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Another old school first person shooter gets a modern day makeover, but will this hit the highs of Wolfenstein: The New Order?
The first person shooter is still often seen as a modern phenomenon, but the genre was popularised by Wolfenstein 3D as long ago as 1992 and there are antecedents such as Maze War that go back as far as the early ’70s. But while Wolfenstein was recently revived with the excellent The New Order very few of these other early games have any modern equivalents. So it’s odd that while seminal shooters such as Doom and Quake still languish in limbo that a second-stringer like Shadow Warrior gets to make a comeback.
When the original Shadow Warrior was released in 1997 it came out almost a year after the ground-breaking Quake. It used an updated version of the Duke Nukem 3D graphic engine and ended up as one of the best-looking first person shooters still to use 2D sprites for enemies, even though the rest of the game world was moving into 3D.
There were some minor innovations in terms of gameplay too, particularly the unusual-for-the-time secondary fire modes for the guns, and the fact that the main character also used a samurai sword, shurikens, and a small range of supernatural weapons. None of this helped the game gain any lasting success though and thanks to Quake, and entirely justified concerns over racism (just google some old clips), the game end up being ignored before it was forgotten.
Like last year’s revamp of Rise Of The Triad this reboot tries to play things largely for laughs, as Polish developer Flying Wild Hog emphasises the contrast between the game’s weird enemies and weapons and today’s more serious shooters. The end result is a game that not only draws on the original for inspiration but also ‘80s era movie shlock like Commando, in terms of tone and plot plausibility.
The fact that Shadow Warrior is stupid is one of its primary assets and now that it’s not also racist it’s very easy to enjoy slicing demons in half with a katana or utilising a more typical array of guns and rocket launchers. The gameplay and exploration is still no more complicated than finding the right keycard for the right door, but then that’s also part of the retro charm.
Speaking of charm, protagonist Lo Wang (geddit?) is now one of the most likeable protagonists in recent years, with the game portraying him as an apologetic nerd (he loves the ‘80s Transformers movie) and other characters openly mocking him for being a loser. For our money Shadow Warrior does the knowingly ironic ‘80s action hero shtick a lot better than something like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, with jokes that rely on your knowledge of the era rather than just being point and laugh references.
Not that the comedy is anything other than low brow, but both Wang and his demon pal Hoji are endearingly naff. It’s just a shame the game’s enemies aren’t as memorable, with bland cannon fodder opponents and some equally unimpressive bosses. Some of them are visually quite interesting – indeed the graphics throughout are impressively good for a presumably low budget game – but there’s virtually no artificial intelligence, with enemies either running straight at you or standing still and shooting you from a distance.
And as fun as your katana initially is the game has all the usual problems of a first person melee game, particularly with the difficulty in judging distance. You can upgrade your abilities and even dual wield with guns but there’s still nothing like the depth or precision of something like Jedi Knight (which funnily enough came out the same year as the original Shadow Warrior).
The Bulletstorm style combo system also pales next to the real thing, but the main problem is simply that the game’s one note gameplay gets old very quickly. It’s been ported with some skill from the original PC version though, with decent graphics and a few new extras – such as a wave-based arena mode.
It’s not something we’d recommend for £30-odd but if it turns up cheaper in the future it’s a fun reminder of how silly and enjoyably unrealistic first person shooters used to be.
In Short: For a game obsessed with OTT violence and knob gags this is a surprisingly charming and likeable shooter, if an unavoidably shallow and repetitive one.
Pros: Knowing and funny, especially if you remember this sort of game from the first time round. Solid mechanics and surprisingly good graphics. Katana works well most of them time.
Cons: As shallow as the ‘80s action movies it lovingly homages, with forgettable enemies, boring guns, and overly simplistic structure. Gets old well before the end.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Release Date: 24th October 2014
Age Rating: 18