I didn’t expect the remake of Shadow Warrior to be as superb as it is.
The original Shadow Warrior game (now called “Shadow Warrior Classic” on Steam and other places) is mostly known for its impossibly offensive racial stereotype of a protagonist, Lo Wang. The remake’s developer previously made Hard Reset, a game that I really disliked (despite finding the willpower to play to completion). And I usually don’t like the sort of games released by the publisher, Devolver Digital 1.
But Shadow Warrior found a way to be excellent. I even prefer it over the original.
A Mostly Classic First-Person Shooter…
Both Shadow Warrior games are classic-style first-person shooters full of keycards, health pickups, multiple enemy types, and frantic action. But Shadow Warrior improves on its predecessor and adds new, refreshing concepts to make a different, more enjoyable experience.
Before writing this review, I played Shadow Warrior Classic Redux (an improved version of the original game). Wow, that game has aged poorly. It has much in common with the remake, but there is just so much wrong about it in 2013. Let’s forget, for a moment, the original version’s Lo Wang being a combination of multiple “Oriental” stereotypes and little else. Hunting keys and unlocking doors is a tremendous, boring chore. Enemies are capable of doing far more damage than they really ought to be. Some weapons (especially the Katana) are downright useless due to every enemy having a long-range attack. I didn’t get that far in my play-through, but I remember having to play through an incredibly time-consuming puzzle when I beat the original version of the game.
The remake fixes these problems. Backtracking in Shadow Warrior (2013) isn’t a chore: it’s fun! I rarely got lost (and when I did, it was often due to my own stupidity), and the game often highlights doors and objects that you need to interact with. There’s only one puzzle in the entire game, and it’s not a hard one to solve.
Every weapon is useful, and some serve multiple purposes. Each one can be upgraded multiple times. Some upgrades give the weapon an alt-fire mode, while others boost damage, clip size, or reload time. Even your starting revolver, when upgraded, becomes very useful for shooting flying enemies and destroying shields. The least useful weapon is probably the flamethrower: I didn’t get much use out of it, but I also never got the alt-fire upgrade for it, so I don’t know exactly what it’s capable of.
The Katana is essential in Shadow Warrior. Usually, melee weapons in these games are useless. See Doom’s fists (without the Berserker Pack), Quake’s ax, SWC’s Katana and fists, Quake 3 Arena’s gauntlet, and Duke Nukem 3D’s boot for examples. Sometimes, melee weapons are occasionally useful (Doom’s chainsaw) or have an alternate function (like the Unreal Tournament Impact Hammer with ‘rocket jump’ functionality). But Shadow Warrior’s Katana is a powerful weapon that remains useful for most of the game. You don’t want to use it against large enemies and bosses, but there are lots of small enemies to be quickly dispatched with the sword.
… With Some New Additions…
New to this remake of Shadow Warrior are upgrades. Your hard-earned money, karma points (that you get from killing enemies), and (collectible) ki crystals can be used to upgrade your dude and his weapons. Most of these upgrades are fairly standard, but some unlock certain demon weapons and powers. Certain upgrades will also give you more sword attacks to use, and these improve the usefulness of a weapons that is already essential.
This game also has powers that are available as unlockable upgrades. You can levitate enemies, create a protective shield, or heal. You can trigger these powers with specific key combinations. For example, the ‘healing power’ requires you to press Right twice and click the Right Mouse Button. These are all easy to do, but there is an occasional delay associated with performing some of them (like the game accepts your input but doesn’t immediately perform the power). Still, I rarely died from being unable to use a power instantly, so this is only a minor gripe.
Upgrades and powers are a worthwhile addition to the game, and they certainly make Shadow Warrior more unique than its predecessor was in 1997.
… And Even Plot!
In a shocking twist, Shadow Warrior has an actual plot! One that was much more serious than what I was expecting. The game begins in a fairly silly way: there’s a sing-along moment featuring “The Touch” by Stan Bush. The first few hours of the game are in this mold. But as the game goes on, it becomes more earnest. Not to give too much away, but the climax is as dramatic as the prologue is lighthearted.
There is actual character development in this game! Lo Wang (who, by the way, is a nerdy jerk at the beginning of this remake) goes through a great amount of change as the game goes on.
The writers must be commended for gradually tricking me into caring about a serious video game plot.
I’ve been positive about the game so far, but there are a few negatives to be found. Just a few.
This game shares a few problems with the developer’s previous game, Hard Reset. Shadow Warrior’s boss fight are very similar to the bosses from Hard Reset in terms of how you fight them (which is boring), but they have far less health (than they did in Hard Reset) so it’s all okay. There are also a handful of confusing “instant kill” spots in the game that I had to die to in order to figure out which spots can kill you.
Scripting broke a few times towards the end, making it impossible to progress without reloading a checkpoint. I managed to skip a trigger that required killing all enemies in a certain area. And I think something similar happened on the final boss, which was either bizarre or a giant brainfart moment for me.
Still, I noticed fairly few technical problems with the game, and had little trouble playing it from beginning to end.
Shadow Warrior represents the best of both worlds when it comes to first-person shooters. It has old-style action with modern tweaks and a solid plot that you can care about. I highly recommend Shadow Warrior to people who love first-person shooter games. I purchased Shadow Warrior when it was on-sale for $10, but it’s easily worth the full asking price of $40.
It is currently a PC-only game that requires a fairly recent computer. So, you can’t currently play this awesome game on consoles. There does not seem to be any plans for a console release, but never say never in the wild and crazy world of video games.
Devolver Digital, as a publisher, is best known for the Serious Sam series and Hotline Miami. I used to be a big fan of the Serious Sam games, and while I still dig Sam’s one-liners, I don’t really like the games any more for some reason. I’ll try them again in the future. I disliked Hotline Miami immensely, and was only able to put an hour into it before calling it quits. ↩