Review: Shadow Warrior (2013)

A brilliantly-designed retro-style shooter with a lot of personality, great level design, and brilliant sword-fighting combat. There's a few flaws here and there, but nothing that detracts from the fun that is to be had with the title.
Review: Shadow Warrior (2013)
Date published: Jul 17, 2014
2 / 3 stars

Shadow Warrior is a reboot of the classic first-person shooter of the same name developed by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital. For those that are not familiar with Flying Wild Hog, they are a studio comprised of team members from the original team of Painkiller along with other games, as well as the developer of the stellar Hard Reset, which we reviewed previously.  With that pedigree under their belt, does Shadow Warrior live up to said?

Well, let's spoil the review for you.  It does.  In spades.

A solid foundation underpins Shadow Warrior

Shadow Warrior updates the engine for Hard Reset, fixing some of the few bugs in an already solid engine and providing some absolutely gorgeous visuals.  The game looks great, and moreover it looks like a PC title.  This isn't a game with badly-compressed textures, frame locks, or a bunch of pop-in - no, it looks smooth and gorgeous, with a lot of customisation possible in the graphics options to ensure that it runs solid on your machine.  It multi-tasks exceptionally well - rare for any computer game, even exclusives, and all-round, it's just a very solid engine.

Combat - be it with gun or with sword - feels brilliant

The fighting in Shadow Warrior - pretty much 95% of what you're doing in it when you're not getting lost in the levels (something we'll touch on later) feels great.  You have either a variety of ranged firearms from pistol and up, and also Lo Wang's signature sword (which gets upgraded along the way).  I found myself wanting to use the sword the most, not because the firearms weren't viable - they certainly were - but because of just how great the sword-fighting felt.  A variety of combos are available to switch up the combat and they allow a very free-flowing and kinetic fighting style that I also loved.  It also no doubt helped that the combat felt very visceral, and the enemies would get chopped up with those very specific slashes rather than just into gibs.  It's hard to put into words just how fast and mobile that combat feels and it really helps evoke the spirit of that run-and-gun gameplay of old.

The firearms feel pretty good too, and are progressively better, both with the progression system of improving them with upgrades you can buy with money you find ingame, and also in the broader sense of their discovery in the game.  The guns feel good, have an appropriate feeling of recoil and weight, and for the most part feel like they have appropriate stopping power.  The one exception is the shotgun, which until you upgrade it felt pretty weak.  Other than that though, no complaints with the firearms and a lot to love.  Good variety and good feeling is a winning combination.

Your abilities grow in varied ways at a good pace

Editor's note: the screenshot image didn't size down very well in Photoshop; this screen looks better in-game.


This does, unfortunately, highlight two of the flaws that are existent in the game: first of all, the levels can be easy to get turned around in, so hunting for all of the many, many secrets to find those ki crystals can become an exercise in disoriented frustration.  Secondly, the ratings system for those rated combat sections, where you get that karma from, seem pretty arbitrary.  It's kind of the MadWorld problem, where the rating you get doesn't seem to have much to do with the actual impressiveness of your skill in those sections.  I had one section where I had dispatched two miniboss enemies and a whole swathe of smaller enemies with ease in just a little more than a minute only for the game to give me a two star (out of five rating), and yet in the fight that followed thereafter, I took much longer for a lesser number of enemies, taking a lot of damage unnecessarily, but because I got into a stretch of spamming some of the sword special attacks to try to get through the section, only to be awarded a four star rating afterwards, so it didn't feel like relative skill was being rewarded there, and the rating is what determines how much karma you get.  So it's a system that seems to encourage mashing at the special attacks, which is unfortunate.

Some of the levels seem uninspired as well: while the majority of them are very colourful and well-themed I was a little disappointed in some of them in the later game, though explaining exactly why is well into spoiler territory, so suffice to say that when you get into the kind of environments some of those latter levels were, well, I guess I just expected more of such.  The same goes for the bosses that populate said levels, to be honest; there's nothing new or even particularly challenging about them - I just found them to be massive bullet sponges, which isn't difficult, it's just time-consuming.

The levels don't always make it clear how to progress

The other problem I had in regards to the level ties into how easy it is to get turned around above, and that's the fact that the objectives aren't always signposted all that well.  I don't need a game to hold my hand corridor MMS style, but having some idea of what I need to do to progress is a good thing, and there were a couple of points where I spent a downright embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out how to progress.  Some of them had some very samey sections in particular, and that certainly doesn't help matters, either.

A brilliantly-designed retro-style shooter with a lot of personality, great level design, and brilliant sword-fighting combat. There's a few flaws here and there, but nothing that detracts from the fun that is to be had with the title.