Shadow Warrior Review: Wang-Tastic
Swordplay is exceptionally gratifying in Shadow Warrior, and it sets the fighting apart from other offerings in the genre. This isn’t your boring old one-and-done stabby-stabby combat either. You can cut foes’ arms, head, legs, and torsos apart in different ways, even going so far as to bisect individual sections of some limbs. In some cases, adversaries keep coming at you sans-appendages, spraying blood around until you finish them off. It’s gruesome, to be sure, but you really feel like a badass when you can dive into a big group of demons and turn the screen into a gory puree of body parts and organs within a few seconds. That’s not to say sword attacks are overpowered, but I often found myself turning to my trusty blade when things got too chaotic.
Wang’s basic katana prowess lets you swipe in different directions, delivering glancing blows or a heavier slash. That does the trick for a while, but the killing fun really ramps up as you unlock other moves and abilities that pair your blade attacks with magic. Whether you’re doing a charged stab move that separates the upper and lower half of your enemies in one fell swoop or delivering a punishing 360 degree spin slash sending a crowded mob’s heads flying, the tight and grisly melee is oh-so-satisfying. Pulling off these moves and engaging magical powers for healing and defense is sometimes tricky though, as it relies on an unusual combo system that has you double tapping different WASD key directions while clicking certain mouse buttons. They work fine when you’ve got a few seconds to spare, but getting stuck in a mob can turn into a frantic keyboard mashing blitz to escape with your hide intact.
While the unique melee combat is a definite high point, Shadow Warrior doesn’t skimp in other areas of its arsenal either. Classic standbys include a pistol, machine gun, quad-shotgun and a rocket launcher, among other familiar fare. Each has its own deadly charm, and spending cash on upgrades beefs up their power as you go. Other goodies like shuriken, demon hearts you can rip out and crush to slay their nearby brethren, and severed heads that blast laser beams score big points in rounding out the usual suspects. Between weapon upgrades, skill unlocks, and special powers you can bolster with accrued points, Wang’s RPG-like combat development gives you plenty to think about between encounters.
Sprawling stage designs give you ample room to run around when the chaos hits a crescendo. The diverse range of areas you fight through are quite pretty too, shifting from gardens with bright cherry-blossoms to fiery hell pits, industrial pipe-works, and beyond. I love that most stages are also brimming with hidden secrets to uncover that pay homage to Shadow Warrior’s retro roots. Opening a door to walk into a room skinned in the original game’s blocky graphics is a real trip, and other goofy antics like fortune cookies and humping rabbits that transform into satanic murder bunnies if slain too many times are just a few of the random oddities that pop-up as unexpected surprises.
The only downside of the many nooks and crannies found throughout each big area is that it can make figuring out where to go and what to do next more confusing than necessary. I wasted many minutes in certain stretches backtracking through stages to scour the same rooms over and over again in frustration looking for an out. In some cases, the path ahead was so obscured by debris or dark bits of scenery that it played tricks on my eyes. While I get that erecting a giant “Yoohoo, over here” sign at every exit is counterintuitive to Shadow Warrior’s old-school elements, the total lack of direction that sets in at times hampers the forward fast-paced killing momentum that keeps stages punchy and exciting.
When you get down to it, Shadow Warriors does an impressive job of straddling the line between its retro upbringings and the more advanced first-person shooter offerings of late. It’s not a perfect reboot, but it manages to make slicing through mobs of demons, gangsters, zombies, and abominations at high speed both comical and thrilling in short bursts. There’s just enough old-school flavor here to satiate the primal urge to hammer away at the kill button, but the accompanying depth makes the bloody ride worthwhile despite its shortcomings.
- Excellent, gory sword fighting system
- Retro references are fun and humorous
- Lots of variety in stages and monster designs
- Crass humor may offend some players
- Lack of direction in some levels is problematic
- The story drags on a bit longer than its welcome
Final Score: 81/100
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