In 2013, 3D Realms released a reboot of their old Shadow Warrior game to the PC, which apparently went under-reported or unnoticed by a lot of gamers out there. Well, at least it did among my circle of friends. Back in the 90s when the original was a twist on the popular Duke Nukem 3D, myself and a couple of friends would fire up Shadow Warrior and connect our 56k modems for a peer-to-peer deathmatch. Sure the maps were far too big for only two players to tackle most of the time but we had fun. Once I was called by my parents to go upstairs to do something while I was in a deathmatch from my friend and I paused the game (it let either player pause or unpause). I typed to my friend Jason that I would be right back but knowing Jason, I knew he would unpause it – which he did after about 7-8 seconds. I waited in my spot for a minute (mom yelling for me to come along in the background) and lo and behold, he finds my hiding spot. He looks at me for a second and I kill him on the spot, typing back again “I told you I have to go for a minute, keep it paused this time” or something to that effect. When I got back, the game was still paused 😉 So these friends would have been very interested in the news so I just assumed they had heard of it when the game was released last year. As it turns out, they didn’t hear about it until the game came out somewhat recently on the PS4/XB1. (I’ve been sitting on this post for a while)
Another friend gave me the game via Steam around the time but due to being busy, I didn’t download and install it until the beginning of this year. So here are some impressions on the current build of the game where I have played the original and I have almost completed it.
With the new Shadow Warrior, it is a real reboot where you play as the hitman Lo Wang working for Zilla Industries (which is a change from the original story where you were a pupil of Master Leep). They have a new voice actor to handle Lo Wang, who is still a bit self-absorbed and has plenty of action hero one-liners to offer up as you play. What the developers have attempted to do is blend old-school FPS play (fast action, medkits, find-the-colored-key-to-open-the-door, secret rooms elements) combined with the modern sense of telling a story. Aside from some technical issues (frame rate problems when things get too action-y – on my PC build with an nVidia GT730 the latest update which was 5/8GB in size didn’t solve all of those problems) it works out well.
The game starts out with an in-engine cutscene, Lo Wang driving his car to some destination while singing a tune to himself. We find out he is supposed to deliver a couple million dollars to some old guy to purchase a sword. Naturally things go haywire and before long Lo Wang is fighting off demons instead of hired thugs. Only the first level is heavy on these skippable cutscenes; they do appear occasionally afterwards but otherwise the narration is handled between Lo Wang talking to himself or talking to the demon companion you pick up by the name of Hoji. The banter between the two is often worth a few laughs, the voice actors they got did a great acting job here as they give the game the charm it needs to stand out. It should be noted that there is quite a bit of profanity but along with the blood and gore, it certainly worked to earn its M rating. It is not something for the kids to enjoy.
As mentioned on the way it handles, there are various “old school” elements to the game – enemies can be bullet sponges depending upon the enemy type and the weapon you have but the game has a strong focus on melee sword attacks like it used to. You can also throw shurikens while wielding the sword although the shurikens are no longer a separate weapon. You do have to collect ammo, which is scattered about in a variety of bins. While there are a couple of instances of picking up colored keycards, they did change how that is done overall while keeping the idea intact by featuring demonic seals which are controlled by a colored statue. To break the red seal to an area, find the red statute and smash it with your sword and so on. Almost every level has secret areas to find, which is a stat that is tracked by the game and some of those areas will include the “retro” Shadow Warrior textures and sprites. Or as Lo Wang says the first time you find one, “how avant garde”.
I can appreciate the similarties it has to the old one but likewise I enjoy the new additions. Particularly they have a ranking/upgrade system in place for Weapons, Powers and Skills. Weapons you upgrade with money you find scattered all over the place; Powers are enhanced by finding Ki Crystals and Skills are upgrades to your character which are bought with Karma. You earn karma from defeating opponents or finding pools of blood and it is a stat building system overall. I am on Chapter 13 and I have yet to unlock everything although it is looking like I am not too far off. The powers is something quite different the game has that takes a little getting used to but it is easy to pull off. Once unlocked you double tap a direction followed by the appropriate mouse-button. You can heal yourself, pull off different ki attacks with your sword, knock enemies down, etc. The katana ki attacks are pretty useful and the healing ability is not overpowered as it does not allow you to replenish 100% of your health.
The weapon selection is different now as well from the 1997 version. The ’97 version had: fist/katana; shurikens; Riot Gun (automatic shotgun); Uzi, Missile Launcher, Grenade Launcher; Sticky Bombs; Rail Gun; Guardian Head; & the Ripper Heart. It also had caltrops, gas bombs, portable med kits and more that was a part of an inventory that you could access. The present SW does not have an inventory; the weapons list is: katana/shurikens; Pistol; Uzi; Crossbow/sticky bolts; double-barrel shotgun (can upgrade to quad barrel); flame thrower/fire bombs; rocket launcher; ripper heart and demon head. You will occasionally come across mounted turret guns but otherwise the ki stuff seems to take place of the inventory.
Aside from the narrative differences, enemies are smarter in how they attack you – often they will roll away from where your attacks are directed. The variety isn’t enormous for enemy types and the roster is actually smaller than the 1997 version. The locations can be interesting, like the first few levels with the bamboo forests and Japanese villages. When you get to factory/dock settings it can feel like every other factory/dock setting that is in every FPS out there but then you get to the shadow realms where they are shooting for large scale awe and it looks pretty nice. The difficulty to the game isn’t extreme although near the very end expect an unfair parade of bullet sponges that will crank the difficulty up a few notches.
Graphically it is very easy on the eyes. I have not been able to load it onto my more powerful PC with an nVidia 550Ti due to disk space so I’ve been running it on the aforementioned and weaker PC. This happens particularly when there are a lot of explosions taking place, on my system it crawls to a handful of frames a second which can be annoying. Aside from that, the lighting and smoke effects are very nice, how the dynamic shadows and lighting are, happen to be top notch from what I have seen in a while. Details in the environments are handled really well such as the amount of bamboo or hundreds of candles with wisps of smoke that serve only as eyecandy. They did implement “next-gen tree sway” (kind of a joke on that feature) which is ok although it can be overdone – there is no need for trees/plants to be swaying to the gentle breeze when they are indoors at times. They also use some of the fabric physics that I remember nVidia touting some years ago but not too many games I have played have bothered implementing them.
I do wish there was some sort of private server matchmaking so you could play against your friends ala 1997. No luck there though. Granted I do not play online multiplayer very often like I used to but it would have been a great addition. My guess is they wanted to focus purely on single player mode, had they done what the original did in just having you play the single player maps in multiplayer, I’m sure there would have been wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Overall I imagine that fans of the original can’t find much to gripe about, aside from some of the technical issues which I am told by the friend that gave me the game that the new patch solves. I liked it more than I thought I would have, I should have downloaded and played it sooner. If you like FPS games that are a little old school in nature and don’t mind the mature nature of the game (violent, profane, a little crude) then I would recommend it.