Lo Wang Returns to Fight Demons in the new Shadow Warrior

Title: Shadow Warrior73af76807e737e8f3ffa2817c36f6d25
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Distributor: Devolver Studios
Platforms: XBOX One, PS4

The following review is based on the
XBOX One Version of Shadow Warrior, HD.

More Entertaining Than:
Painkiller Hell and Damnation

Less Entertaining Than:
Serious Sam Gold Edition

Pros:
-Beautiful graphics
-Serene soundtrack
-Deliciously bloodthirsty
-Occasional humor

Cons:
-Concept seems outdated
-Repetitive game-play
-Long-winded
-Lackluster storyline

Verdict: 6.5 (out of 10)

When it comes to the argument that games these days need to be longer, I am often at the forefront. In the case of Shadow Warrior however, ironically, I am of the opposite opinion. Don’t get me wrong, Shadow Warrior is great when it works, but, so much of it doesn’t. The opening of the game is borderline fantastic. The humor is immediate, as is the volume of blood, and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing as my katana turned vicious soldiers into hapless pieces of meat.

Not long into the opening, lead protagonist Lo Wang is introduced to Hoji, a spirit banished from the Shadow Realm, who joins the player on their quest to find the mystical sword, that will inevitably bring an end to the horrific demon invasion, that Wang unwittingly helps start.

This premise is well conceived; it is what comes after that unfortunately falters. For one, the game is attempting to balance seriousness with humor. The back-story involving the Shadow Realms and Hoji’s exile is incredibly deep and meaningful, however it does not have the attention it deserves in order to spur any prominent reaction from the player. The tranquilly serene soundtrack which plays when you are not drowning in the blood of your enemies is very nice on the ears, and conveys the depth the developers obviously wanted for the title. This soundtrack though lasts about as long as a bar of chocolate does around me, and before long, the general rock anthems which too often occur in shooters, is blasting out of your television.

Instead, the developers tend to focus more on Wang’s and Hoji’s punchlines, which blur the line between ridiculousness and hilarity. The humorous fortune cookies which can be found, alongside the bunnies which are often discovered fornicating somewhere on the battlefield, only furthers the idea that this is not a game the player ought to take too seriously. This seems to contradict the locations which Wang traverses though, each of which have been made void of life after everyone has been slaughtered by demons. Rather than acknowledging the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who have been murdered, he strolls over their mutilated corpses as though they aren’t even there at all. On top of this, the human opponents you encounter seem to be as equally unaffected as Wang, regarding the unquantifiable level of death that surrounds them. Strangely enough, the developers found enough time to push their own wheelbarrow, with games like Serious Sam 3 and Hard Reset been frequently advertised, to the point that I occasionally had to remind myself what game I was even playing.

What is most annoying though, is the repetition. After the beginning, almost every level is a carbon copy of the prior. You kill a bunch of monsters. You find a locked door. You find a key to open said door. You kill a bunch of monsters. You find a door locked by a sigil. You kill a bunch of monsters. You destroy a statue which breaks the sigil. Then, you repeat. Hold the phone though; sometimes, you need to destroy more than one statue, or hit a switch, in order to open a door.

But it’s not just the game-play which is repetitive; it’s the environmental setting. There’s a moment when you are fighting in a ship yard, and perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t gone on for five levels, many of which begin to look exactly the same after a while.

Now, although the visuals are gorgeous, and cannot be faulted, the length of time it took to navigate an area, like the ship yard, does nothing to effectively show the attention that has been provided to the graphics. A dull atmosphere like this one takes away from several of the other locations you visit, which brilliantly take advantage of the new system’s abilities. Furthering this argument, in games like Halo 4, there is one primary mission per level, which continuously keeps your attention. In Shadow Warrior, you may have one primary mission for several levels, and after a while, you begin to wonder if you are ever going to accomplish your mission objective at all.

The addendum that in many levels the player is forced to go backwards and forwards to complete objectives only intensifies this nuisance. There’s one level later on when you must retrace over your own footsteps three times in a row, and what would have made this laborious task slightly less agitating, is a compass. No aid however is provided to finding objectives, and on more than one occasion I found myself waltzing around an area trying to find the exit. Additionally, the sub-missions, including turn the valve, or find the key, are about as interesting as they sound, and the fact you need to repeat them several times over during the campaign takes deja vu to an all new level.

The continuous onslaught of demons and sigils moreover, eventually feels less like entertainment, and more like speed bumps, which deliberately cause traffic congestion. In a game spanning 17 chapters, it is unnecessary to hold the player up in a vain attempt to make the game last for longer than it probably should. Although I have no qualms with defeating a barrage of enemies, the fact the demonic legions only come in so few flavors does nothing to enthrall. After killing the 100th enemy in a level, which looked remarkably similar to the previous 99, even I begin to lose the urge for battle. The massive, yet infrequent boss encounters tend to shake things up, and the challenge of fighting an enemy the size of a tall building is the breath of fresh air the game is hopelessly lacking.

Furthermore, the fact that the player is unable to govern many of the choices that Wang makes over the course of the campaign seems rather restrictive. There are numerous moments when Wang makes what can only be described as a rather douche-bag move, and instead of having the opportunity to choose an alternate path, you either act like a douche-bag, or, you act like a douche-bag.

Fighting agaisnt the enemy though is made somewhat more entertaining with the wealth of upgrades Wang can apply to both himself, and his weaponry. While cash is used for the armaments (and the player needs to suspend their disbelief, for I find it hard to believe that cash can literally be found every couple of meters on the street), chi is applied to Wang’s abilities, and Ki crystals are used to strengthen demonic powers. Although Chi can be found, a great amount of its energy is siphoned from the demons that you kill, and much like in Uber Soldier, the more violent you are, the better the rewards.

The opportunity to use demon hearts, and even their heads agaisnt opponents, proves advanetgous in battle. Additionally, been able to block incoming projectiles with a shield that surrounds the player, and having the ability to heal your wounds are fantastic bonus features agaisnt the unending waves of monsters. The key combinations however (for instance, to heal, you need to tap the movement key to the right twice, and press the left trigger) can occasionally be more of a hindrance. The abilities you earn are more mandatory than optional, and when you are battling a wealth of massive creatures, like warlords or crystal demons for instance, you are less concerned with the buttons you are pressing, and more on taking out the opposition. The addendum that the keys need to be pressed in just the right manner (not to quick, but not to heavy either) means there are numerous times when you don’t execute the ability you were after, resulting not only in failure, but occasionally in death as well.

Weapon upgrades on the other hand prove to be just as unreliable, but for a completely different reason. Although each weapon can have alternate firing solutions and damage boosters applied, and true, in the case of the rocket launcher and shotgun, these are quite apparent, more often than not, the katana seems to be the most reliable weapon. As an example, there was a moment when I fired a torpedo from a rocket launcher at the wings of a boss monster, only to have the round go right through it! This was not the only time this particular incident occurred either, which repeated during battles with other creatures as well. However, for those who grow bored of Wang’s default sword, they can wield either the classic katana from the original game, the hammer from Serious Sam BFE, or several other melee armaments available from the options menu.

With the Halo Master Chief collection on the horizon, alongside Doom 4 arriving sometime this century, it would seem that remakes are in vogue. What makes Shadow Warrior quite disappointing is, rather than rejuvenating the franchise, it seems so outdated. When the original Shadow Warrior arrived, mindlessly killing monsters, finding key cards, and traveling through one level after another with no real goal was common practice. Today however, where gamers (I presume) are interested in enjoying mature story-lines, portraying detailed, well imagined characters, alongside the opportunity to choose how their story ends, these lacking opportunities cause Shadow Warrior to fall short.  Though there is some enjoyment to be found in the game, much of it is buried beneath unnecessary occurrences, that cause what little plot there is, to become lost amidst mindless repetition and an over-excessive, unjustifiable quantity of violence.

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