maxed out in everything. It was fun firing one or two rockets into the ground near a group of lesser foes and watching them all explode and once my flamethrower was able to lob fire bombs, it became one of my favorite weapons. All of the weapons are fun to use and the campaign is an explosive action-packed romp from beginning to end.
I would absolutely recommend Shadow Warrior to fans of shooters and the previous game. You don’t need to play the original to enjoy this and the story is solid. Much of the dialogue and banter is humorous. The game includes plenty of replay value, a fun arsenal to play around with, and plenty of shit to shoot and blow up. Definitely check this out.