The one thing that Shadow Warrior does really well? Remind us how much fun swords in games can be. Nowadays, giant hunks of metal will mostly be found attached to brutally difficult action romps such as Dark Souls or Ninja Gaiden, where you have to follow the rules of engagement. Not so here – protagonist Lo Wang swings his katana like a baseball bat, chopping up hordes of demons like meat for the grinder, delivering off-colour comments along the way. The grand purpose: chasing down a dude with an even more powerful sword, of course. It’s gleefully stupid, and embraces that fact throughout.
In some ways, Shadow Warrior is a lesson on how to bring back an old-school game. It retains everything that was fun and a little bit wrong about early first-person shooters – no real surprise, given it shares roots with Duke Nukem – along with a faster pace and more immediate gameplay. Pick up a sword or gun and away you go. Bam. Or slash, as the case may be.
In others though, it’s a reminder of how much gaming has evolved as a medium, even since the original Shadow Warrior’s release. The mostly linear levels, simplistic enemies, and merest of concessions to character customisation feel, at their worst, like imitations of modern gaming trends. Elsewhere, it’s as unreconstructed as its profanity-spewing lead. Enemies come in waves as you progress – kill them all, get a score, move on. Although there are hidden items dotted about, usually crystals to upgrade Wang’s abilities (healing, Ki-powered sword attacks, etc), there’s little incentive to explore. It feels dated.
Much of this won’t be news – this modern Shadow Warrior was originally released in 2013, after all. However, it wouldn’t be unfair to expect more than a cosmetic overhaul as it transitions to PS4 and Xbox One, yet that seems to be all we have. Thankfully, it is a rather lovely looking slapping on of make-up, and the PS4 version adds in a few basic touch controls.
In short, Shadow Warrior is dumb, it’s fun, and it feels fully aware of its shortcomings. For a snappy, retro style shooter/slasher with a modern lick of paint, it’s hard to go wrong, but its lack of sophistication shows.