Whenever an old game gets a reboot, it’s usually a hit or miss with the pursuit of both getting the old fans back into the fold and wooing in new audiences. Most of the time, when a game accomplishes the former, they tend to alienate the younger gamers who may have different tastes. If the latter is achieved, then it may be too dumbed down and far off from the original, which puts off the older fans and it may not even go over the younger gamers as well sometimes. With Shadow Warrior, they tried to go for the best of both worlds.
Shadow Warrior is a reboot of the 1997 first person shooter of the same name by Duke Nukem makers 3D Realms, which has been reinterpreted by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital after sixteen whole years since the release of the original. With the original, critics whined about how it perpetuated Asian stereotypes, which was responded with comparisons to bad kung fu movies. Those arguments have been made from way back then, so if that is your complaint about Shadow Warrior right now, then you are way behind the curve at this point.
Like in the original, you play as Lo Wang, a ninja warrior with a bit of a mouth on him, and he is skilled in both wit and sword. He is sort of like the combination of Ryu Hayabusa and Duke Nukem, but less well known. He has been tasked to find the three pieces of a legendary sword called the Nobitsura Kage, which is the only weapon that the ancient inter-dimensional spirits are not impervious to. Characterizations are pretty good due to nicely done voice acting, with Wang and his spirit partner Hoji trading banter as they traverse the land ahead of them. There is also a lot more crude humor to go along with the protagonist’s obviously phallic name, and that perhaps goes along with the other tongue-in-cheek elements of this game that somehow works here.
The length of the campaign is pretty substantial, with over 20 hours of story and adventure. The writing itself is actually quite good, with tension and comedy sprinkled generously all throughout, making this a quality singleplayer experience that does fairly well in keeping players engaged. In between the narrative bits is the frenetic combat that combines shooting with swordplay in a colorful display of aesthetically pleasing violence. It is then backed up by a solid character progression system that lets you get upgrades that actually come in good timing and lets you feel rewarded for working towards getting them and choosing one over the other.
The wide variety of weapons you have in your arsenal is only matched by the usefulness of each one, which is something that’s rare in games these days. Most of the time, when games feature a fairly large number of active weapons in gameplay (Quake-style, as you may call it), some of those weapons tend to be ignored due to their inferiority in application compared to the others. While preferences to certain weapons can’t be avoided since that’s just how a lot of gamers would play, the good thing here in Shadow Warrior is that every one of them can be used to beat the game easily enough when used properly and none of them are totally useless, which is a good thing for making a game playable for different kinds of gamers.
Aside from the usual gunplay expected in FPS, there’s also swordplay that is much more refined nowadays compared to the late 90′s (as evidenced in games like War of the Roses). You start off with simple melee attacks, but then progress to lunging and spinning attacks that can be used to plow through enemies with greater efficiency. A scoring system gauges your performance after each confrontation, although little clue is given as to how you can get the full score in each fight. It then culminates to boss fights that is all about drawing from all the stuff you learned throughout that level and the upgrades you’ve obtained. Of course, that’s if you can get used to the controls with all the double taps required to activate powers.
Fighting and exploration is done in the vast and well-designed environments that are like arenas that let you have more than enough room to move around and engage enemies, so tactical options are not limited by lack of space. Everything else in the visuals are passable, but nothing too extraordinary aside from the main characters’ design. The animations make up for it though, especially when you take out enemies by cutting their heads and limbs off with well placed slashes, which is good at making players feel strong and make combat more rewarding.
As far as reboots go, this is well done and faithful enough to the original, which is enough to give it a thumbs up. In reliving the legacy of 3D Realms, Shadow Warriors actually does a way better job than Duke Nukem Forever ever did. It does cost 40 whole dollars, but at least it’s better than a lot of other $40 dollar games that turned out to be inferior.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 8.5/10