Dumb fun is still fun. Shadow Warrior harks back to the days when first-person shooters focused primarily on gory mayhem, without a need for a compelling narrative or puzzles that surpassed color-coded doorways. If you just want to cut through demon hordes like a rabies-afflicted samurai, the action in Shadow Warrior certainly delivers. But it tries to make a compromise between the no-frills shooters of the late '90s and the multifaceted FPSes of modern day, with mixed, sometimes mediocre results. This isn't quite the Shadow Warrior you remember, if you remember it at all--for better and for worse.
Lo Wang is back as the absurdly named protagonist; thankfully, he's aged with far more grace than bedfellow Duke Nukem, reimagined as a wise-cracking hotshot in place of the original's revoltingly stereotypical lead. For fans of the first game, it may come as a shock that this Shadow Warrior actually attempts to tell a story, chronicling Wang's quest to collect three parts of an all-powerful sword. Accompanying him is a snarky demon by the name of Hoji, whose cheeky charisma is initially endearing but has the potential to get annoyingly flamboyant. Wang and Hoji have reluctantly teamed up to take down the forces of evil, mocking each other with salty language every step of the way. Sure, the new Wang might not have much character depth, but he's far preferable to the old racist caricature. Yes, the dialog is full of immature humor, but it's not outright offensive. And when it comes down to it, the story's just an excuse to kill hundreds upon thousands of ancient demons.
"Shadow Warrior harks back to the days when first-person shooters focused primarily on gory mayhem..."
As you might expect, this is the kind of FPS where the weapons pack a punch, ammo flows freely, and enemies charge at you in droves like lemmings parading into a meat grinder. Shadow Warrior has all the gore a bloodthirsty gamer could ever ask for, with an arsenal that caters to classic FPS tastes. Even if you don't have an affinity for old-school shooters, obliterating a close-range torso with a quad-barrel shotgun or pinning a bird-creature to the wall with a hydraulic crossbow is always a savage good time. Besides spewing gallons of blood when shot, the character models can all be vivisected into meaty chunks, complete with errant bits of skeleton sticking out.
And you'll be doing a lot of slicing, because Wang uses his sword as often as any gun. Shadow Warrior makes first-person melee fun again by giving you a plethora of special katana abilities, which make filleting your fleshy adversaries all the more satisfying. To add a bit of modern spice to the mix, Wang can channel his Qi to activate special abilities in his left hand while holding a weapon in the right; they're no Plasmids, but they give you something to do besides circle-strafing until everything's dead. Wang also has access to a suite of upgrades that get some great presentation: Irezumi tattoos for Qi-based powers, filled-in woodblock paintings for enhanced stats, and tricked-out attachments for your guns. You won't feel much more powerful till you've unlocked quite a few, but picking and choosing them is mildly entertaining all the same.
"...weapons pack a punch, ammo flows freely, and enemies charge at you in droves like lemmings parading into a meat grinder."
When your screen isn't being doused by buckets of demon hemoglobin, you'll likely find yourself admiring Wang's surroundings. The graphics are particularly slick for a budget game, and the decent level variety has you killing your way through cherry blossom gardens in one stage and defacing subterranean graveyards in the next. You'll be charmed by all the little visual touches, like special animations when trying to reload an already-full clip, or stumbling into a secret room using the pixelated textures of the archaic Build engine.
But about halfway through the 10-to-12-hour campaign, the thrill of slaughtering starts to fade a bit, and Shadow Warrior's troubles start to really stand out. Some weapons, like the pistol and submachine gun, feel like inaccurate peashooters. Though there's a fair amount of enemy types, plowing through the hour-long stages can get wearisome, and your targets only seem capable of two reactions: shrugging off your gunfire or exploding in a geyser of gore. Boss fights against colossal beasts seem like great set pieces, until you realize that they all boil down to firing at glowing armor fragments with pinpoint accuracy.
"...halfway through the 10-to-12-hour campaign, the thrill of slaughtering starts to fade a bit..."
What's even stranger is that the last quarter of the plot takes a turn for the melodramatic, and wrongly assumes that the player has become invested in the relationship between Wang and Hoji. Even if you were paying attention to all the lavishly animated cutscenes, it's still a bear trying to piece together what exactly is happening or who you're supposed to kill. It all ends in an anticlimax, and because Shadow Warrior is single player only, this is pretty much a one-and-done experience.
At $40, Shadow Warrior feels just a bit too pricey, despite the stellar presentation and satisfying swordplay. It's exciting, guts-spilling fun in short bursts, but the campaign feels too long and dramatically self-indulgent for its own good. That said, if you want to sever limbs and cleave through torsos using bullets and a blade, you're bound to enjoy yourself. Just don't expect to get your brain or your heartstrings involved.