Blood. Rivers of the stuff. In case you didn’t know, that’s the answer to the simple equation; Katana + Demon / slice. Yes, blood is the flavour of the month, and Shadow Warrior serves it up in buckets. Oodles of it, geysers festooning every sodden inch of landscape in a ballet of limbs and heads and hearts and organs and destructible environments.
You may remember the original Shadow Warrior, or you may not. I kind of do. It was released in 1997 and was done by 3D Realms who brought us the epic Duke Nukem 3D just a year before. Shadow Warrior owed much to that infamous cigar chomper. The game was very similar; it utilised the same – if modified (so t’interweb tells me) – engine and had a similarly wise-cracking, ultra violent protagonist, this time in the shape of Yakuza bad man Lo Wang. Instead of pig-aliens for the Duke to mess up, Lo Wang had the honour of decapifucking demons – faaasands of ‘em.
So now we have the modern ‘reboot’. The Duke Himself had one of these not so long ago – you may have heard of it, a title which went by the name Duke Nukem Forever and which apparently had some delays or development issues associated with it, apparently, so I’ve been told………. Anyway, that turned out to be a bit shit. At the time of its release I was willing it to be good. It was The Duke (Duke Nukem 3D is one of the all time great games, and was a seminal moment in my personal gaming life). It was developed by Gearbox Software – The Mighty Gearbox! They could surely do no wrong, and to be fair they did do a half decent job of it, but that really was all it was, half decent. It felt dated, Duke felt tired, the one liners and wise cracking was just a bit lame and forced (though the twats moaning about sexism and all that toss were just being…..well, twats). The game itself just didn’t have much going for it except nostalgia, and I’m all for nostalgia, but not for its own sake. It was a shame; where once Duke Nukem was THE game that all others aspired to be, it somehow got left behind when all those it inspired rolled on and on, and when it did finally come out, modern gaming had changed.
But Shadow Warrior suffers not that curse. Admittedly The Duke brought a fat sack of baggage with it in the form of the now-legendary development time which Shadow Warrior doesn’t have. But Shadow Warrior seems to very easily combine the ‘nostalgia’ element of that era of gaming, mixed in with some hardcore, frenzied, intense hardcore action, but it also pulls off the trick of not feeling ‘old fashioned’; something Duke Nukem Forever couldn’t manage.
3D Realms (or Apogee, or whatever they go by these days) were not involved in this reboot. Flying Wild Hog are the developers of this updated Lo Wang-fest and a mighty good job they have done. Their only previous game was a download-only indi FPS called Hard Reset (and its subsequent special editions and DLC’s) which was nearly very good, but not quite. It was heavily inspired by simple premise of ‘enter into an arena-like environment, then destroy wave after wave of varied bad things’ (in this case the environments were desolated cities and the bad guys were the hoards of robots that had taken over them). It felt like Serious Sam, but ironically seemed to take itself more seriously that Sam. This was not a benefit. It all got rather repetitive and samey. Somehow Serious Sam never felt like that, it was always white-knuckle fun, oh Sam I Am.
And it’s no coincidence that Duke Nukem, Hard Reset and Serious Sam are all mentioned here. You see, they all share a connection, an umbilical link with Shadow Warrior. 3D Realms developed Duke Nukem, and the original Shadow Warrior. Flying Wild Hog developed the modern reboot of Shadow Warrior and Hard Reset. Shadow Warrior, Hard Reset and Serious Sam were all published by Devolver Digital. This little family tree is all present and correct in Shadow Warrior, and not just in the old-school arcade machines you come across from time to time in the game much as Duke Nukem used to (“Damn, I don’t have time to play with myself……”).
But that’s the thing about Shadow Warrior, it is a hardcore FPS gamers game. Remember, this isn’t a triple-A title (I think 2 A’s would suffice). It has the waves and hoards of enemies a la Serious Sam (and in turn Hard Reset), but manages to NOT make it feel like you are just going from arena to arena. Sure, there are definite arena levels and sections, but between them the levels are more that of a traditional linear FPS game. It has the wise cracking OTT bad-mouthery of The Duke, albeit delivered in Lo Wangs very individual way. It has a bunch of cool guns with some cool upgrades (4-barelled shottie….I mean c’mon). It looks good, like, y’know, modern-game good. The environments are varied enough and well done to keep it from getting stale (something else Hard Reset failed on). It also utilises one of the better elements of Hard Reset – the plethora of destroyable and destructible environmental objects; you got your obligatory red barrels and gas cylinders of course, but you also have vending machines, air-con units, cars and a host more things all blow-upable to help you on your quest to annihilate every living thing you see with extreme prejudice. Though it should be said that being able to blow up a car with a couple of shurikens is a bit weird. It also has Karma Points and Ki Crystals – basically different types of skill tree’s and player upgrades available. It has varying demon types to keep the gameplay fresh, not to mention the odd spattering of human fodder to hack n slash. It’s all just very splendid. Oh, and then there’s this….
The Katana. Your sword. Shadow Warrior deserves your money, your game-time, and to be a part of your gaming history for this reason. Lo-Wang-san has done well. Melee weapons in games are usually a last resort. They are what you use when you’re shit outta luck and more outta ammo. There’s one or two exceptions (Left 4 Dead has its moments) but even then they serve a purpose, but only really that purpose. Even a melee-centric game like Dead Island couldn’t quite manage to make them desirable and left you constantly wishing to Christ you could find some shotguns.
Shadow Warrior has well and truly cracked that nut. Let me give you some idea. I am a seasoned FPS vet. Guns. Ammo. Give them to me and I will paint you a picture, a fucking masterpiece if you so wish. Shadow Warrior has gifted me a quick-firing, hard hitting pistol (based on what looks like a Chiappa Rhino to all my fellow gun nuts out there), twin MP7 PDW’s (akimbo baby), a 4-barrelled shot gun, and a crossbow with exploding bolts – to name but a few. But I go into battle with my sword drawn. Every time. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but in Shadow Warrior, it is my GUNS that serve only a purpose. My Katana is an extension of myself. I maim. I flay. I dismember. I understand now what Conan yearned for when he seeked the answer to the riddle of steel. Steel on its own is nothing without the flesh that wields it. This must be how Jedi’s feel with their lightsabres. With the varying sword play upgrades available to you, you very quickly learn to appreciate your katana in a way that makes you feel almost noble, akin to the samurai’s of old. And believe me when I tell you that chopping up a room full of demon’s feels ooooh so satisfying.
Games like Shadow Warrior are important. They make the big boys remember there are other developers waiting to take their place if they don’t keep the standard high. If you are reading this, if you hate demons enough to want to chop them and their demony friends up into little pieces, and if you have a spare £20, go to Steam and download Shadow Warrior. It’s a pickup and put down kinda game, but something tells me you won’t want to put it down.
This is my sword. There are many like it but this one is mine. Without my sword, I am nothing. Without me, my sword is nothing.