Shadow Warrior: Cuttin' it old-school

The most popular first-person shooters of today are built on a foundation of Michael Bay-envy, melodrama and not-so-cleverly disguised corridors. But back in the late 90s the FPS genre wasn?t defined by military machismo, but by tongue-in-cheek humor, risqu? themes and borderline offensive protagonists. One company in particular pioneered what fans have come to describe as the ?classic first-person shooter?: 3D Realms. Ask any embittered modern day gamer what the first-person shooters of today should be like and chances are Duke Nukem 3D will featured prominently in the ensuing discussion. If it?s not Duke, it?ll almost certainly be Shadow Warrior.

Designed to improve on everything that made Duke Nukem 3D a critical success and a cultural phenomenon, Shadow Warrior was built on a vastly improved version of Duke?s engine, and offered lots of new tools to play with and a more immersive world to explore.

Shadow Warrior was envisioned as a parody of cheesy kung-fu movies and is remembered for both its outrageous use of Asian stereotypes and its reliance on humorous but cringe worthy movie tropes. But it is also revered by lovers of the classic FPS genre for its exotic arsenal of weapons, the high level of skill and accuracy it demanded and the emphasis it placed on meticulously combing through environments in search of secrets.

This year, Flying Wild Hog, a studio that has etched out a comfortable niche developing classic shooter inspired games such as Hard Reset, has revived Shadow Warrior, placing the beloved spirit of the Duke Nukem-era shooter in a revitalised body fit for the modern age of gaming.

In fact, what becomes immediately apparent when playing the new Shadow Warrior is that it is a defiantly old-school game. Right from the outset, where main character, Lo Wang, is seen speeding down a road, bopping his head to Touch by Stan Hope, the main theme from the 1996 animated Transformers movie.

If it isn?t completely clear at this point that Shadow Warrior is a game about indulging 90s nostalgia and snatching every opportunity for a cheesy joke that presents itself, it certainly will be when moments later Lo answers his phone by saying ?you?ve got Wang?. Oh, and he also busts some moves in sync with aGrimlock bobblehead on his dashboard.

Lo Wang?s adventure starts off as an innocent business transaction where he is tasked by the head of Zilla Industries with purchasing a specific sword rumoured to be connected to ancient gods. Of course, the deal quickly goes sour and before long Lo Wang is the spilling blood of everything from suit-wearing foot soldiers to giant demons from hell. It?s the kind of story you?d typically find in every other comic book, anime or movie in the 90s.

But the new Shadow Warrior isn?t all just about reminding you what was cool about the 90s with pop-culture references and pinched plotlines. It also faithfully recreates the gameplay feel of the genre and the classic Shadow Warrior itself. At the heart of the gameplay is gun-and-sword combat, but each weapon can be developed as time goes on by spending cash to upgrade them. Guns can be upgraded with dual-wielding capabilities, extra damage, guidance systems, secondary-fire options and, in some cases, just cramming two weapons together to make something even more horribly devastating.

Like in the previous game, accuracy is paramount as enemies can soak up damage which, in large groups, quickly becomes a problem. To balance this out shots do significantly more damage when they hit specific weak points. Obviously, the head is the natural target, but it?s also possible to blow off limbs. Doing so will not only score the player extra damage, but contribute significantly towards a better end-of-level rating.

When it comes to separating limbs from the body, the go-to weapon in Shadow Warrior is the samurai sword, which returns from the original in even more vicious form. Since he can pretty much cut through anything and everything, swinging Lo Wang?s sword and watching the environment get reduced to bits is incredibly satisfying.

The real fun, however, is in chopping at enemies. With a steady hand and some good timing it possible to take off an enemy?s sword or gun wielding arm and watch as they helplessly try to defend themselves against your follow up attacks. The sword becomes even more deadly when combined with the front kick, which staggers enemies, or one-handed guns.

Shadow Warrior?s combat has also been given some further depth with new mechanics. Chief among them is Ki powers which, together with stat boosts gained from spending Karma, can be used to unlock new abilities such as a charged lunging stab, a shockwave attack and a blade whirlwind move.

Additionally, Lo Wang can use a healing ability mid-combat which will recover health up to a certain limit, but not all the way. To recover fully medpacks will still need to be sought out but. Other abilities include shields, powers that knock enemies into the air and other defensive measures.

In-game, this creates an exciting dynamic. Though enemies spawn in waves and constantly rush at the player, the ability to quickly move between weapons and abilities presents lots of room for creativity. So those bum-rushing enemies quickly become fodder for testing strategies and having fun with tools.

Combine the classic gameplay and its modern trappings with the environments littered with secrets to seek out, and the unashamedly cheesy jokes, wise-cracking sidekicks and so-bad-but-so-good one-lines and Shadow Warrior becomes something that lovers of the classic first-person shooter would be mad to ignore.

For those that weren?t around to enjoy the halcyon days of Duke Nukem and original Shadow Warrior, Flying Wild Hog?s revival offers an experience faithful to those games. It?s the best history lesson you?ll probably ever get.

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