Shadow Warrior is one of those games that is mentioned on forums when someone asks for pointers on what game they should get. It's destined to be labelled a 'hidden gem' or 'underappreciated classic'. It's a good game, a fun game, with lots going for it, but it's by no means a classic. If 7/10 was designed for anything it's this. Enjoyable, visually appealing, bloody and violent, repetitive, slightly budget, a tad clumsy, and rather forgettable. Put that quote on the box.
"You just kill dudes," I told Dave when describing Shadow Warrior to him earlier in the week. Sure, you kill them using a katana, a shotgun, a crossbow, a heart, a gattling gun, and more, often leaving a dissected mess of body parts strewn over the floor, and they aren't often actually just dudes, but killing is definitely the key ingredient here.
Lo Wang is the hero, tasked with slicing and dicing hordes of enemies big and small while trying to retrieve a special blade. He's quick and nimble, with the first-person action here moving at quite the clip, evoking memories of 90s PC games. The ability to speed dash in any direction also helps you evade enemy attacks, something you'll have to make heavy use of when the monsters start coming at you in droves.
That said, the game's fast movement speed, gunplay and violence would have been nothing new back in the 90s. They are ingredients that practically defined the FPS genre on PC back then, but these days they combine to make Shadow Warrior feel surprisingly fresh. The katana (especially in advanced mode if you're up to the challenge) gives combat an extra twist, allowing you to flick between headshotting from range and getting very blade-happy at the expense of enemy limbs (and heads).
To be fair to Shadow Warrior, there is a little more to it than mindless killing. An upgrades system lets you purchase new special abilities, such as an incredibly useful healing move and something that is essentially a Force push. Activating these in the heat of battle is a little tricky, though, triggered through multiple direction presses and holding L2 or a touch screen swipe and holding L2 - neither provides a guaranteed response, which can prove infuriating.
If you enjoy collecting things, Shadow Warrior will please the obsessive nature in you, providing crate after crate of ammo and money (used for upgrading your weapons), statues, gems, and fortune cookies to find. Explosive barrels are also liberally dotted about the levels, taking players back to an age when big explosions were all we really wanted from video games. They're still cool today, especially when one bang causes a chain reaction and floors everything in the area - even you if you're not careful.
Mayhem ensues every other minute, but the game's wry sense of humour and awareness help elevate things beyond the bargain bin. It's clear a lot of thought has gone into creating this throwback experience, and the one-liners are always welcome. Hell, a game which opens with a man playing The Touch on his car stereo while a dinosaur robot toy bobbles his head on the dashboard deserves some extra credit.
While a statement likely to anger PC gaming fans, Shadow Warrior looks very much like a PC exclusive. That is to say that it's full of whiz-bang graphical effects, and at times looks really rather lovely, but it lacks the finesse seen in big-budget console behemoths like Destiny. Certain effects, such as the screen-filling fire released from the flame thrower, are gorgeous, and there's definitely a place for mid-range titles like this. The fact that the retail price is starting at under £30 is a bonus too.
Shadow Warrior isn't a classic, but it's a game that exists in an area that we rarely see these days, and is great fun to mess about with. It's old-school in all the right ways, bringing the original into the modern era while leaving some of its less desirable aspects in the past where they belong. Give your brain a break and enjoy the ride, unless you can't stomach extreme comic book violence, iffy jokes and lots of exploding barrels - but who doesn't love an exploding barrel?
Versions tested: PS4 and Xbox One
A note on performance on Xbox One and PS4
Shadow Warrior runs at 1080p on PS4 and 900p on Xbox One. Both versions target 60fps, but in testing the PS4 game offers a more consistent frame rate, although both suffer from drops in more hectic battles. The PS4 is certainly the nicest looking console version of the game.
Something of a disappointment is the long load times between stages, and the pauses mid-level as the game does a kind of mini load. Neither of these things feel particularly next-gen, although they can be stomached as long as you don't die too often.
Second Opinion - Brett Phipps, Staff Writer
Shadow Warrior has nothing to say, and that's a good thing. You're not here to learn about the lore of an ancient world, nor interact with dozens of NPCs for their back stories, You're here to kill demons. It's a shooter with 90s sensibilities that does nothing other than give you the tools for the job and lets you have at it.
The game runs at the speed of Quake, and with a level of violence seen only in Tarantino's naughtiest dreams and is so absurd you can't help but enjoy yourself. The controls can be finicky and it most certainly isn't the best looking game out there, but as a mid-tier title it can be fun to breeze through.
The trouble Shadow Warrior has is it sometimes doesn't have the confidence to go all in on what it is. The 100 miles-per-hour shooting and slashing is stunted while I search for a statue to break in order to unlock a door. Rather than continue letting me slay all the demons in every outlandish fashion the game permits, I have to backtrack in search of stuff to smash.
Being a remake of a 3D Realms game, my thoughts immediately turned to Duke Nukem Forever, and had that game been like this, I would have been content. Shadow Warrior may not rewrite the rulebook, but it does remind us of some old school lessons that few modern shooters take on board.