Take those old kung-fu movies that get repeated endlessly on daytime cable channels, add a dash of retro shooter and whatever random bits of supernatural plot you have lying around, and that’s Shadow Warrior. An overpriced product of a bygone era, its attempts to highlight the way that things used to be do little but help you to appreciate the way that things are.
Like many titles that try to revive an older style, this is a game that fails to learn from the mistakes that developers were making twenty years ago. It’s nice to not have automatically restoring health, but the clunkiness of the controls and poor use of checkpoints add a level of frustration that’s hard to accept in a market that boasts the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Moreover, having a quarter of a second delay in the physics makes every firefight seem sluggish and repetitive, and slicing an enemy with a huge sword and not having them react is an instant turnoff.
When you’re not fighting off hordes of the undead, you’ll have to survive an endless barrage of puns that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Push Square comments section. Hero, Lo Wang’s sword may not be especially sharp – especially considering how many times you need to swing at an enemy’s arm to get them to react – but his wit is ever so slightly sharper. As may be expected from a title originally designed by the creators of Duke Nukem, his cleverness is matched only by his ability to drag your mind through the gutter.
Levels are large and dangerously linear. There are moments in the game where you’ll die if you fall into the wrong gap, for no reason other than you’re not supposed to go there. Follow the right path, shoot the enemies along the way, and you’ll get to the end without too many problems. There are secrets, and they’re pretty cool, but they’re generally well-hidden, and don’t necessarily take you too far off the beaten path.
The scale of each stage is impressive, but the time that it takes to load them would feel excessive even on the original PlayStation. It can take minutes to actually get a gun in your hand, with nothing to watch but a small red bar at the bottom of the screen. This wouldn’t be too bad, but you have to go through it for each level, and there are moments where the game needs to pause to catch up, as you go through checkpoints. As such, there are invasive medical procedures that take less time than a Shadow Warrior loading screen.
Cutting up enemies works quite well eventually, though, and although they don’t react in any particular way, it’s nice to see a headshot actually do some damage. After the first couple of stages, the gimmick wears off a little and you’re left wondering why you can’t be a little more creative with it, but then the number of enemies that you’ll face increases, and you’ll be distracted for a short while. Fights rapidly become a numbers game, where you’re forced to shoot quickly and take advantage of your full roster of skills. It’s a cheap way of slowing you down every few seconds, and it’ll make the game incredibly repetitive for the average player, but it does what the developer intended as well.
The plot, which includes ancient swords and magical demons, is spread a little too thinly to be really interesting. There’re some decent parts which are linked to jokes – one trip to the Wang Cave definitely isn’t enough – but the plot itself is far too one dimensional, and never feels like it’s pushing you forward. The voice acting doesn’t help, mainly because it sounds like random people off the street got drunk and started talking into a drain pipe. Lo Wang is usually the exception to this, the actor delivering his lines with a confidence that makes him slightly more bearable than the rest of the cast.
Graphically, Shadow Warrior is a little disappointing. While colourful, it doesn’t look overly good, and the 60 frames-per-second will frequently drop enough that it becomes quite noticeable. Reused assets make each stage look similar, an especially annoying problem because levels already share objectives and enemies. To top it all off, prepare yourself for screen tearing – it’s obvious, constant, and more distracting than all of those Wang jokes combined.
If you’re really into retro shooters and you don’t care about the technical flaws, though, Shadow Warrior has a significant amount of content. You can upgrade all of your weaponry and unlock demon powers to use in combat, all of which is rated. On top of the secrets, there are plenty of cameos and Easter Eggs to search out, and a fairly balanced Trophy list to work through, too. There’s no multiplayer, although there really doesn’t need to be.
Shadow Warrior is more than just puerile jokes and demons – there are some quite interesting technical faults in there as well. The personality of the game is enough to recommend to those that enjoy old-school shooters, but it comes with a warning: Wang should probably be taken in small doses.