Shadow Warrior Preview (PC)

The original Shadow Warrior is best known as “that 3D Realms Build Engine FPS that wasn’t Duke Nukem 3D”. While accurate, and indeed it’s undeniable that Shadow Warrior simply wasn’t as good as Duke Nukem, it was still an excellent shooter. Don’t take my word for it, thanks to some marketing errors it’s currently free on Steam so play it yourself. Insane action, cunning secrets, exploration-based level design and tongue-in-cheek humour – all the hallmarks of a Build engine FPS were there. Now Hard Reset developer Flying Wild Hog and Serious Sam publisher Devolver Digital are bringing back the series. We got a first hands-on with the game, and I’m pleased to report it’s no gritty ultra-serious reboot.

Set years before the original, this reimagining sees the young Lo Wang (yes, that’s his name, and yes, that was humorous in the ‘90s) working for Zilla Enterprises (the evil demon-run corporation he fought against in the first game) and searching down a legendary blade called the Nobitsura Kage. Funnily enough at the end of the demo I played he finds it, and I’m prepared to bet things get worse for him from there. As long as there are plenty of demons to chop messily in half with a samurai sword then that’s okay by me.

You no mess with Lo Wang!

The first thing I have to mention is that the rather, um, what’s the polite way of saying this... cultural way Lo Wang spoke in the original has been toned down. While intended as a parody of badly dubbed martial arts movies Lo Wang’s voice came off as more, well, racist. Thankfully while the ridiculous accent has been toned down his way of speaking hasn’t, as I heard such taunts as “don’t mess with the Wang” and “Ban-f***ing-zai!” I was glad to see this since the humour of the original is one of the most endearing things about Shadow Warrior - it’d be pointless remaking it as a po-faced ultra-serious shooter. Incidentally, speaking of voice acting, there’s a spirit called Hoji guiding Wang in his mission… is that Brad Dourif? If not it sounds very like him.

In terms of gameplay it plays like People Can Fly’s classic PC all-action shooter Painkiller, which isn’t surprising since Flying Wild Hog has a lot of developers who worked on that game, although with the demons and fantasy stuff this feels a lot more like it than their previous title Hard Reset (with all the robots) did. As Painkiller remains sadly rather unique among shooters this is definitely a good thing, with Serious Sam/Doom-like waves of enemies, tight level design, outrageous weapons and messy OTT gore. Shadow Warrior doesn’t have a gun that shoots lightning and shurikens, but it does have a katana. And shurikens.

Wang’s samurai sword is the main weapon in the game, and Flying Wild Hog want you to be able to complete the entire game with it. Indeed, most people I saw playing the demo, including myself, for a long period of time didn’t even realise that Wang was carrying any guns because the katana was so much fun to use. It chops demons to messy pieces, and the bigger guys will continue to fight even if you’ve sliced their arm off. You can even cut bits off the scenery, although I was sad to find you couldn’t cut the large pretty flowers that were all over the place. I tried. Apart from dismemberment though the katana was particularly useful since Wang now has magic powers to use with it. Rather unusually these are activated by pressing a direction twice while holding the Right Mouse Button. Using WASD directional keyboard controls, DD+RMB is Healing, AA is shield, SS is Shockwave (that sends enemies into the air similar to the Buckin’ Bronco vigor in Bioshock Infinite) and WW is Flux (which I admit I forgot to test to find out what it did, whoops – I believe it’s an offensive power though). Furthermore if you sprint forward and press fire you’ll do a flying kick, and the “melee” button throws shurikens, so all things considered the katana is ace.

You are tiny gwasshopper!

While they may seem now like the weapons in Jedi Knight (great but utterly superfluous once you get the lightsaber and Force Powers) there were also a lot of cool guns in the demo. You can hold all of them at once like classic FPSs, and I don’t believe there’s any weapon upgrading like in Hard Reset (I could be utterly wrong though for reasons I’ll get into later). All had alternative fire modes, but otherwise Shadow Warrior is really aiming for that nostalgic shooter feel. The weapons on display were a gunslinger-style Pistol (alt=fast fire), Quad-barrelled Shotgun (alt=fire all barrels at once!), Uzi (alt=dual wield like the original Shadow Warrior), and Crossbow (alt=explosive arrows with rather a long timer). All seemed fairly fun particularly dual wielding the Uzis, but long reload times for all the guns were an absolute pain. Hopefully this’ll be sped up a little, otherwise I’ll stick to the sword and magic powers combo.

Enemies included skeletons, slobbering demons, giant shield-wielding demons wearing ancient samurai armour, and huge Skaarj-like monsters reminiscent of the green guys who shoot fireballs out of their eyes in the original (they did that here too, which is why I think they’re the same). No sign yet of the crossbow-holding dominatrixes or the exploding demon who leaves behind a ghost. There was however a lot of them spawning from obvious portals, reaching ridiculous levels of enemies for such a small fighting area. While generally the AI tactics consisted of attacking you head-on, I was amused to see that the last one or two basic demons won’t attack and will just cower in fear of you. Lovely touch.

Speaking of lovely touches, even though we only got to see one level, graphically it looks very nice indeed. Hard Reset likewise made the most of its PC-only nature and Shadow Warrior looks to be doing the same. The level was set in a Japanese temple of some sort, with lots of blossom trees, statues, and gravestones. It was perhaps not pushing the envelope next-gen-wise as much as I expected, but for an early one level demo I’m not going to judge too harshly. That goes double for the level design, which contained a lot of dead ends surprisingly. I’m sure there’ll be something secret down these passages in the final game. It does at the very least look nice, especially when blood and gore rains all over the place.

You wanna wash Wang? Or you wanna watch Wang wash Wang?

I mentioned Painkiller, but I was rather surprised to find that another game Shadow Warrior felt like was People Can Fly’s later title Bulletstorm. As you shoot enemies points fly off them, like +10 for a regular shot, and if you do something cool you get extra points, like +20 Shredder (cutting off limbs) or +30 Aviator (killing an enemy while he’s in mid-air). This looks exactly like Bulletstorm, and while I currently have no idea where those points are going I’m assuming they’re for upgrades rather than just getting a high score. I hope so, since this was one of Bulletstorm’s best ideas that persuaded players to attempt more creative kills, and I would’ve been deeply saddened if history had forgotten it. It seems apt that a bunch of ex-People Can Fly guys would incorporate it, and it’s a welcome inclusion. Hopefully kills using level features will make an appearance in the final game, like giant man-eating plants.

If you’re looking for an old-school style FPS, particularly in the Painkiller vein, Shadow Warrior looks like it will fit the bill very nicely. The only thing I’m not sure about is the slightly distasteful final moments of the demo, where after retrieving the Nobitsura Kage blade from a female “Whisperer” (who you’re expressly told will not harm you) you’re forced by the game to stab and kill this unarmed lady. I’m hoping there will be some context or the option to spare the Whisperer’s life, since it was a bit of a jarring way to end what was otherwise a very fun slice of gameplay. Shadow Warrior is out Fall/Autumn 2013 for PC with next-gen console versions possibly coming later, and with all the gritty military shooters out the same time an old-school FPS could ironically feel the freshest of the lot.

Most Anticipated Feature/Element: Seeing if the point system is truly Bulletstorm-like, otherwise just seeing if you truly can play the entire game using only the katana.

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