Shadow Warrior Review: Best Left in the Shadows

Shadow Warrior is a 2013 reboot of the 1997 3D Realms game of the same name. Both games are first-person shooters, featuring Asian protagonist Lo Wang's struggle against the Zilla corporation and a demonic horde trying to invade Earth. After playing it through from start to finish, I feel confident that both games should probably just stay forgotten. What makes me feel that way? Let's find out in my Shadow Warrior review.

The original Shadow Warrior shares a lineage with Duke Nukem 3D. Although this remake has very little to do with anything Duke Nukem related, I feel like it's still important to bring up, as Shadow Warrior's style is very much in line with classic Duke Nukem and several other Build Engine games.

These games were packed with gratuitous violence, gore, sexual imagery, and basically every aspect of videogames that the media would have you believe go hand in hand with creating psychopathic killers. They were very much the "B-movie slasher flick" of gaming in the late 90's - the kind of thing you might think was titillating to sneak into as a young teen.

The 1997 version of Shadow Warrior was pretty extreme even by those standards. Everyone has their own definition of what constitutes "sexist" or "racist," but by my standards it was way over the line on both counts. Lo Wang was a hodgepodge of racial stereotypes who made denigrating comments towards women while cracking dick jokes. It's not the sort of game that could be released in today's climate of more mature, inclusive, thoughtful gaming.

That makes this 2013 remake of Shadow Warrior all the more bizarre. This time around, Lo Wang has been dialed back a bit and skips over any overt sexism - he barely interacts with women at all this time around. The racial stereotypes are a bit more muted, and Wang is more of just a generic douchebag than the original's backwards, barely-English-literate Asian caricature.

Although Lo Wang has moved to a somewhat better location on the offensive scale, he's still not particularly likable. I didn't find myself rooting for him as he acted like an asshole and backstabbed everyone he came across. I also didn't find his wisecracks all that funny. He's got a "sidekick" of sorts this time around, but Hoji wasn't all that sympathetic a character for most of the game either.

OK, so we've established that the characters aren't all that likeable and that the overall tone is pretty immature, and it's really appealing to what kids (who shouldn't be playing this game) would consider to be "edgy." I can excuse a terrible plot and a few borderline tone issues if there's a good game underneath.

The problem is that Shadow Warrior isn't a particularly good shooter. The first half of the game is relatively interesting. The environments are beautiful to behold. New weapons, powers, and enemy types pop up from time to time, and this variation can be fun. Slicing demons to shreds with a katana seems like it's never going to get old.

However, it seems like Shadow Warrior just runs out of ideas about halfway through. I found myself in some very familiar environments, some of them directly rehashed from previous levels. Some of the environments are downright confusing, and on more than one occasion I got lost and didn't know which way to go, despite the game's general linearity.

Fighting the same strong demons over and over again felt more like a test of my own endurance rather than Lo Wang's. Most of the weapons felt underpowered, and I generally preferred to just stick to using the katana and a couple of the more useful ki powers. There are a few boss fights, but past the first, each one is basically a rehash of an older, similar fight.

I played on the "normal" difficulty, and I didn't find it to be all that hard. I could've turned the difficulty up, but the already long, repetitive combat would have just become longer and more repetitive.

Compounding the gameplay issues of Shadow Warrior were some technical glitches. I got stuck outside the map on a couple of occasions while hunting for secrets. There were also a few graphical issues in some spots, and the audio cut out for me regularly.