This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Shadow Warrior.
Everything's ready for Dark Souls III! I've erected a new wall to bang my head against and refreshed my stash of chewing bricks. All I have to do now is sit here wearing these hype-deflecting blinkers for about two more weeks and distract myself by attaching a honey badger to my bollocks.
But the union says that the honey badger has to have a lunch break every eight hours, so while it's away, I might as well pass the time with a game that's a couple of years old now but has been on my catch-ups list for precisely such a moment as this: Shadow Warrior, not to be confused with Shadow Man, A Shadow's Tale, Shadows of the Damned, Shadow of the Beast or Showaddywaddy, nor indeed to be confused with the Shadow Warrior that it is a remake of - a late 90's Build shooter from the Duke Nukem mold and you know what that means: violence, endemic key-hunting and a questionable attitude towards women. But in this case, also with a spicy hint of casual racism.
I ain't no Tumblr tot getting my pronouns in a twist over cultural appropriation, but when a bloke with a comedy Engrish accent runs around with a samurai sword, screaming about how his name means "penis", you gotta wonder how it would fly at a summit of the United Nations. So the remake takes quite a few liberties with the plot of the original; I'm not entirely certain the original had a plot. The only thing I remember clearly from it is a naked anime girl doing a big farty dump.
Our protagonist, Lo Wang, is remodeled as a quippy egotistical bungling bad-ass with a slightly less silly accent and so brings to mind the comedy Asian bloke from The Hangover movies being cast to understudy Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness. He's sent by a shady boss-type man to acquire a magic sword from some other gang leader-type. But Wang doesn't have a name that means cock for nothing and so "acquire" turns into "steal, kill everyone, burn house down". However, the world is soon hit by an invasion of genocidal demons and it becomes clear that there are darker forces than the shady boss man with an interest in the niceties of magic sword ownership rights, and Wang sets out to finish the job and get the sword to his master. Somewhere along the way, this turns into "kill his master" and eventually, "kill the lords of Demon Town as well", and I'm not entirely sure where the change has happened.
See, the recurring issue I had with the plot is that the game seems to think Wang is undergoing a character arc, and speaking as the guy who spent eight hours inhabiting his skull, I'd beg to differ. By the very end, it's making out like he's finally become a noble warrior hero, but no transformation was in evidence around the end of the previous episode but one in which he blew up a ship while his allies were still on it for basically no reason, although it's refreshing to be on the other side of a stock totally illogical betrayal for once.
So Shadow Warrior is a first-person shooter that got recommended to me as "like Painkiller, but with a plot", which isn't a great recommendation because as pretty much everything with the Painkiller brand on it beyond the first one demonstrates, trying for any plot more complex than "you man, kill demons, grunt grunt, fire hot" more often than not is the metaphorical handful of sand in the fleshlight, but Shadow Warrior does indeed boast fast-paced, arena horde fights that would be reminiscent of Painkiller if Painkiller maybe had more than one tenth of the monster variety.
There's a bit of a focus on melee sword attacks which has the usual issues that close combat in first person has, best demonstrated by strapping a GoPro to the head of an excited dog in a room of unshredded tissue paper and trying to follow what's going on. This is compensated effectively for by being able to propel yourself around the battlefield with powerful rocket farts and your special sword attacks can be a pretty effective last word, the word being "Argle- spurt, spurt, thump." It's just weird how you have to pull them off with Street Fighter combos. Tap forward twice then hold attack for the lunge. Is there any particular reason it couldn't have been tap forward once then hold attack? And that's still a bit much to spontaneously lever into the middle of a fast-paced monster fight when I've already had one bum cheek bitten off!
Mind you, it seems we've got plenty of bum cheeks to spare 'cause I only died like once in my entire playthrough, and that was from falling three feet into a place I wasn't supposed to be in. The Health Kit Fairy has thrown herself into her work to get over a bad breakup and on top of that, you have the power to clench your asshole and get a bunch of health back whenever you want.
I think Shadow Warrior suffers from a bit of the Too Many Upgrades Syndrome. You buy magic upgrades with special gems, skills with XP and gun upgrades with good old fashioned money. And almost none of them evolve the gameplay in any way. It's all shit like "Do 10% more damage to lower demons". What the fuck constitutes a lower demon, Charlie? You mean the less respectable or the ones that are under five foot?
There's also a combat rating system where you get stars out of five based on...something. I never figured out what it wanted from me. Nuke the whole battlefield with rockets, one star. Make an effort to use every weapon, every spell and kill at least one guy by tweaking his nipples, one and a half stars. Turret section where I tape down the fire button and zoned out for a minute, four stars, great job. Wouldn't it be funny to have a game that claimed to be rating combat skill but was actually throwing out random numbers? That'd infuriate the perfectionist lot, wouldn't it? And I'm not saying Shadow Warrior has done that, just that if it did, I probably wouldn't notice the difference.
So despite not being based around praying on your knees at the chest-high altar to the God of Cover Shooting, the combat's nonetheless clunky, Probably too many weapons. I never really figured out how the heart works, and the flamethrower is as much use as blowing raspberries at a cigarette lighter.
Also, I don't like the level design. I can tell the game is overlong 'cause it's working its limited art assets until you can get a cricket bat down their bumhole without touching the side. Take a drink every time you see an arcade cabinet. One of the characteristics of the old Duke Nukem 3D-style shooter and its peers was that each map was a distinct location. Level 1, the train station. Level 2, the shopping mall. Level 3, the domestic violence shelter. Meanwhile, the entire first episode of Shadow Warrior consists of about five hundred copies of the same house that all for some reason have the same IKEA cabinets. Secret hunting was also a big thing in the original Shadow Warrior, but if you're gonna bring that back, maybe don't discourage exploration by putting invisible walls all over the place, especially on objects that even Professor Stephen Hawking could've jumped on top of.
You know what, now that I have written all this down, I don't think Shadow Warrior was much good. Occasionally decent combat and dialogue blighted by overdesign, dull levels and poor plotting. Still, a must-play for people who like games where the main character's name means "penis", once you're finished with Solid Snake and Jet Set Willy.
- Shallow Warrior: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I was trying to think of video game characters whose names mean vagina but all I came up with was Bubsy the Bobcat
- Uh uh uh uh where is it