Last year Devolver Digital and Flying Wild Hog brought the world “Shadow Warrior”- a modern remake of an old-school first person shooter on the Build engine that was by all accounts very racist. What with my laptop being inconsistent but generally not great at running games I was pleased to hear the announcement that the new Shadow Warrior would be ported to PS4 in 2014 as part of Sony’s new “Port every good PC game to PS4″ deal that I for one am taking full advantage of. Shadow Warrior came out, I finished it (eventually) and here I am reviewing it for you all now. Come get some Wang.
You are Lo Wang (as you were in the original), a surprisingly badass killing machine and huge nerd whose greatest talents are murdering people with a katana and cramming his last name into jokes (which surprisingly doesn’t get old). He’s sent to retrieve a mystical sword from a collector and, after murdering a whole lot of goons finds himself in the midst of a demon invasion. Teaming up with a bitchy, wise-cracking, amnesiac demon named Hoji, Lo Wang sets off to retrieve all three parts of the sword and kill every demon that crosses his path. The story is actually quite central to the game rather than being fluff to string all the killing together, and is surprisingly good- particularly the backstory, which is revealed piece-by-piece after tracking down and stabbing mysterious golems crafted by Hoji. The plot involving Lo Wang retrieving the swords isn’t as strong, but it kept me interested, mainly due to the excellent buddy-movie chemistry between him and Hoji, and the game’s strong writing; Wang’s genuinely quite funny in a Travis Touchdown sort of way. It’s a long game, too, and manages to keep things consistent throughout, again thanks to the writing, and the solid gameplay (more on that in a minute). The whole thing reminds me of “Wolfenstein The New Order” as a new FPS with Old-school elements that has a surprisingly good story, and while Shadow Warrior’s isn’t as good as “Wolfenstein…”‘s, it’s definitely not an afterthought.
The gameplay though, is where Shadow Warrior really shines. It wears its old-school FPS heart on its sleeve- throwing hordes of enemies at you to be strafed around and blown to pieces. What sets it apart is the Katana; it’s always available to you, and is both efficient and really fun to use. While the guns in the game definitely have their uses (the bosses in particular) I always found the most satisfying approach was to wade in with the blade- lopping off heads and limbs and using its unique super moves to blow enemies into chunks or spin around taking off five or six heads at once. One of the biggest problems with the gameplay is that a lot of of the time the guns just feel unnecessary. I barely used the revolver, and apart from boss fights I mainly used the rocket launcher, switching to the shotgun or SMG when necessary which wasn’t that often. Sub-bosses are best dealt with using the most powerful gun you have because they’re all really annoying in their own ways (for the first half of the game the absolute bane of my experience were the giant Minotaur-type enemies that reel you in with some kind of energy lasso thing), which is a shame because you get the feeling the sword could be used for every situation in the game (pretty sure I heard one of the developers say that it is) but sometimes you’re railroaded into using the guns. Unique to the PS4 is using the trackpad thing to activate magic spells as an alternative to their default input of double tapping the left stick. When it works it’s fine. When it works. Which it doesn’t at the worst times, mainly when I’m surrounded and at low health, and instead of healing Lo Wang keeps raising his sword (using the same button involved in all the magic abilities) unhelpfully. That’s it for the PS4 features, but it’s something at least. The upgrade system in the game is fantastic, with three different areas and three corresponding currencies. Money buys weapon upgrades and ammo (a Four-barreled shotgun makes an appearance, though sadly not as outlandish as the one from “Blood Dragon”), karma (points that culminate in redeemable tokens, essentially) get you various learned techniques ranging from increased damage and stamina to finding more money in boxes and the ability to use the aforementioned Minotaur enemy’s head as a laser cannon, and Ki Crystals upgrade your magic spells, including the all-important healing spell, a shockwave and a shield generated from Wang’s left hand. There’s a whole lot to get, though unfortunately the spells and their upgrades proved to be almost entirely useless to me throughout the game. Other people may find more use for them but I only ever relied on healing, and finding new Ki crystals caused me to upgrade my magic out of obligation more than anything else (once I had all the healing upgrades, obviously).
Overall, “Shadow Warrior” is a good time. The PS4 track pad spells are frustratingly inconsistent but can be ignored, the story is absorbing and interesting due to good chemistry between its two leads, solid writing and intirguing backstory and the gameplay is solid over the top old-school shooting while the Katana adds a new layer of fun and depth to proceedings. It’s definitely worth a look, particularly as it retails at a reduced price, and with the help of “Wolfenstein The New Order” shows that the first person shooter is a still a genre to be reckoned with and taken seriously.