Shadow Warrior Review (PC)

This has been a good year for remakes of classic PC ‘90s FPS'. We’ve already had Rise of the Triad, which sadly wasn’t that good since it was a little too reverential to the original (bringing back the slightly dull primary weapons and the enemies that just weren’t fun to fight). Now it’s the turn of Shadow Warrior, the classic Duke Nukem 3D-alike Build Engine shooter, and holy damn that’s a 3D Realms logo as you start the game. The developer is Flying Wild Hog, the ex-People Can Fly team who made Hard Reset (a fun FPS that inexplicably stopped halfway through the story). Let’s hope this’ll be more Bulletstorm than Duke Nukem Forever.

While Shadow Warrior is a traditional “fun” FPS there most definitely is a story, and it may even interest some people. Lo Wang (yes, that’s his name, and yes, that’s intentional) is an enforcer for Zilla Enterprises, charged by his boss Mr Zilla to recover a sword called the Nobitsura Kage from a man called Mizayaki. The deal quickly turns sour as not only does Mizayaki not want to part with the sword but a host of demons from the mysterious Shadow Realm attack and make off with it. Wang bonds with a wise-cracking demon called Hoji and they both go after the sword, which is clearly more important than Zilla made it out to be.

Chop off his head and use it as a weapon

The story’s not going to win any awards, rival any of the big storytelling games this year, or even really keep your interest, but it does its job quite well – that job being the excuse to run around with a sword stabbing monster. It’s debatable whether it’s really needed, especially when you kill one of the carriers of the sword and are forced to endure a dull cutscene of that person’s memories, but it does result in a lot of fun moments. The dialogues between Wang and Hoji are especially a delight, turning from absolute distain through to respect with friendly mocking. Hoji’s a fun character to have around, but Lo Wang is great fun to play as. He’s far younger than the more-than-slightly-racist original, and amuses by being both a badass and a nerd. We first meet him listening to ‘The Touch’ by Stan Bush from the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack (that’s two games in the last year where I’ve heard that song) and later discover he has a comic book-adorned Batcave under his house. His frequent quips, which he occasionally messes up, further endear him to the player.

The reason why the story is nice but irrelevant is that Shadow Warrior is an old-school amusing FPS, complete with scores, funny moments, over-the-top gore and action, plenty of weapons, dozens of bizarre enemies attacking at any one time, and silly secrets to uncover. My personal favourite of these were the hidden references to the original 1997 Shadow Warrior, with scenes or characters recreated in the original Build Engine graphics. Finding a nude anime girl soaping herself in a hot tub was great, especially as she was a 2D bitmap taken directly from the first game! Rise of the Triad tried this exact trick to nowhere near as much success, because Shadow Warrior (old and new) simply has more personality than ROTT. It’s just more fun to find stuff in. You can go through the game in around 10-12 hours but combing every area for hidden treasures can add several more to that. I absolutely scoured the first level and only found 3 out of 8 secrets!

Fortunately the combat is just as fun as finding the hidden stuff. It’s a mix of swordplay and shooting, although it’s left entirely up to you regarding the proportion of each you use. I personally stuck with the katana for almost the entire game and had an absolute blast. Shadow Warrior really is a tremendously gory game, but it’s so utterly ludicrous you can’t help but find it funny. Heads and limbs regularly get sliced off, blood splashes everywhere, organs slide across the floor, and sometimes you can pick up one of those limbs or organs to use as weapons. Let’s be honest, you probably will stick with the sword for most of the game because it’s the most fun melee weapon I’ve seen in an FPS for a while, and you’ll only begrudgingly swap to the Uzi or Pistol when forced to take on an enemy at long range.


As this is an old-school shooter (not like that pretend old-school Duke Nukem Forever) you can carry all weapons at once and change between them using numbers 1-0 on the keyboard. 1’s the katana incidentally. Pistols, machine guns, crossbows etc all make an appearance, although it’s to Flying Wild Hog’s credit that the traditional shotgun and rocket launcher don’t actually appear until later in the game. With the exception of the fire-spewing Demon Head (remember that Shadow Warrior 1997 fans?) the weapon loadout seems fairly boring at first glance, and you always have plenty of ammo so there’s really never any danger of running out. Fortunately the game has a trick up its sleeve to stop the gun combat becoming boring, and that’s in the form of upgrades.

There are three types of upgrades in Shadow Warrior, each with their own way of upgrading. Skills (health, katana mastery, etc) take karma points, which is basically XP received for killing monsters as coolly as possible and finding things. Weapons have upgrades that can be bought with money found about the levels, which include turning the shotgun into a four-barrelled death machine and adding remote-activated explosive bolts to the crossbow. Finally Wang’s Magic Powers (yes, he gets those) can be improved with Ki Crystals found in the levels. I really like this three-pronged upgrade system as it not only forces you to explore but also to dispatch enemies as interestingly as possible, making Shadow Warrior spiritually follow on from Bulletstorm’s wonderfully innovative points system. Also having three different ways of upgrading means you don’t have to choose between a magic, skills or weapon upgrade, you get all three and just have to choose where they go in those categories.

Wang picks up his Magic Powers after meeting Hoji, and they’re performed rather innovatively too. Basically (and depending on which of the four powers you’ve acquired and want to use) you have to press a movement key twice followed by the Right Mouse Button. Healing for example would be “D, D, RMB”. Obviously Flying Wild Hog didn’t want to clutter up the straightforward controls with buttons for magic, and it does work quite well most of the time... the trouble is every time it doesn’t work, say in the middle of combat when you’re surrounded by enemies and on 30 health, you’ll be spitting bile. Still, there’s no automatically recharging health, so that’s good. Oh yes, and for the first time in too f***ing long there is actually a quicksave system in this FPS. Hoo-effing-ray.

Oh, these guys are pains. They resurrect monsters as skeletons and occasionally shield themselves. Gits

There are lots of little cool things that keep the relatively simplistic combat interesting, like enemies getting more powerful (or “enraged”) as they survive, enemies with limbs missing either still pathetically fighting or fleeing, or the charged-up katana-only powers. The game also looks wonderful, benefiting from being PC-only by pushing systems to their limit, with hi-res textures, perfect water ripples, and “next gen tree sway” giving Shadow Warrior a lovely atmosphere for guts to fly in. If I’m being brutal though the level design does leave a bit to be desired, as the game is painfully linear but scattered around in the secret search are a lot of empty dead ends and invisible walls that serve no purpose other than to frustrate. Finally it must be said that while the game lasts around 10-12 hours it does kind of run out of steam towards the end much like how Bulletstorm did, as you’ll have all the interesting unlocks and the combat finally starts to get a little repetitive.

Nevertheless, Shadow Warrior is a highly-polished fun FPS that realises that while being old-school is great there’s no reason why you can’t still be innovative. Combat stays fun for most of the play time and the secret hunt will make you search levels high and low then go back for more, which is good because there’s no multiplayer. The story’s a little forgettable but Lo Wang and Hoji are wonderfully-written, so I don’t have any problem enduring cutscenes as long as they’re in them (and they’re in most of them). For an old-school shooter the game’s a little pricey at the moment, but it’s so entertaining you’ll certainly get your money’s worth out of it. Now then, I’m sure I heard a hentai girl singing around here somewhere...

Top Game Moment: Chopping an enemy’s arm off and watching him feebly try to swipe at you with the other. Or finding a huge Build Engine-rendered secret area.

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By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Oct 08, 2013
Correction: THREE games in the last year featuring Stan Bush's 'The Touch'. This, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and Saints Row IV.
By danfreeman (SI Elite) on Oct 08, 2013
Fall of Cybertron was out in 2012,not 2013.
By danfreeman (SI Elite) on Oct 08, 2013
Personally i give this game a 9.5 on the wang-o-meter :) It was a blast and a must have for any gamer,i must disagree with what was said about the story,i actually found it to be a good mystery and a great resolution.The sword was easily my favorite weapon and that`s honestly a massive accomplishment,to be in an FPS and want to use the melee weapon instead of the gun,you don`t see something like this very often.

By the way i`m surprised you didn`t talk about the death bunny,yes there`s a death bunny in this game,kill enough bunnyes and you`ll see it.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Oct 08, 2013

Not even joking, this was 17 hours of unadulterated light-hearted gory swordplay with explosions and guts EVERYWHERE. Some decent humour and a capable storyline in there too. Seriously, I don't get people dicking on the story, that was pretty damn solid from where I was sitting with a great ending. Not about to be winning any awards but better than most shooters.

Combat with that sword is actually amazing. I started out on hard immediately and that did seem to be the sweetspot, I died more than once on a good number of levels and enjoyed every single second of bloody mayhem.

I'm going to let this rest for a while then geet back to it for an insane difficulty run.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Oct 08, 2013

I do love the secret related to the rabbits. Dear god that had me crying with laughter
By The_Tingler (SI Core) on Oct 08, 2013
Didn't find the killer rabbit because I never had the heart to kill them!

And Transformers FOC was late 2012, so within the last year! However I think it was August. Oh well, year and a bit then.
By Ishikawa (SI Newbie) on Oct 08, 2013
A hell of alot better than Duke Nukem was this was worth the money & fun to play tho the AI was Meh as always. Fun to play like to see some Addons
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Oct 09, 2013
I was killing all the rabbits, I didn't look up ANYHTING about this game besides some first immpresions. When that Rabbit hit me I was actually shocked, totally shocked.

Definitely better than Duke, this is basically the game that SHOULD have been, but better and with swords.

Also as for the AI, not sure what you mean there. The enemies all tend to be pretty damn good when it comes to aggression and movement, they actually try to block and dodge your attacks and succeed frequently. Maybe if you're playing on Normal that is less evident or something, I went straight to hard because you just know that's really the standard difficulty with games like this.
By Ishikawa (SI Newbie) on Oct 09, 2013
I meant the AI to be nothing new in performance all perpendicular & easily out smarted, Slashing guys in to chunks was funny ,
I always play on Hard been gaming since 1996 ON PC
This game brought me back to when I fist played Shadow Warrior all those years ago.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Oct 09, 2013
I don't think anyone that appreciates the spirit of this game should be complaining about AI :P

It's just not relevant! x3
By Ishikawa (SI Newbie) on Oct 10, 2013
Dude I bought the game Still have the old one on cd , Its was very funn & I love to see more DLC
like I said been gaming on PC since 1996 & I see no major change in AL attack or defending it was just very simple but fun none the less game.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Oct 10, 2013
I think this is a fun game. Good controls, fun katana-action. The shooting isn't really that good and a bit lacking. But the game was made for kicking ass with a katana... ;)

Enenmies have variation and different area effects and situations makes for nice options in how to handle them. The update skills, powers and weapons at least lets you customize to your preferences.

Hidden gems and secrets long the way really warms the heart of an old-school gamer :D

I also think that the state the game is sent in is very good. I haven't encountered any annoying bugs yet - so I would easily give this an 8/10 so far.