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Shadow Warrior Review: Slicing and dicing to victory

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 30, 2013
When Flying Wild Hog announced it was rebooting Shadow Warrior, the 90s shooter from 3D Realms, the predominant question was, "why?"

shadow warrior game

Let me tell you the moment I was sold on Shadow Warrior.

I was sitting in an air-conditioned trailer in Los Angeles, during E3, and the opening cutscene was playing. Lo Wang, dressed in a well-pressed suit, cranked up the radio and blasted Stan Bush's "You've Got the Touch." Then he...started singing along. Horribly. Spouting off short lines like, "Oh yeah," whenever there was a break in the lyrics.

And then he lit up a cigarette, settled back in the driver's seat, and kept singing.

This is the type of dumb I like.

Risky reboot
Shadow Warrior is one of those '90s video game relics—so emblematic of a certain time and attitude it's hard to imagine the game getting remade, especially in the current, more socially-conscious environment. The original Shadow Warrior was, to put it bluntly, more than a bit racist, so when Flying Wild Hog announced it was rebooting the franchise the primary question was, "Why?"

The narrative around Flying Wild Hog's remake of the cult classic shooter Shadow Warrior has been, "Oh, it's exactly like the original game, but with all that pesky casual racism and stuff taken out!"

After playing the game I can say that's...not quite true. In fact, I struggle to think how you could make a politically correct Shadow Warrior. It's a game that takes a pastiche of Chinese and Japanese stereotypes as its launching point.

Rather than strip the problematic material out, this game does the opposite: leans into it, acknowledging where Shadow Warrior was—and is—problematic.

Early on in the game your character, Lo Wang (named solely to make dick jokes), drives out to a remote estate. He's supposed to purchase a sword off the estate's owner, but the owner isn't selling. Wang murders a bunch of people while spouting off sarcastic commentary, demons are summoned, and then the game begins for real.

But the key point here is that when Wang shows up to the estate and sees the rolling hills, placid lakes, and cherry blossoms, he comments on it. "I was hoping for a more cliched setting. I guess koi ponds and cherry blossoms will have to do."

There's a scene in the film Looper where the two main characters sit in a diner and one brings up a question about the logic of time travel. Bruce Willis's character responds, "I don't want to talk about time travel, because if we start talking about it we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws." Imagine that line delivered from Rian Johnson, the writer, directly to the audience, acknowledging that some parts of the story might not work but he's aware of it.


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