When I was young, I used to love kung-fu movies. Bruce Lee was one of my heroes and with that came a fascination with Hollywood's version of Asian culture, complete with katanas, karate kicks, and every man, woman, and child somehow being tied to martial arts. When Shadow Warrior came across my desk, its first-person slicing and dicing immediately caught my eye. What drew me in and kept me playing, however, was its colorful sense of style and no holds barred parody of those same bad movies I used to enjoy. All that glitters is not gold, though, and some elements of Shadow Warrior wear thin before the experience is through.
Of Swords and Demons
The opening sequence of Shadow Warrior is more than a little cliched. The game opens on its protagonist, Lo Wang, on his way to purchase an ancient sword from an unwilling seller. Half a dozen koi ponds and countless cherry blossoms later, you meet the seller in a conveniently prepared Chinese hall. You know the kind I mean: wide open floors, ornate woodwork, candles, paper screens... the type of room perfect for a kung-fu master to strut his stuff on unsuspecting enemies. And strut it you do, soon chopping up your enemies into bloody, messy bits as they shout things like “weak sauce” in your direction. Shadow Warrior is delightfully self-aware and that helps shed needless gravitas from the experience.
Things quickly take a darker turn. After finding out that the sword's owner has partnered with a demon, Lo Wang's story becomes hell on earth. Literally. Instead of fighting armed men, you battle enraged demons still in the afterglow of their murderous mayhem on mankind. Skinless bodies, some of them laying in crumpled heaps, others impaled on otherworldly horns, are the norm. Hidden in one apartment I found two of these poor souls still boiling away in a jacuzzi tub. From the humble beginnings of a mob errand boy, Lo Wang is thrust into a greater mystery, one where he must partner with a demon to save the world from the rest.
All of this sounds more serious than the game actually is. Let me be clear, Shadow Warrior is more joke than Hellraiser spinoff. Though it plays like a traditional first-person shooter, the sheer extent of the violence is in itself comedic. Lo Wang will gleefully decapitate one enemy only to cut an arm and leg from the next while cracking one liners and making wang jokes. Maturity isn't the game's strong suit, but then, it doesn't need to be. From the delightfully dorky fortune cookies spread across each level to the Kill Bill levels of spewing demon blood, this is a game that revels in its indulgences.
To Demon Slaying!
Chopping down hellspawn with my katana was one of the most fun melee experiences I have had in recent memory. Connecting with an enemy has just enough weight to feel punchy and enough slice to feel cutting. Aiming is simple and direct. If you want to cut the head off and enemy or slash straight down a shoulder joint, you aim the reticle and click. If you want a little extra punch you can hold the right-mouse button and release a charged attack. Double-tapping a directional button and clicking will fire off one of Shadow Warrior's many unlockable sword abilities. The game throws hordes of different enemy types at you all at once, from ranged shooters to speedy in-your-face killers. The need to hack with the sword combined with Lo Wang's demon-powered magic and a healthy array of firearms, not to mention the spare ninja star, makes survival feel almost dance-like.
Each part of Lo Wangs offense can be upgraded to increase its effectiveness. Dispatching enemies earns karma which is used to unlock new skills and bonuses. Money collected throughout each level can be used to buy new firearms and attachments. Ki points are used to purchase new spell powers. Unfortunately, Shadow Warrior is a bit obtuse in how it displays your progress. Money is straight forward, but the remaining karma for each successive unlock is hidden from the player making upgrade points feel a bit random.
Funny, satisfying, over-the-top carnage
Other weapons lag behind the katana, slightly repetitive