Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Review: Shadow Warrior (PC)

shadow warrior

While playing Shadow Warrior, the notorious reputation of the original game weighed heavily in my mind, mostly around the portrayal of Asian culture and the fact that unless the game smacked me in the face with racism I probably wouldn't notice. Being a Canadian white guy in his mid-30's, I'm admittedly at a disadvantage when it comes to detecting subtle racism, especially in video games where hot-button issues are often washed away with my general feeling of, "It's a game. Whatever." That is, unless it stomps on my foot then stabs me in the eye with it. Metaphorically.

shadow warrior

So, after blindly stabbing at something resembling an opening paragraph, I'm afforded a sweet segue into what Shadow Warrior is all about: swordplay.

Shadow Warrior offers many non-melee options. Guns, a laser-spewing demon head, crossbow, shotgun, but none of them deal the kind of damage that protagonist Lo Wang can serve up with his sword.

The entire story of the game is pushed forward by Wang's entanglement with the Nobitsura Kage, a blade tied to a demonic history, or something. The story is basically forgettable in the same vein as Doom, Quake, and Serious Sam. The story pumps a ton of enemies at Wang, most of which hove in on his position like some kind of terrible swarm of Vespa mandarinia. Really, that's all you need to know. There are waves of demons to gut and quarter. Full stop. 

shadow warrior

And what gutting and quartering! Surprisingly enough there's technique and thought that goes into using the sword, which offers charged thrusts, whirlwind slashes (which successfully induced motion sickness for this writer), and more typical mouse-button clicking swings of the sword. As enemies tend to converge on Wang's position, the sword is almost always the best option. Guns just won't do it unless it's a flying enemy or a boss that needs strong points exposed. Using the charged sword slashes cause nearby demons to enter a rage mode of sorts so they can converge on Wang's position even faster and with more power. The swordplay is essentially a magnet for demons, making any large-scale encounter that much more intense, particularly if the area is strewn with explosive barrels or cylinders where a single stray sword slash can destroy everything including Wang's ability to stay standing. That is to say, "breathing."

(These encounters can also bring Shadow Warrior's framerate to single-digit territory, depending on where you have the settings.)

It's more often fun than it is a slog. The slog part is more the result of having to backtrack through large sections of levels after having shattered various idols to unlock a "protected" area. At least the game has the good sense to toss a few bad guys to churn through to somewhat mask the fact Wang's already cleared out an area on his way to the next level.

shadow warrior

To assist Wang in conquering ever-increasing numbers ancient evils and more powerful demons, is the option -- though it's not really an option -- to upgrade Wang's abilities and weapons. It's all straightforward and unsurprising with little in the way of actual choice of how to build-up Wang's abilities. These little breaks to apply a karma point or spend cash on a weapon upgrade don't do much to break-up the pace of the game, especially in comparison to mid-level "micro loads" or the initial load of each level, which can be considerable.

shadow warrior

Shadow Warrior's humour will be hit and miss for everyone. For me, the fortune cookies are a highlight as are some of Wang's observations. The comedy pairing of Wang and his spirit hitch hiker, Hoji, whiffs more often than it succeeds in offering a laugh because I'm not sure who the straight man is. The most successful comedy duos always have a straight man. Abbott & Costello, Drebin and Captain Ed Hocken, Bert and Ernie, Tom and Dick Smothers, the list goes on, but I only ever got the sense that Hoji and Wang were always trying to outdo each other with a quip or a clever put down. Don't dwell on it though, there's another horde of demons clambering through glowing portals!

Taken in little chunks, Shadow Warrior manages to not outstay it's welcome. It's a lengthy romp with plenty of action, though it does fall somewhat flat when it comes to being memorable or offering stand-out encounters; it's gory entertainment, doesn't take itself seriously -- the recent release of "Viscera Cleanup Detail" confirms that -- and has some good first-person swordplay for $40.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Harkens back to the rushing enemies of Serious Sam and the story-heavy nature of Doom
- First-person swordplay
- A gory light-hearted romp
- Some cool environments to fight through
- Giant enemy bosses will never go out of style

The Bad:
- Comedy whiffs more often than it connects
- Framerate slows to a crawl during thick encounters
- Upgrade system seems almost an after thought

Score: 7.0 / 10

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