Cutting Noggins in Shadow Warrior [Preview]

Screw first person shooters; let's get some first person swordplay.

Shadow Warrior

Getting a new Shadow Warrior officially completes the trilogy of shooters I watched my buddy play on his computer during high school — joining Doom and Duke Nukem in modern times. As far as offensiveness went, I actually figured that Shadow Warrior would be far less likely to get an update than Duke Nukem was, what with the painfully racist speech. Somehow, we’re here with a brand new Shadow Warrior, and I’m happy to say that it’s pretty fun and nowhere near as racist as I was afraid it was going to be. At least in the preview, it wasn’t.

Are you sick of taking cover in shooters? Just plain tired of looking at pillars and chest-high walls, knowing that when you stick your head out it’s going to get blown off? Shadow Warrior comes from an older time when you moved behind a pillar for a second at most, and that’s only because that pillar was on your way to cramming your shotgun down someone’s throat. Despite having finite health, many older shooters demanded that you strafe and shoot if you wanted to avoid getting killed, and not go hide somewhere. It was a wonderful time, and the new Shadow Warrior is definitely drawing from it with its combat.

For starters, the game has a heavy melee focus. You have a katana to use on your enemies, and as far as damage goes, it cannot be beat. This thing goes through enemy limbs with almost no resistance, requiring a swing or two at most. The best part is that you can aim it wherever you like, as there is an option to let you control the swipe of the sword with your mouse. It’s pretty handy if you want to make very targeted attacks, but I still found that just letting the game auto-pilot your swings worked well. Even if the angle isn’t quite right, most slashes done at head level will still lop the noggin off just fine. If that’s not your style, you can always go for the arms or legs, as removing any of them means at least disarming your… I’m sorry for that. That pun really was unavoidable.

Shadow Warrior

The swords are nice, but when the game starts adding ranged enemies, you’re going to need to deal with them. Here’s where the guns probably should have entered the picture, but to be honest I really hated the gunplay I saw in the preview. The revolver does decent damage, but has such a nuisance firing rate that it gets really annoying when you miss. As for the submachine guns, they fire a lot faster, but I swear I’m shooting spitballs at the enemies for how much damage it takes to put the most basic creatures down. As for the crossbow, the little noise it makes when I fire it just doesn’t convey damage in my mind, and I only used it a little. Something about the little “pfft” noise it made just made it impossible for my brain to associate the weapon with hurting anyone.

I tended to avoid the guns because of the issues with them, so what could I do about our ranged pals? Well, the game has several ability types added into it to help you out. There was a system of powers you could purchase using stones that were hidden in the levels. These would let you hit the enemies at range, do a powerful sword strike, heal yourself, and most importantly, put up a shield. Instead of giving you another meter to have to worry about, the game instead limits how powerful these abilities are. The healing power will only restore you up to 65 HP, and the shield only absorbs a good portion of the damage and reduces your movement speed a bit. It’s a solid balance, and made the powers a nice touch.

You have several different upgrading systems for your powers and abilities, too. For your own character, you can pick up Karma points (from killing enemies or in pools in the environment) to be able to increase your base damage to enemies, find more hidden ammo, or increase your resistance to fire. Your guns can also be improved with money you find lying around, although I found most of the guns were still pretty useless even after being fully upgraded. Still, it was nice to have all of these things kicking around the game to give me an excuse to go putter around the environments. There are many secret stashes hidden all throughout the game, although they’re thankfully not as well hidden as they used to be back in the shooters of Shadow Warrior‘s heyday. At most you’ll have to just check around a lot of corners.

Shadow Warrior

Putting all this to use in combat is where things get fun. The game likes to throw large amounts of enemies at you, something it makes very clear right from the start. I saw an enemy lurking in a field outside the first building, and since I thought he was alone I darted out and cut him apart. Feeling a little smug, I started to walk away, only to hear the screams of more enemies. I ran back to a doorway to create a choke point, but wasn’t prepared for the twenty creatures that came tearing in after me. They didn’t feel like they would ever stop, and soon my screen was filled with spurts of blood as I swung my katana as fast as I could. Limbs were flying everywhere, my health was dropping fast, and by the end of it I was almost gasping for air.

If you don’t want to get into harried fights with crazy enemies, don’t even try this game. You need to be very quick on your feet in Shadow Warrior, as the game tosses a lot of extremely aggressive enemies your way while having ranged creatures pick at you from afar. Almost every fight eventually devolves into backing away from advancing groups of at least six enemies while hoping there aren’t more sneaking up behind you. When you start noticing explosive damage you’ll have to dart out of direct melee and attack the ranged creatures, sprinting toward them and killing as many as you can until the direct melee group catches up to you again.

If you can get a second to breathe, you’ll probably need to activate one of your healing or shield powers. Now, I found the powers useful, but activating them is a bit of a nuisance. Instead of making you only equip some and mapping them to a few buttons, you can do any of your special powers by tapping a directional button twice followed by your heavy or light attack. This creates a couple of problems. The first is that I tended to forget which direction and attack does what, so when I needed to heal myself I often did three or four wrong moves before I actually pulled off the move. I did eventually remember, but any attack I didn’t do often was easy to forget. Also, the commands didn’t always seem to want to work unless they were input quickly. Sometimes when I was desperate to pull up my shield, I’d be trying to do the move and I would just end up doing an attack by mistake. The amount of times this happened went up the more stressed I was in a huge fight, which was exactly when I needed everything to go right.

Shadow Warrior

Things got really interesting when I was fighting the boss that ended the preview. I had to square off against a giant monster wielding a huge axe, and the fight was great. My job was to shoot at his joints to expose his weak points, and they took a lot of damage before they’d open. It meant a lot of dodging and running around avoiding the boss’ attacks, keeping up with the game’s frantic pace even though I was only fighting one thing. After a couple of deaths (yes, the FIRST boss killed me half a dozen times), I finally managed to break one of the boss’ weak points. Know what happened then? NO CHECKPOINT. I was actually expected to beat an entire boss without getting a checkpoint! It was stressful for the rest of the fight, I had almost no ammo left when I was done, and every hit I took was terrifying. When I put that thing down, I stood up and cheered a bit. That’s how you do bosses, kids!

That boss looked pretty cool, too. He was some giant fire knight with lava running down the plates in his armor. I fought him in this huge arena filled with smoke and sparks, and it just looked really good. The rest of the game looks nice as well, but the focus on Japanese gardens and pagodas got pretty old by the end of the fourth chapter. The enemies were starting to get pretty stale too, as the humanoid demons all look pretty much the same beyond a couple of special creatures. Everything in the game looks good, but is repeated to the point where you get sick of it no matter how good it looks.

The fighting, while mostly frantic, also tends to fall into the same pattern every time, and with little enemy variety I started to find that I was essentially fighting the same battle over and over again. Slash some melee guys, dart off to kill some ranged ones, back to melee, and repeat. The more powerful creatures that had shields or the huge shaman who resurrected your enemies injected some much needed variety into the combat, but the preview didn’t use them all that often until the fourth chapter. The combat may be quite hectic, but once you’ve fought these creatures enough it all starts to feel kind of the same.

Shadow Warrior

The game’s plot helps a little bit. It’s some goofy story about demons and a special sword that kills them, but it’s a shooter so no one really cares. The game thankfully doesn’t interject with the plot all that much so it doesn’t get annoying, but it does have some nice moments between your character and a demonic follower. The banter can be funny at times as the demon incessantly likes to screw with you, teasing Lo Wang (your character) in ways that got a couple of chuckles out of me. The game also started off with your character singing along with Stan Bush’s The Touch, straight out of Transformers: The Movie, so the game gets big points from me for not taking itself too seriously. It made some of the parts when I started to get bored go down a lot easier.

The combat may have gotten a little tired and repetitive, but by the end of the preview I saw that Shadow Warrior was really just starting to get interesting. With some more enemy variety in later chapters, the game could really clean up my only serious complaint about it. Adding in more of those boss fights with focus on the game’s hectic pace, and it’ll be something new and fun for people who are tired of shooting people while hiding behind cover. Forget low walls, get Lo Wang… God, that was just as terrible as the earlier joke.

It’s gonna be fun. Ok? I’m done before I say anything else stupid.

Joel Couture
Joel Couture
Joel Couture

MASH Veteran

A horror-obsessed gamer, Joel is still spending his days looking for something to scare himself as much as Fatal Frame. Even so, he has ridiculous action games and obscure gems to keep him happy in the meantime. A self-proclaimed aficionado of terrible retro games, he's always looking for a rotten game he hasn't played yet, and may be willing to exchange information for candy.

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