After the disappointment that was Hard Reset, I decided to give Flying Wild Hog another chance to impress me by playing one of their more recent games, Shadow Warrior. Shadow Warrior is a re-boot of a 3D realms game released in 1997 which was also named Shadow Warrior. Shadow Warrior strives to be a blast from the past, allowing players to relive that old school FPS experience.
After watching one of the most badass opening cutscenes of all time (featuring Stan Bush’s “The Touch”), you are quickly introduced to the swordplay of Shadow Warrior. At first the only moves you have are a basic slash attack and a delayed slash attack but later on you can unlock more interesting special attacks you can use by double tapping specific directional keys and pressing the left mouse button. You can also press the right mouse button to use magic powers though I find the restoration power to be the most useful as it can be used to heal yourself mid battle whereas the other abilities specialize in crowd control and damage reduction.
As cool as it is to have such a flexible close quarters weapon, I can’t help but wonder why the katana needs to have a delayed slash attack. You will almost never use this attack as it feels completely pointless to use considering the fact that there are so many better attacks you can use with your katana. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the constant necessity to double tap the directional keys to input these special attacks.
Having to double tap directional keys in the middle of a huge fire fight is a pain to do as it takes a bit too long to execute. Sure you can double tap the directional keys quickly but doing so will still leave you immobile for a split second which is never a good thing in games like this as all old school FPS games are built around mobility and this is ultimately what I consider to be lacking in this game as the movement in this game feels sluggish and this can be a major hindrance when you’re trying to avoid enemy attacks.
Now this could be considered a personal bias but I absolutely loathe the dodge function in this game, yes there is a dodge function much like in Hard Reset Redux but this time there is a stamina meter that governs how many times you can use it, so you cannot abuse it. In my Hard Reset Redux review, I praised the dodge system for existing and as such I will give credit to the developers for considering the necessity of movement in FPS games but to be perfectly honest my experience with Shadow Warrior has conditioned me to detest this dodge system for numerous reasons.
The biggest issue I have with the dodge system is that it just isn’t adequate for this kind of game. You are constantly swarmed with enemies, sometimes in areas where there is lots of clutter. Games like Painkiller get away with this by having bunnyhopping, why doesn’t Shadow Warrior have bunnyhopping if it’s trying to be an old school FPS? This is ultimately the biggest issue I have with Flying Wild Hog’s games. They are trying to make old school style games on a modern framework and this never works. Being able to bunnyhop would make it possible to jump over some of the clutter and could also allow you to hop between platforms, the extra air time from bunnyhopping is crucial to these games for so many reasons.
Much like in Painkiller where the player is constantly tapping the space bar, you will often be tapping the alt button repeatedly to dash. You can also hold down the alt button to sprint but there’s no point in doing so as it doesn’t flow naturally with the pacing of the combat. You’re supposed to be gunning down enemies on the move and you can’t do that then you are sprinting so adding a sprint option was a waste. The stamina gauge will constantly be limiting your movement and you’ll eventually return to Lo Wang’s sluggish walking if you tap the alt button too much, as such the game encourages players to dodge only when the enemy is attacking which makes movement in Shadow Warrior an absolute pain in the ass.
Being a first person shooter, you’d expect to have some powerful firearms in your arsenal but Shadow Warrior’s weapons are pretty varied in their usefulness to the point that some of the games weapons feel misplaced or unnecessary. The revolver’s slow fire rate really doesn’t fit the pacing of the game all that well at all, so much so that you’re just better off using the katana, not only that but the revolver itself is rendered completely useless later on in the game once you encounter tougher enemies.
Then you have weapons like the PDW and the Flamethrower, both of which feel inadequate. Sure the PDW is the only automatic rifle in the game but does it really have to feel this weak? Oh well, at least it’s not as bad as the flamethrower which is completely fucking useless. Seriously what is the point in giving players a weapon with absolutely no stopping power in a game where enemies are charging towards you and you move at a snail’s pace? Painkiller Battle Out Of Hell’s flamethrower was at least decent and could kill most enemies quick enough to be of use.
Finally there’s the rocket launcher which is quite possibly the worst rocket launcher I have ever seen in a videogame. This weapon does absolutely bugger all in terms of damage to most enemies later on and the velocity of each rocket is so slow that it’s near impossible to land a well placed hit with it as enemies are constantly moving. The splash damage it nothing to write home about either, it may kill some minor fodder but that’s not saying much, it’s definitely better than the flamethrower but not by much.
As for the other weapons, the crossbow feels pretty decent despite having a low fire rate. I think they did a fairly good job with this weapon all things considered, it’s powerful without being completely imbalanced. It’s better than the revolver in pretty much every single way if you ask me. The crossbow can also shoot remote bombs at enemies which is pretty cool. The shotgun is also pretty decent for the most part as it deals fairly decent damage to enemies at close range which is a considerable improvement from the shotgun in Hard Reset.
You better enjoy the shotgun, crossbow and the katana because they’re the only 3 weapons worth a damn in this game. The PDW has its uses but only in certain situations is it really all that useful. I get that Shadow Warrior wants to focus primarily on its katana combat but does it really need to make more than half of the game’s firearms completely fucking useless? Satisfying weapons are important in any FPS, particularly the fast placed single player ones. Sadly the majority of the game’s weapons just aren’t effective enough to want to use them.
Part of this is due to the later portion of the game’s constant bombardment of hit point sponge enemies and believe me, there are going to be some long ass firefights in this game enough to tire out even the most hardened of FPS veterans. I don’t think it’s bad to have the occasional mini-boss enemy with more health than the average foe but ultimately I would argue that glass cannon enemies are arguably more fun to fight as you have to react fast before they can damage you. Hit point sponge enemies remove the thrill of killing enemies before they kill you, instead you have to keep blasting away till they fall over.
In addition, shooting enemies in Painkiller causes a stagger effect so if you manage to shoot an enemy once but didn’t get the finisher, you get a second chance to make a finisher. You can also use the freezer to freeze an enemy in place allowing you to shatter them with a single shot regardless of how much health they have. This makes the gameplay feel more aggressive and less passive as rather than trying to back away from the enemies, you’re chasing them down. This whole “run away” mentality is what made me detest Serious Sam and Shadow Warrior does this to some degree mainly due to the hit point sponge enemies. As such you will often find yourself playing more passively in Shadow Warrior than you would in games like Painkiller.
The dodging system does make this a little bit less problematic than games like Serious Sam and I will acknowledge that its existence allows you to play a tad more aggressively but there is very little incentive to do so as dodging wastes stamina which could be used to help you escape from the enemy, therefore playing passively is simply more efficient than it is to play aggressively and I consider this to be a huge flaw in the game’s design.
Now sure, Painkiller had moments where keeping your distance was the best option, particularly in trauma. However the option to play aggressively was always available and was encouraged. The ability to pick up enemy souls gave players an incentive to stay closer to the enemy than to keep their distance. Shadow Warrior has a similar mechanic but unlike Painkiller, health drops from enemies are very infrequent as unlike Painkiller where soul drops are guaranteed, Shadow Warrior’s health gain system uses RNG to decide whether or not the health will appear which is a stupid idea.
This brings me to a point that I neglected to mention in my review of Hard Reset but I will mention it here instead. Now the reason why I didn’t mention this before in my review of Hard Reset is because I was willing to give this idea another chance to see if it could actually work. Shadow Warrior proves otherwise as many of the game’s problems are related to the needless RPG elements that plague the gameplay. Like with many modern FPS games, Shadow Warrior allows players to upgrade their weapons and learn new skills. Unfortunately this is to the games detriment for so many reasons.
Now lets take a look at Painkiller again. In Painkiller you have 5 weapons that have been tightly balanced to give players an incentive to swap between them. Each weapon has a secondary function, some even have 3 functions. Each weapon serves a specific purpose and as such the weapon you’re using often depends on the situation you are in. The shotgun is used to deal with enemies at close to mid range, the stakegun is used to deal with enemies at mid to long-range, the electrodriver is used against large groups of enemies at close range and the rocket launcher/chaingun is used against large groups of enemies from afar. The painkiller on the other hand is a very flexible weapon that can do pretty much anything the other weapons can but isn’t as efficient at dealing with enemies as the other weapons are making it the perfect side arm weapon.
“You better enjoy the shotgun, crossbow and the katana because they’re the only 3 weapons worth a damn in this game”
In Shadow Warrior you have 7 weapons, one of these weapons being the katana. Much like the painkiller, the katana is a very flexible weapon that can do anything the other weapons can do. The problem is that the other weapons do not give the katana a run for its money. While some weapons like the crossbow, the PDW and the shotgun end up being more efficient later on in the game, at the start of the game they are pretty weak. This is because of the game’s upgrade system. Each weapon starts off as an unfinished weapon in which you have to spend money to complete it.
Now I can see what Shadow Warrior is trying to do, it’s trying to give players the incentive to explore to find valuables that reward players with growth. As good as all of this may seem on paper, it is actually damaging to the gameplay due to the fact that the weapons aren’t worth using until they are fully upgraded which requires players to accumulate resources. This takes time to do and as such you will spend a large portion of the game with a very weak arsenal of weapons, aside from the katana of course.
The sad thing is that it really didn’t need to be this way. Painkiller’s tarot card system required players to gather gold coins to purchase new cards. This gave players an incentive to explore in order to find secrets like holy items which are worth 100 gold each. This allowed Painkiller to keep a strong emphasis on growth and some minor exploration without compromising its weapon balancing. Now I realize that I’m comparing Shadow Warrior to Painkiller a lot here but bear in mind that the creators of Shadow Warrior also worked at People Can Fly and were involved in the creation of Painkiller. As such the fact that their more recent games are so inferior to Painkiller worries me greatly.
One issue that never ceases to infuriate me in most modern first person shooters is the constant need to reload your weapon. Not only does it bring the gameplay to a standstill for 3-5 seconds but it also adds more busywork for the player. Sure it makes sense in a more realistic game but in a game like Shadow Warrior, it just feels misplaced. I cannot count how many times I had to cycle through every single weapon at the end of each battle just to reload them just so that I would have a full clip for the next fight, it’s tedious and it is just bad game design.
Sure you could argue that the need to reload adds an extra layer of challenge considering the fact that you have to be more careful with your ammo usage but let’s be real here, you have 7 weapons to swap between, if your ammo runs out, you can just swap to a new weapon so technically the reload feature doesn’t add any extra challenge, it just brings the pacing of the gameplay to a stand still which is never a good thing in a fast paced first person shooter. When will developers learn to stop assuming that realism is essential in games? Because it isn’t.
While Shadow Warrior tries to bring a solid single player experience to the table, it really doesn’t feel like an old school style first person shooter at all, rather it feels like your typical modern FPS with a premise that differs from the usual military warfare. I really like the oriental setting they went for with this game, the levels are very colorful and being a lot of flavor to the experience, that is until you reach the more industrial themed levels where the game starts to become a bit too generic for my tastes. As such I’d say that the visuals are a mixed bag. While some levels look really great, other levels are pretty lackluster to say the least.
I get that the game wanted to give us something different and it does to some degree. The first few levels are bright, colorful and filled with tonnes of Japanese architecture, later on you encounter a cool urban setting with a similar style to the first few levels. Once you reach the industrial levels however, the game starts to look bland and believe me, there’s no shortage of these levels and they seem to go on forever. Personally I think the industrial levels should have been shortened a little as I find them to be quite monotonous in comparison to the other levels for the simple fact that industrial settings tend to lack color and while they’re good in small doses, I think they overstayed their welcome in this game.
Speaking of things that overstayed their welcome, the boss fights leave much to be desired. Every single boss fight in Shadow Warrior feels like a needless ordeal and a time waste. Why on earth do you give the boss a health bar when the bosses health doesn’t decrease until you drain another health bar? The whole point in giving bosses a health bar is so that players are able to tell how much damage they need to do to the boss before it dies. Unfortunately the bosses in Shadow Warrior cannot simply be shot at, you have to instead shoot their weak points but in order to do so you have to break the shard of armor protecting that weak point.
This is the exact same issue I had with Hard Reset. The developers have clearly learned nothing when it comes to boss fights. Now to be fair, I’ve yet to play a single first person shooter where the boss fights are all consistently good. Even Painkiller had problems with its boss fights but at least it had a few good ones like the Necrogiant which was as simple as “shoot it till it dies”. Plus the bosses in Painkiller could be killed quickly by using tarot cards and players are encouraged to do this in order to unlock new tarot cards. In Shadow Warrior however, boss fights take ages and none of them are even remotely challenging, they’re just a tedious ordeal for the player to get through.
Another issue I have is with the hit detection of the bosses weak points. The hit boxes are way too small and as such you are limited to weapons such as the PDW and the crossbow to deal with every single boss fight as accuracy is everything. Plus if you have to reload in the middle of the fight, guess what? The armor regenerates and you have to do it all over again. This is quite possibly the pinnacle of shitty boss design in a FPS… or it would have been if it wasn’t for Hard Reset which was even worse in this regard. Why can’t I just shoot the boss and kill it? Why do I always have to shoot the weak points to damage the boss? It’s so annoying.
Except it’s not just the boss fights that have hit boxes. In the later portion of the game you are introduced to a new enemy known as Berserker. Berserkers are immune to all forms of damage from the front and will constantly charge at you. Basically imagine an over sized Kleer from Serious Sam with heavy armor at the front and lots of health. That’s basically what the Berserker is. These enemies are hands down the worst enemies I have ever encountered in a first person shooter and for good reason. The only way to kill them is by shooting the weak point on their back. Not only is it difficult to get behind them but when they charge you, you have only a split second to shoot their back before they turn around.
You would think that fighting just 1 of these guys is bad enough but in later levels they throw even more at you and you are constantly dodging around the map trying to avoid them. If you try to shoot one of them in the back, the other one will hit you with their charge attack. Because it’s impossible to focus on just 1 enemy at a time, adding 2 or more of these enemies in a single fight is downright criminal. I get that the developers are trying to make the game more challenging later on in the game but this just isn’t the way to do it, there are plenty of ways to make challenging enemies without having to make it such a needless hassle to kill them.
Another of my biggest gripes with this game is the level design. Much like in Hard Reset, Shadow Warrior likes to fill each level with explosives and clutter except there’s no real thought put into their positioning. Not only does serve to hinder the player’s mobility but it can be potentially fatal if a player accidentally triggers a chain reaction of explosions. Many of these explosives are positioned in places where enemies are not likely to go making them nothing but a hindrance to the player. Compare this to Painkiller where most of the explosives are positioned in places where they can be put to good use such as the barrels that appear on the staircase on snowy bridge which can be used to blow up enemies that come down the stairs.
Speaking of explosives, later on in the game you will encounter these weird green orbs scattered across the level. This is probably the developers attempt at trolling the player by adding a form of trap to the game. I hate games that do this and I wish that developers would just stop. While some of these orbs are easy to see, others are not. Some of these orbs are placed near doorways or which aren’t in the player’s line of vision giving them a nasty surprise if they walk in, others are placed behind crates or even in bushes and can be a real pain to deal with.
Eventually you will encounter an enemy known as Mother, these enemies like to create more of these green orbs and send them rolling towards you. The only way to avoid these is by shooting them. I tend to use the revolver for this as it is a completely useless weapon for just about everything else so it’s not a waste for me to use it on these orbs. The worst part about all this is that the orbs can reach you from literally anywhere, they can even roll up staircases… I’m dead serious. You would think that in a game where reloading exists, the laws of physics would also apply. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case.
On the plus side there is plenty of ammo to be found in each level so you don’t often find yourself low on ammunition. If for whatever reason you do, there is a way to buy extra ammo from the upgrade shop if you need it. In addition there’s plenty of money littered around for players to find in order to give players some breathing room between fights as well as secrets to find. Despite all this, I feel that many of the games levels overstay their welcome. Some levels are way too short whereas other levels are way too long. One level in particular took nearly 2 hours for me to finish which is inexcusable.
While the game does give players the ability to save anywhere, I think that the developers should have spread the levels out a bit for the sake of encouraging break periods, especially since players are graded at the end of each level. Gamer psychology dictates that players are more willing to drop a game upon completing a level or upon reaching a certain milestone. As such it is important to have a bite-sized level structure, particularly in first person shooters. Shadow Warriors failure to do this is quite possibly its most damaging flaw, especially considering the rest of the issues that plague this game.
It doesn’t help that the music adds basically nothing to any of the levels, none of which are particularly memorable and makes you wonder why they even bothered with music in the first place. None of the music is adrenaline pumping nor does it go towards building a strong ambiance… it’s just there. I really have nothing to say about the music at all, it’s just forgettable. It’s like they weren’t even trying.
All the negativity you have seen so far may lead you to believe that this game has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Is the game really all that terrible? Yes and no. You see when I started the game, I was actually having a lot of fun playing it. I really enjoyed using the katana to chop foes to pieces and at first the upgrade systems appeared to be a nice touch. I really liked the emphasis on exploring for secrets and I also liked the level aesthetics. That all changed when I reached the half way mark where the game started to become a tedious slog, enemies started to get more and more irritating to fight due to having way too much health and I started to lose interest in the level aesthetics once they went towards a more industrial setting.
Shadow Warrior is a game I wanted to like… a lot. While I didn’t expect it to be as good as Painkiller, I still wanted to have some fun with it and I did for a while but then the game began to stagnate in its later sections so badly that I couldn’t help but write a harsh critique on this game. In baseball, when you get 3 strikes, you’re out. This isn’t the way I do things however. If they get 2 strikes from me, they’re out. As such I can’t see myself wanting to give Shadow Warrior 2 a go, or the new Rise Of The Triad. Flying Wild Hog have failed to impress me twice now, they’re not the developers they once were back when they made Painkiller, they’re different now. It’s difficult to come to terms with my dislike for this game but I’m afraid sometimes you just have to accept the truth.
In any case if you’re thinking of buying this game, I’d say that it depends on how tolerant you are of the bullshit most modern FPS games. If you somehow managed to enjoy games like Serious Sam 3, I think you’ll probably find a winner here… but I despise Serious Sam for so many reasons and Serious Sam 3 is the first game in the series to implement a reload feature. It’s also interesting to note that the first Serious Sam makes a cameo appearance in this game which is quite fitting if you ask me. If you can tolerate games like Serious Sam 3 then you’ll most definitely enjoy Shadow Warrior. If not then spare yourself the ordeal and avoid this game.
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would You Replay? No
So the question is, which game is better? Shadow Warrior or Hard Reset? Well if I was basing my opinions on the start of the game, Shadow Warrior wins hands down. As a complete package however I’d argue that Hard Reset does a far better job.
Thanks to Hypno Coffin for gifting me a copy of the game. Saved me wasting my money on this.