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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 is the game equivalent, acknowledging what's problematic briefly before moving on. As a result it becomes more like a dumb action movie than anything else, like a Big Trouble in Little China. Or, if you prefer a video game equivalent, like a more self-aware version of Prey.

Also, there are no Fu Manchu moustaches in the game, as far as I know. What a relief. Wang is just a normal guy in a business suit. A guy who really likes comic books. And Stan Bush.

Wang handles his sword
Shadow Warrior's tone aside, it's hard to quibble with the quality of the action. The game plays excellently. So damn well. So. Damn. Smooth.

Strip away the setting, the story, and this is one of the most mechanically-sound shooters in a long time. What's more, it achieves that distinction by minimizing the amount of time you spend shooting.

Shadow Warrior starts Lo Wang off with (what else?) a katana. Other shooters feature swords, of course; what sets Shadow Warrior apart is that it's sword combat takes precedence for me over any of the gunplay.

And that's not a slight on the guns. Flying Wild Hog outfits you with an entire armory by the end of the game, and with the exception of the underpowered SMG the developers did a good job making guns feel right. Upgrading the pistol so Wang could fan the hammer, cowboy style, is just one of the many "I feel badass" moments I had with Shadow Warrior's guns.

The katana, though—it's so satisfying. Sprinting into the fray, flailing left and right, spinning in a full circle with the blade outstretched, hacking those dastardly demons limb from limb—I played probably 90 percent of the game with katana in hand, and sighed whenever a hulking boss or flying foe forced me to swap to my guns. Even when I was mobbed by foes and a single rocket could take them all out, I stuck by my sword; it's the best unique weapon I've seen in any recent shooter.

To make swordplay more feasible when you're facing hired guns, Wang can be upgraded with a variety of supporting powers. The first you unlock allows you to heal a certain amount of health at any time—a compromise between the health packs in the original Shadow Warrior and the recharging shields found in most modern games. The other three powers are primarily about crowd control—tossing foes into the air or shielding Wang from damage.

Pulling off these special moves requires you to double-tap one of the movement keys and then press either the right or left mouse button (depending on if it's a sword move or a magic spell). While initially cumbersome, this allows you to have access to the full suite of powers at all times, which keeps combat fluid and fast-paced. There's no need to pause or dig through a menu when you need to heal in the midst of a battle, no awkward spell selection wheel when you want to cast a shockwave from your hands.

 

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