Shadow Warrior

Like everyone else I played Duke Nukem 3D back in the day but for some reason or other never got around to playing the original Shadow Warrior. I didn’t play the reboot either but noticed when it was released for free and thought I’d give it a shot when I saw a friend of mine playing the sequel on Steam. I had thought it to be a fairly light game I could slot in between more hefty ones but it turned out to have substantial content and was a more difficult action game than I’m used to these days.

As far as I can tell, the story in this version has little in common with the original game beyond reused character names and some themes. Lo Wang is a muscle for hire tasked by wealthy industrialist Zilla to retrieve an ancient sword known as Nobitsura Kage. When violence breaks out, demons for some reason I can’t discern invade from another dimension called the Shadow Realm. Lo Wang allies with an ancient demon exiled to Earth named Hoji who grants him supernatural abilities and sets off after the sword. It turns out that there are actually three pieces of this sword and when combined, it is the only weapon that can kill these Ancients. Along the way, he also unlocks hidden memories that reveal the backstory of the feud among the Ancients and the reason for Hoji’s exile.

I haven’t played a first person shooter in ages and this one is as old school as it can get without being horribly dated. It has the usual assortment of weapons, no cover mechanics and indeed since the enemies mostly want to rush towards you to get into melee range, the battles usually take place on flat, open terrain. Even the enemies are the usual demons, which as the game states, is great for you to wreck wanton violence on with no moral reservations but is a bit boring to me from a graphical design perspective. What makes Shadow Warrior stand out from the rest here is of course the awesome katana you get. The damage it does is significant all the way to the endgame due to its upgrades and the special moves you can perform with it actually make it better than other weapons which require ammunition in many situations. I have to admit that it feels really great to swing it around when you’re swarmed by tons of enemies.

This is indeed how combat in this game mostly plays out. Rather than fighting small clusters of enemies as you advance through a level, this game has you fighting them in waves while you’re confined to an area. You’ll enter an area, marvel a bit at how empty it seems and then enemies start appearing from tunnels, doors, or even portals and you’re in for a huge fight. This makes for fast-paced, chaotic battles which have you running all over the place as you’re constantly on the edge of death. To encourage the chaos along, destructible items have a surprisingly large explosive range and do plenty of damage plus the game rewards you for using varied methods to kill the demons by awarding more Karma points which are spent to upgrade skills. Sometimes the game does feel a bit unfair when it traps you in an enclosed space with multiple tough enemies. But this is counterbalanced by the character being able to heal to almost full health any time there is enough breathing space to do so and the fact that you are allowed to save anywhere.

I do think that the old-fashioned boss battles are a bit too much of a slog. The mechanics are straightforward but still tedious as you must repeat the same actions several times and the bosses can do huge damage. If you don’t use manual save scumming and rely on the automatic checkpoints, you might need to retry them many, many times. As for the graphics, they’re obviously dated given that this is a game first released in 2013 especially when the demons get in your face but I found them acceptable. One bit that I do like is that Lo Wang is consistently the biggest asshole in the game. Usually in these games you have friends, employers, allies all betraying you right and left. There’s no chance of that here with Lo Wang being such a selfish, paranoid and callous mercenary with no honor whatsoever. It’s kind of refreshing to have the usual tropes upended like that.

Overall I found this to be a perfectly cromulent action game still. I really enjoyed its waves of enemies style of combat and the katana is a very fun weapon. I do have to say that the Hard difficulty setting is quite challenging to me and I’m probably getting too old for such frenetic games. Some of the huge battles are so chaotic and take so long to play out that I had to psych myself up to face them. It might be time for me to consider dropping games like this or at least turning the difficulty level down.

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