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Shadow Warrior (PlayStation 4) artwork

Shadow Warrior (PlayStation 4) review


"Beware the rabbit."


It's always good to make an important first impression, and the developer, Flying Wild Hog, does just that with several unique and quirky moments stacked on top of one another in Shadow Warrior. Like, before you even get a chance to control your assassin in this first person action title, you're treated to gameplay demonstration of the original 1997 version of Shadow Warrior! Sit there and watch as the demo goes on for an entire level, if you want. Shortly after, a cutscene from the current game is underway, where your character, the wise-cracking Lo Wang, is driving across the countryside and through bamboo forests in a snazzy Porsche while a song is playing. You quickly realize it's The Touch by Stan Bush, aka "that Transformers song", which Wang then enthusiastically sings along to on his way to retrieve a sword.

Stepping outside the vehicle and finally in control, you're immediately treated to lush, colorful environments at a temple/shrine/gang hideout hybrid, abound with koi ponds, cherry blossom trees, and a row of torii... not to mention shady-looking guards in suits. This being an action game and all, things quickly turn south when a deal goes awry and you're left facing off against a group charging with swords in hand. Thankfully, you have your own sword and an infinite pile of shurikens, and as the fight closes to its climax, hands, arms, legs, heads, and entire waists go flying in a bloody mess. Not content with just fighting wannabe tough guys? Well, congratulations, because a demonic invasion from a place called the Shadow Realm commences. And in traditional FPS fashion, you'll need all the ammo you can accumulate for your revolver, crossbow, shotgun, rocket launcher, and so forth. There's even magic attacks to learn!

From there, the game's journey takes you through an amalgamation of Japanese environments, from small towns littered with skinned corpses of its residents, to more fantastical locations that don't make sense in a modern setting, like extravagant castles and secret labs that you would only see in an old James Bond film. Though I jest a bit, I do find the game's vibrant surroundings, even if they repeat, a welcomed sight when compared to the genre's often-used grim and dreary war scenarios, crumbling and wreaked buildings aplenty. Admittedly, Shadow Warrior does have some drab spots, like a shipyard segment, but they don't dominate.

Many foes stand in your way in a quest to claim three powerful swords, a rogues gallery that includes goblin-like minions and skeletons that rush without hesitation, groups of winged creatures, beasts that stand in the distance and toss flames, and beings that hide behind giant shields. Human enemies eventually creep back into the fray, but they almost come off more like gleeful free kills than anything else. Amongst the chaos, the game's oddball humor doesn't let down: you'll often run into rabbits humping one another, wander into areas that are pixelated tributes of the original game, and making a return are fortune cookies with goofy sayings. You'll also come across an arcade where its name, Game Arcade, is accompanied with the Serious Sam logo, and the interior is loaded with posters and non-playable cabinets of Serious Sam 3, Hotline Miami, and Hard Reset, the latter which is the dev team's first title.

If you're brave enough, too, kill enough rabbits and face a ludicrous situation. That rabbit's dynamite!

As much as it felt like the fun and refreshing sensation of Shadow Warrior seemed like it'll never end, the worst case scenario happened during my experience: the game comes to a halt. What I mean by that is, on a gameplay level, Shadow Warrior pretty much stops giving the player new things to do. Those enemies I mentioned earlier are the gang you'll be dealing with every time you walk through a door, a new area, or flip a switch to unlock something, to the point where you'll, eventually, easily predict how the level is going to flow simply by looking at it. New enemies still make appearances, like long-haired demons that can teleport, but they get introduced once every two or three chapters, and even then, they're usually treated as special threats that show up in certain areas.

Considering there's a total of 17 chapters to complete, it's a huge problem when I start getting weary of the game at around chapter nine. Usually in other games, the developer tries encouraging gamers to continue with other stuff, like gimmicks or an intriguing plot. Shadow Warrior's most prominent gimmick is a turret that appears every so often, which is purely to wipe out a gang of flying monsters that rush out from a specific spot. It feels really forced and boring. The only other gimmick that crops up is a trolley sequence where you need to shoot explosive orbs before they hit your vehicle. It's used once. As for the story, it's mostly told through flashbacks about powerful demons you don't even meet until you're about to kill them, so it falls flat in that aspect. So when some supposed serious drama happens later in the story... I felt absolutely nothing for any of the characters.

Now, there's a vital piece of information I neglected to mention until now, and that's how the game really runs out of ideas around chapter four. But I mentioned that I started getting tired at chapter nine, right? True, but despite running out of creative ways, gameplay-wise, to move the game forward, I was still having a lot of fun thanks to the fluid simplicity of the combat system. You know how in most first-person games, the gun-class weaponry takes precedence over all types of attacks in your arsenal? The game's system is designed in such a way where your default sword is on equal standing with 98% of the weapons you pick up along the way, and your magic attacks are surprisingly useful as well.

Shadow Warrior is the only first-person title published in recent years that I can recall constantly switching between a large variety of weapons for nearly every battle that came my way; a fight can start with me forward-thrusting through a demon with my sword, slicing off an arm and head in the process, then changing to a shotgun and blasting away another demon at point-blank in a bloody mess, equipping my crossbow and shooting detonators in the distance, killing several, quickly inputting a magic attack that stuns enemies for seconds, and ending with a 360 sword attack. Variety is encouraged, but to further credit how balanced the system is, you can also go an entire playthrough either just using your sword or make it a typical first-person shooter. The only time Shadow Warrior forces you to use certain weapons is with boss fights and flying creatures that require projectile attacks. Everything else is fair game.

But as fantastic as the combat system is, repetition still reared its ugly head by chapter nine. For chapter ten and beyond, there were times that felt like I was on cruise control, and other moments where I grew annoyed when it felt like there was no end in sight for some chapters. At one point, I got so frustrated, that I took out my rocket launcher and started blasting away normal enemies just so I can end the chapter quickly. Flying Wild Hog had a good thing going here with a solid fighting system, humor, and interesting environments, but an uninspired middle and unnecessary latter half brings the complete package down. In that regard, it's comparable to a beat'em up that reached its peak early on and expects you to enjoy pummeling the same enemies for the remaining six stages. A tighter journey with more variety in terms of enemies and maybe some creative ways to play through chapters would've gone a long way.

Here's hoping Shadow Warrior 2 is a knockout.

3/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (July 24, 2015)

Even when I'm not reviewing a Double Dragon game, I'm still talking about Double Dragon...

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Genj posted July 24, 2015:

I wrote about this game in my blog back in the winter, but Shadow Warrior was legit one of the worst games I've played in years. I mean, it's certainly not a broken mess like Ride to Hell or Big Rigs, but it's just so creatively bankrupt and repetitive. It's not often that I dislike a game so much that I feel like I'm wasting my free time by playing it and then sell it. It seems like we agreed that the game was stretched thin and the core gameplay was sound. It's just the game got agonizingly boring very fast for me.
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pickhut posted July 24, 2015:

I genuinely forgot you wrote about that until I rechecked that blog entry just now xD. After having completed the game, I understand your anger, as I seriously would have rated it lower had the combat system not been up to snuff for me. I'm actually surprised there's someone that is more disappointed in the game than I was; every opinion I've read of the game so far has treated it like some kind of underrated, second-coming-of product. Thanks for reading!

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