Death of the Critic

The Backlog - Shadow Warrior

Written by: Tom Blaich


I have a confession to make. Like many of you reading this, I have a list of games that I’ve been meaning play for years. I have way too many games on Steam, and a stack of cases sitting next to my TV. Close to five hundred games now. Maybe more. It makes me feel guilty. I haven’t touched 90% of them in one way or another. I need to fix that. So this week, I dug deep into my
backlog and pulled out a game. I want to play all of them; I’ve just never had the chance. Now’s the time.

There is something about swords that are just kind of cool, that voice in the back of your mind, even as you laugh at absurd sword collections on the internet, that tells you "but wouldn't it be cool to slice apart a watermelon like you were some kind of cybernetically enhanced ninja?"
Shadow Warrior takes that in the remake of the old-school shooter, combines it with a healthy dose of inappropriate humor, and enough blood to make Takashi Miike jealous. You are a Yakuza assassin tasked with re4covering a famous sword, and saddled with a sarcastic demon sidekick (and a whole lot of firepower).

In all honesty, it feels like this game should be so much worse than it actually is. It does not describe well, but in practice, it continues the trend of modern remakes of 3D shooters being pretty damn good. Half of the time, it feels like you are running your way through some kind of weird anime, and in so many ways that works to it's benefit.

Frequently, when a game has first person sword combat, it is less than engaging, devolving into a flurry of repetitive, weightless attacks and blocks, but here that is far from the case. You have a series of special attacks along with a set of Japanese styled guns to help mix up your attacks and deal with enemies at longer range. You feel just as powerful as your character is supposed to, which is an issue that I hate running into in a game.


There is nothing worse than being told i'm an unstoppable badass feared across the word, and then being instantly killed by a budget mercenary with a cheap handgun. Here you are an unstoppable flurry of bullets and blades, a veritable woodchipper of demon and human flesh, trailing together combos of slashes and lunges and submachine gun fire into a deadly symphony.

But that is not to say that there are no challenges present. There are a lot of enemies on screen at one time, from the roughly humanoid to 30-story tall hulking monsters who'd like to see you squashed flat. It is nice to be able to go against some old-fashioned gigantic bosses for a change, and it is indicative of the general design philosophy of the game. They didn't set out to redefine the genre or change
Shadow Warrior as a franchise. Instead they brought the core game into the 21st century, and looked at how to make it as much fun as possible.

Really, the biggest leap forward is that you can upgrade your weapons and skills by finding money and crystals, and this lets you slightly customize the track you want to take with combat, even if by the end of the game you still are basically the same superpowered character no matter what. Compared to games like
Wolfenstein: The New Order, which was a more wholehearted revival, you can see that they were both successful in their own ways.


But if there was one area where
Shadow Warrior maybe should have taken that leap forward, it was with the story. What is here isn't bad, but it is more than a little generic. It only really starts to hit it's strides towards the latter quarter of the game, but before that, if it weren't for the motormouthed Lo Wang, the story itself would have been entirely forgettable. They have to lean really heavily on him to keep you interested, and it brings his humor into the spotlight.

Unfortunately, a lot of it is pretty bad. The jokes simply don't land half of the time, and even when they do, I would question why I was even laughing. It has a certain 80's B movie vibe to it that i'm sure is entirely intentional, but you can feel how hard they are trying to come off in that way.

Luckily, the gameplay is more than energizing enough, even without a story. Put simply, it is just a fun and engaging game to play, whether that be as a simple fast-paced shooter, or if you choose to dig more into the sword mechanics to try to master the blade. It speaks to a rather particular era of 3D shooters and how they can be adapted to more contemporary styles, and it makes me look forward even more to finally playing the second.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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Images courtesy of Devolver Digital

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