If there’s one thing I love more than a retro shooter is a retro shooter which doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s one of the main reasons I fell in love with Shadow Warrior, the second title in the holy trinity of Build Engine games. Starring Chinese badass Lo Wang, the game is choke-full of racist jokes, stereotypes, innuendos and over the top moments. Hey, it was the ’90s and we didn’t get offended at everything back then (maybe we did, I don’t remember). Anyhow, games could get away with a lot back then and developers took full advantage of the situation. Looking back and playing it today, the humour might not have held up, but damn, the gameplay still remains fresh.
It’s why I was excited and sceptical about Flying WildHogs’ Shadow Warrior reboot. Retro FPS revival wasn’t so big back in 2013 and the Rise of the Triad remake and Duke Nukem Forever had fallen flat on their faces. Another cause for concern was, of course, the current internet culture and the political climate. If it were to use the same type of jokes as the original, then the game would be ripped apart by keyboard warriors worldwide. But the release went without a hitch and kickstarted a new reboot series. But the only question that matters here is what do I have to say about the Shadow Warrior reboot? Grab a cold drink and relax, because you’re going to be here for a while.
A Different Wang
Before I begin my rant, let me say that Shadow Warrior 2013 is a fine FPS. The gameplay is great, the art direction is impressive and it has a rather long single player campaign. Well, what is there to rant about then, you might ask. How about the fact that it’s not really a Shadow Warrior title, at least with respect to the original. I do acknowledge that back in 2013, devs were experimenting on how to make modern retro shooters and the whole indie FPS scene was in its infancy. I do appreciate the effort. But when all is said and done, Shadow Warrior remains a confusing product. One foot in the ’90s and other in late 2000s. The original game plays very similarly to its Build Engine brethren. You run around big levels killing stuff, looking for the next colour-coded keycard to get to another section of the map. Simple, but an identifying mark of retro shooters. The reboot plays akin to a modern, linear FPS. Every once in a while, you’re thrown into this arena like closed-off sections where you are pit against waves of enemies, a bit too similar to Serious Sam and Painkiller. The 15+ hours of the campaign makes this type of gameplay ever the more repetitive.
Then there’s the watered down version of Lo Wang and the toned-down humour. Gone are his hilarious one-liners and overall sense of badassery. Instead, you get an egoistic, cocky young fella who can’t make even 12-year-olds laugh. I get why they had to tone down the signature satire and offensive jokes. I mean, even I’d think twice before releasing such jokes in today’s climate, and I’m not known for my reasoning capabilities. At least the story is better this time around. Don’t get me wrong the game isn’t a Duke Nukem Forever. Hell, it’s a rather good game in its own right. Just take out the Shadow Warrior name and you’re all set.
A Sword Game With Guns In It
The original Shadow Warrior has a katana you can use. But I don’t know why anyone would want to use it beyond the first level. You get loads of badass and iconic weaponry such as the Uzi akimbo, Riot Gun, Rail Gun, a Rocket Launcher that can launch a frigging Nuke and my personal favourite, the Sticky Mine which feels so damn nice to use. Shadow Warrior 2013 on the other hand, primarily focuses on sword combat. It’s a sword game with guns in it, while the original was a shooter with a sword in it. Don’t get me wrong, the melee combat is amazing. But due to this, the firearms end up being underpowered and with the exception of some, most of the classic weapons don’t make a return. Still, the game features a very fun and game-changing upgrade system for both the weapons and Lo-Wang himself. There are some pretty badass superpowers available for the player to choose from and running around hacking demons to bits with the katana and these powers is super satisfying. But, that doesn’t excuse the fact that its a far cry from the original. The enemy variety is also disappointing and you’ll be fighting the same 3-4 enemies for the most part of the game.
Git Gud Wang
Shadow Warrior classic is widely known as the most difficult Build Engine game to date. Yet it never feels cheap nor unforgiving. This is where the reboot drops the ball. The game tries so hard to throw everything it has in your face. Don’t get me started on the random explosive items thrown around the map. It’s like a firefighter’s worst nightmare. If it can be shot, chances are it’s going to explode and set up a chain reaction. With the game’s primary focus being melee combat, you can see how this can work against your favour. The difficulty is not the problem, it’s how cheap it feels.
Looking above, I felt that I went a little overboard with the comparisons to the original. But hey, they shouldn’t have called the game Shadow Warrior if it wasn’t to be compared with OG Shadow Warrior. Believe it or not, as much as I hate the game for not being a true successor, I had a blast with the game. Like I said earlier, forget that it’s called Shadow Warrior and you’ll have a great time. The gameplay is great, the game looks good and there are lots of heads to be chopped and limbs to be dismembered. If I was to review the game, I’d probably give it a 8 out of 10. It’s a great game but not a great Shadow Warrior game. I can now see why people see me as an elitist….
Jay has an unhealthy obsession with obscure Euro RPGs, retro FPS and every game associated with Chris Avellone. But that doesn't dissuade him from exploring other genres once in a while. When he's not digging through his ever-growing backlog, Jay can be found engaging in friendly banter in the hush-hush RPG forums of the internet.