by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
For Fans of Infantile Humour
After what seems like a lifetime of the slow, drab and tactical, there’s no doubt that the old school shooter is back. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times in which I’ve enjoyed games with deep, pensive narratives. I’ve enjoyed troubled, scarred protagonists. There’s certainly something to be said for fearing the mere sound of your enemies. But, that being all fine and dandy, there’s also something to be said for the games that throw all of that out the window and let you embrace the inner badass that you know you are deep down. Shadow Warrior is one of those games, using its brand of hyper-action and wild violence not to replace tight, solid gameplay, but to enhance it.
Look, the humor in this game is either going to land for you, or it’s not. Instead of finding it “kind of funny,” you’re either going to try your hardest to find a setting to mute the game dialogue, or you’ll laugh through flashbacks to the seventh grade lunch room. Does the idea of a shotgun named “Boner” make you roll your eyes? Would you chuckle if I told you that one of the difficulties is “Who Wants Wang” (yeah, the protagonist's name is even innuendo)? The game is just incredibly immature in the sense that nearly everything’s a dick joke or some other kind of vulgarity, and that’s something that you’re going to have to decide for yourself if you dig it or not. I personally got a kick out of it, and I think it fit the crazy, wild tone the game establishes with its pace, visuals and game mechanics. If that all rubs you the wrong way, its prevalence from start to finish is going to severely impact your enjoyment of the game.
Just so you know what my frame of reference is here, I have not played the 2013 Shadow Warrior. That being said, we’re not exactly looking at the next Mass Effect piece of narrative excellence, and I felt right at home jumping in. I love that Shadow Warrior 2 doesn’t waste any time getting right into the action. Seconds into launching the campaign Wang finds himself trying to snag some sort of magical macguffin from an old “yep, that’s definitely cursed” looking building, only to be chased out by some nasty demons, a few dog sized killer rats and a smattering of spiders that are way bigger than they have any natural right to be. From there things escalate to include bigger, nastier and tougher enemies of literally all shapes, sizes and levels of sentience.
Full-On Action with a Side of Small Gripes
I feel really weird saying this, but I wish Shadow Warrior 2 was more linear. Certain parts of maps and certain objectives are procedurally generated, and I think it hurt the overall pacing of the game quite a bit. As fast and break-neck as fights are, I soon realized that I wasn’t really getting anything out of trying to find every nook and cranny that I could. The game acts like it wants you to try, rewarding you with various trinkets, but I quickly decided that I was having much more fun just getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible to continue the carnage. There’s certainly a place for larger maps that can be explored at the player’s leisure, but I don’t think that place is here. Fortunately the environments all look fantastic visually, but I think that sacrificing a bit of the game’s length to keep the pace up would have reaped a greater reward.
Luckily, Shadow Warrior 2 nails its combat, which is really the reason that you’re likely to be playing it. Much like 2016’s DOOM reboot, the name of the game is to never stop moving. You can sprint, quick dash, double jump and you’ll have to do them all to stay alive at the higher difficulties. To aid you in your quest of death you’ll be supplied with a number of increasingly powerful weapons, but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you put your skill upgrades into anything but the melee weapons or shotgun. Enemies, be they robot, demon or human, can be sliced to pieces, blown across rooms and have holes blown through their centers, and it’s incredibly satisfying. Playing on the game’s version of “hard” I always felt just enough in danger to keep the adrenaline up, while still letting me feel like the butcher in a bad-guy-market ready to unleash my unholy vengeance on the poor souls stepping in the way of my boomstick.
Killing enemies will also earn upgrade points and items that can be slotted into weapons or applied to Wang himself to do things like increase movement options, learn chi techniques and give bonus effects to weapons, which provides some light RPG elements that, while not necessary to spend much time with, let those that so choose tinker to maximise their effectiveness. My only gripe with the combat is that as I progressed further into the game, eventually I stopped getting “better” or more enemies to fight, and instead just had to fight enemies with more and more health. When a big part of what makes the game so fun is flying through enemies with reckless abandon, I don’t think this was a particularly great way to try and make things harder.
A Prescription for Blood and Mayhem
Playing Shadow Warrior 2 was like hand-delivering a gift to 14-year-old self. Maybe I should think that’s a bad thing, but I don’t. Despite a few flaws with pacing and level design, there are few games that have made me feel as much of an unstoppable god of death as I did in my time here. Sometimes after a long day of work or school a healthy serving of shotgun-blasted limbs and katana-sliced torsos is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Couch co-op, wild weapons, satisfyingly brisk movement.
Procedurally generated maps can be dull, bullet-sponge enemies aren’t fun.