This Shadow Warrior was never going to be an easy sell for me. An enormous fan of the 3D Realms original, I was an instant skeptic when news of a more "modern" reboot first hit. My '90s PC elitism kicked in, my fingers went into my ears, and I yelled "na na na na na I can't hear you" in a desperate attempt to avoid sullying my nostalgia for Lo Wang's first epic journey.
You see, I have an unnatural (probably unhealthy) love for Lo Wang. If PC gaming in the '90s was a lawless frontier, then Lo Wang was its Billy the Kid. Even more unrefined than his not-so-distant relative Duke, Wang was little more than a vehicle for penis jokes, potty humor, and awful Asian-stereotyping; and I absolutely adored him. And like anybody who loves something, the thought of anyone messing with the object of my affection made me throw a fit. Why would you change what is already perfect?!
And then I got up off the floor and actually played the damn game. And while the '90s might not be back, this game gets us pretty damn close.
Shadow Warrior (PC)
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: September 26, 2013
Following a weapon sale gone bad, Zilla Industries private security guard Lo Wang spends the next 16 hours traversing various locales as he fends off demons big and small and collects the missing pieces of a magical sword with the help of his demonic sidekick, Hoji. The story -- while silly -- is fairly engaging, and is told through absolutely beautiful graphic cutscenes and the often-amusing-but-sometimes-painful banter between Wang and Hoji.
Lo Wang's humor has changed a bit (I won't say "matured") since the '90s original, but he's hardly tame. While he isn't quite as obsessed with his wang as he once was, he still cracks wise to great delight during firefights, while watching rabbits mate (oh yeah, that's still a thing), and more.
He drops more frequent (and funny) one-liners than Duke Nukem ever did. The aforementioned banter with Hoji took a while to grow on me, but by the end of the game I found myself looking forward to their quick quips more often than not, and was happy with Flying Wild Hog's decision to bring the little demon along for the ride.
Though Wang's journey is a long and hard one, he was thankfully blessed with a girthy arsenal with which to penetrate his enemies. Your standard FPS affair is all on display, but each weapon is given a bit more oomph thanks to a simple upgrade system usable via the money you find lying on the ground and in chests.
The basic SMG can be upgraded to allow for dual-wielding, for example, while the rocket launcher has a post-fire guidance system that can be tacked on if you're willing to pay up. The flamethrower's secondary attack lobs out incendiary bombs (which are awesome), and the double-barreled shotgun lets you stack on another two barrels because why the hell not?
Overall, the weapons pack a serious punch and are very satisfying to use, but even the more mystical offerings (namely, the demon's heart and head) play second fiddle to the real star of the show: Lo Wang's katana. And let me tell ya: This. Thing. Is. Awesome.
Lopping off body parts left, right, and center, stabbing at rabbits while they mate (you'll only make that mistake once), and destroying every desk, arcade cabinet, or poorly-parked car you come across is always a blast, and Wang's second-favorite sword will quickly become your go-to weapon. I haven't had this much fun with a melee weapon since DOOM's chainsaw.
In addition to the standard slicing and dicing, Wang can supplement his sword-handling prowess with the help of Karma upgrades and Ki Crystals. Karma is earned by killing enemies, and the more deftly you approach each combat encounter -- by minimizing hits taken, dispatching enemies in interesting and varied ways, etc. -- the more Karma you'll earn.
Ki Crystals are found items that you'll come across at various points in the campaign (some in secret areas, some right in your path). Both Karma and Ki Crystals can then be spent on new skills, stat boosts, and sword flourishes, all of which go toward making every combat situation more engaging and varied.
Sword upgrades come in the form of a shock wave emitted from the blade, a powerful stab attack, and a 360-degree whirlwind, each of which can penetrate multiple enemies at once. The aforementioned skill upgrades really add a new dimension to the vanilla FPS model by introducing basic combos to the formula.
Once "bought," skills reminiscent of BioShock's Plasmid system such as a defensive shield, knock-back, tossing enemies into the air, and healing can all be utilized by double-tapping in any direction and holding down the secondary fire button. It's incredibly simple to use once you get used to it, and because these skills are relegated to Wang's left hand only, he can still wield his sword or fire any weapon in the right hand while performing a skill with his left.
So, for example, you could upgrade your shield skill to full power and walk around mowing down demons with your SMG all the while deflecting incoming bullets and suppressing melee attacks. Health drop too low? No need to run and hide; just queue up your healing skill and keep on pinning baddies to walls with your fully-upgraded crossbow. Once you master these basics, you'll approach each new arena with a grin on your face and a fun new idea for dispatching the oncoming hordes.
Shadow Warrior also features excellent controller support for those who would rather play from the comfort of their couch, including a wonderful weapon wheel replacing the 1-9 keys. It may seem overkill to spend five paragraphs just detailing the combat system and how it works, but that's really the bread and butter of what's on offer in Lo Wang's hefty package.
The gun and swordplay is some of the finest I've encountered in the last decade, and it really needs to be played to be fully appreciated. In between battles, you'll uncover dozens of secret areas (including some nods to the original game) throughout the very long, mostly well-designed and varied campaign. My first playthrough took approximately 16 hours, and I only discovered about 75% of the secrets, so there's plenty to do and see.
Part of the length is due to a very '90s-style level-layout, which will see you backtracking through previously cleared areas frequently to open locked doors or traverse newly-opened alternate paths. This old-school shooter design may be lost on folks who have spent the majority of their gaming careers playing Point-A-to-Point-B shooters like Call of Duty, but I welcomed the change of pace and the fact that you really never knew what was coming around the next corner, even if that corner had already been explored at an earlier time.
That said, a few of the levels do overstay their welcome, and more than once I found myself wandering aimlessly around as I searched for the next glowing door, switch, or key needed to progress. On one occasion I even had to load a previous save due to an enemy I needed to kill to progress through a door spawning behind said door, unable to be killed. Thankfully, this was just a one-time occurrence.
I would have liked to see maybe one or two more types of enemies to fight, but the ones on display are all fun to kill. The minor demons are particularly enjoyable to slice in half with the sword, and the few mini boss-types are all unique and can take a serious amount of firepower to down. The game's major bosses are unfortunately all of the "shoot the glowing spot" affairs, which took away a bit of the old-school flair, but their massive scale made bringing them down all the more rewarding.
Shadow Warrior is a great game, and, like Rise of the Triad before it, proves that the '90s era of first-person shooters can still make it in today's world. The weapons pack a punch, the graphics are great, and the personality is top-notch. Hell, there are even a few dick jokes here and there! I know you've missed those.
I haven't had this much unadulterated fun chopping and dropping enemies since the late '90s, and I, for one, am eagerly salivating for a bit more of Flying Wild Hog's Wang.