Shadow Warrior Review
You know, if you say first-person shooters haven't really changed over the years, you're either painfully unobservant or you're not old enough. While the basic control scheme remains relatively similar (despite alterations to precision and weight), the biggest change is simple: Shooters are more serious now. All of gaming is more serious. That's why it's nice to get a carefree, blood-drenched shooter that reminds us of a simpler time. There are a few elements developer Flying Wild Hog could've left back in the ‘90s but even so, the reimagined Shadow Warrior is a nostalgic blast from the past.
This title may be a remake of a 1997 video game but the graphics definitely are not ‘90s. In fact, this colorful, nicely detailed presentation looks great on the PlayStation 4; blood spurts with comical redness and wetness, the animations and special effects are awesome, and the frame rate doesn't skip a beat. Okay, so the overall game design is a little outdated, as the admittedly pretty environments don't yield much in the way of interesting diversions. It's a little too straightforward in this respect but again, it's just something else that'll pull on the ol' FPS heartstrings.
The sound is quite technically accomplished as well, as the humorous voice performances meld with the over-the-top combat effects. The soundtrack is pure tongue-in-cheek slickness throughout and at no point do you think you're playing an archaic game. The concept is old-fashioned and that can bleed into the experience, hampering one's enjoyment, but the graphics and sound come together nicely. They're stylish, fitting, and quite well orchestrated, so old-school gamers get exactly what they appreciate: A game that plays like the '97 Shadow Warrior but looks and sounds a heckuva lot better.
Ah, mindless shooters. Before we took on terrorists within an ultra-realistic, ultra-gritty military theme, we ran around blasting hideous beasts with ridiculously huge weapons. And hey, remember things like key cards and magically sealed doors that you can't open right away? Do you recall playing the old Duke Nukem or DOOM titles and saying to yourself, "man, I wonder what this will look like in fifteen or twenty years"? Do you remember when the protagonist was a ludicrous caricature and nothing he did or said could be taken seriously? If you're grinning right now, you owe it to yourself to download this bad boy.
If you played the original title, you know Lo Wang. He's out to purchase an ancient sword called the Nobitsura Kage for his employer, Orochi Zilla. He's under orders to get that sword at all costs; even if it isn't for sale, Lo Wang still has to get it. What ensues is a hilarious bloodbath consisting of de-limbing, decapitations, absurd situations, silly one-liners, and a rousing blend of melee sword-based combat and standard FPS craziness. However, it'd be a mistake to assume that the game is completely devoid of depth and strategy. Again, it's an older concept but we still get an updated experience.
For instance, you can invest upgrade points, find collectibles, and execute your special Ki abilities. The latter includes a unique healing maneuver that comes in awfully handy, especially because there usually aren't any good hiding places. Certain enemies are easier to take down with certain weapons and of course, given the totally unrealistic vibe, you'll always have access to everything you pick up. Being able to upgrade your weapons helps a lot, too, and it's satisfying to see how much more effective an upgraded firearm is during battle. Each one has an alternative fire as well, so this isn't exactly Wolfenstein 3D. There's some depth.
And that depth doesn't overstep its bounds, either. The developers knew precisely what they wanted to produce, and they wanted to remain faithful to the FPS construct from yesteryear. They did just that. It's brainless and even adolescent on the surface and it's in stark contrast to the shooters of today. There's more substance lurking beneath that pubescent surface, but it still feels a lot like a vivacious, no-holds-barred shooter that cracks jokes and takes no prisoners. Hoji, your sidekick for the violent quest, contributes to the comedic presentation and assists you in your search for "whisperers" (magical golems holding memories), and this floating demon head perfectly fits the style and ambiance.
The comedy was somewhat racially driven in the original title; that humor has been scaled back to focus more on Lo Wang's goofy character as opposed to his ethnicity. That's probably a good idea, given the land of political correctness in which we now live. The narrative isn't anything special and really, if we're going to stay faithful to shooter trends from generations ago, it shouldn't be special. The focus remains firmly on combat, whether you're slicing and dicing or filling your enemies with countless bullet holes. You move about at top speed and you're frequently besieged by lots of foes, which is another trend we've left behind.
It's not Serious Sam insanity but sometimes it's close. Perhaps best of all is the arsenal, as the available weapons are just bad-ass. They're not supposed to be authentic or supremely balanced; they're just supposed to wreak all sorts of otherworldly havoc and that's precisely what they do. Yes, those military shooters have lots of weapons but they're not exactly colorful or fun. Remember the BFG? If you do, and if you love using weapons that defy all known mandates of physics and reality, you'll appreciate what this game throws at you. Yeah, blow stuff up. Doesn't really matter how, just blow it up.
Shadow Warrior is fun as sh**. The level design isn't very good and there are a few old-fashioned trends we could've done without (toxic balls that explode when close enough really suck). And despite the extra substance, there still isn't that much content here. Even so, if you consider the developer's goal, you have to applaud the result. This is indeed a ‘90s shooter with a fresh coat of paint (lots of blood-red paint, of course) and all the kookiness that we always used to enjoy. Provided you can accept the other drawbacks consistent with the older concepts and themes, Shadow Warrior will deliver in spades.
The Good: Sharp, colorful visual presentation. Gut-wrenching sound effects, slick music, and decent voice performances. Control remains smooth and fast throughout. Fantastic arsenal. Super high fun factor. An old-school feel with a fresh count of paint = outstanding!
The Bad: Level design is a little too outdated. Can feel somewhat repetitive and uninspired. Not all the jokes are good.
The Ugly: "Bloody isn't ‘ugly,' in this case."
11/21/2014 Ben Dutka