Shadow Warrior review: The blood... OH THE BLOOD!
Lo Wang is back, returning from 1997's Shadow Warrior in a reboot game that focuses on Lo Wang's story. Developer Flying Wild Hog delivers a bold reboot of the cult classic, complete with over-the-top, fast-paced swordplay, a really great, unexpected story, and tons of blood... oh the blood.
The story has a simple beginning -- Lo Wang singing Stan Bush's "You've Got the Touch" from the 1986 Transformers movie as he drives toward his destination. That really sets the tone for the story, as the dialogue is full of humor, making the game more fun overall. We don't know much about the mission, other than that Lo Wang's employer has ordered him to track down and buy a legendary sword known as the Nobitsura Kage. Needless to say, things don't go as planned, but Lo Wang has the touch and the power. That power comes in the form of Hoji, a banished, mysterious spirit that teams up with Lo Wang on his mission. Lo Wang will use guns, swords and magic to overcome the demonic invasion and track down the sword. There's crude humor, some of it cheesy, but it's all in good fun, and it contrasts nicely to the surprisingly dark story and setting.
The combination of story, humor and action creates and excitingly good time. And the action is undoubtedly what carries it. It feels like an old-school, arcade-style shooter, but with so much more depth. Armed with a katana, the sword combat starts out simple but feels so good. Once you start unlocking some of Lo Wang's advanced moves, like shooting a shockwave from your sword or spinning in a circle, slicing your enemies to pieces, the swordplay really shines. You'll be motivated to string together different moves and kill enemies in different way because there's a scoring system that pops up after ever fight. The scoring is never really explained, but if you switch up your moves, you'll get more stars.
There's no block or parrying for Lo Wang. Oh no, no, no -- your best defense is a good offense. With a healing ability that restores about two-thirds of your health, tons of med kits scattered around each level, and health restoration from killing certain enemies, the reinforcement is on fast-paced action -- not waiting for your health to restore. The only problem -- and it's not really even a problem -- is how you pull off Lo Wang's spells and special sword attacks. They require a double-tap in a certain direction and a press from the left trigger or right trigger. It's not the most intuitive control scheme, but it does add even more to the feeling of an arcade-style shooter. I played with a controller, which worked better than I imagine a keyboard and mouse would.
Then there's the gunplay. It too fits in with the fast-paced action of Shadow Warrior, but it's no where near as much fun as the swordplay. Weapons feel a bit underwhelming, but there is a good selection to choose from, and they're upgradeable with money you pick up. But aiming is annoying and the weapons don't do nearly as much damage as the all-powerful sword. The SMG is the gun I used the most, mostly for flying enemies and choke points where enemies would run at me. In the end, though, you're just going to want to use the sword to slice and dice enemies up, even after they're already dead.
Like I said, you can upgrade your guns and sword through one of the three upgrade trees -- weapons, skills and powers. Weapons give you upgrades for your weapons, of course; skills give you special attacks, like more damage or the spinning attack I mentioned earlier; and powers give you heals, armor buffs and stuff like that. The attacks are certainly the most handy, as is the heal, but most of the other stuff I didn't really need to use.
Visually, Shadow Warrior isn't the prettiest girl at the bar, or firefighter in the calendar -- girls have a thing for firefighters, right? I've been told they do. The character models are the biggest offender, especially for Wang. At one point I saw myself in a mirror and though, oh gosh, that's not pretty. Then I went back to playing the game and saw Lo Wang in a mirror... same reaction. Demons are equally as unimpressive, but at least you get to slice them apart with your sword, splashing blood everywhere. I particularly like going for the legs -- there's something oddly more satisfying to me than just decapitating them. I should really speak to someone about this...
The levels, on the other hand, are pleasant to look at and have a good amount of variety. In particular, fiery effect, glowing effects in dark forests and cherry blossom trees were inspiring to look at. Exploring the environment will reward you with hidden objects, too, not just eye candy.
When it comes down to it, Shadow Warrior has been one of the more enjoyable first-person shooters I've played this year. The over-the-top action, arcade feel, humor and swordplay boils down to this: Shadow Warrior is just plain fun. A really good story doesn't hurt, either. It's not without its hiccups, but Lo Wang and Shadow Warrior has the touch. It has the power.
P.S. Beware the humping bunnies...