Unlike the unwise and indefensible rebirth of 3D Realms’ premiere arsehole Duke Nukem, the return of Shadow Warrior’s OTT, tongue-in-cheek, classic FPS shtick is actually pretty welcome. While its racially questionable origins still linger around jokes based on our hero’s name (Lo Wang), there’s an endearing side to this throwback shooter that was thoroughly deficient in that other prick.
From the outset, Lo Wang’s quest to slice and shoot his way through otherworldly demons to get his paws on an ancient, powerful sword called the Nobitsura Kage in order to save the world, et cetera, acts as nothing more than framework for the hideously fantastic amount of blood-spilling that follows. At odds with its history, Shadow Warrior is surprisingly slick, featuring quick, sharp combat and swiftly asserts itself as a big, dumb action game then refuses to shift from that spot for the duration.
Wang is actually quite a likeable character to play with, softening the hard edge of his katana as it skewers some demon brains with one-liners that are, you know, funny – a crucial failure of Duke Nukem Forever, which concentrated on throwing faeces and ogling boobs. That said, Shadow Warrior is only marginally nobler at times, with some casual racism and skimpy outfits. But, then again, Duke Nukem Forever had a wall of boobs it instructed you to slap.
For the most part, Shadow Warrior is charmingly 90s instead of insultingly so. Its linear and old-fashioned crafting of levels is appealing rather than stale here, embracing the history of FPS games. At times, it’s actually quite beautiful too, with huge environments - like lush gardens and ice palaces - that allow a lot of movement while battling the hordes of demons you’ll inevitably have to slaughter.
It’s confusing, then, that its biggest flaw is that all you do is battle these demons. For ages. As a result, Shadow Warrior is often just exhausting as you face these seemingly endless waves. You’ll quickly run out of imaginative ways to dismember them and the mega-violent outrageousness of it all can only hold your attention for so long. In equal measures, its one-gear, full-pelt action is both refreshing and limiting.
In the years since Shadow Warrior’s absence, a million Half Lifes and Call of Dutys have re-shaped our expectations of the FPS and while there’s a heap of nostalgic, simplistic fun to be had with Lo Wang and his shurikens, it can, by contrast, appear long-winded and repetitive. While it proficiently slaps the shoulders of gaming’s history, it doesn’t quite have the refined, cinematic edge of today’s most successful shooters. What it does have, in abundance, are dad-jokes, old school level designs (think locked doors and key cards) and a brilliant atmosphere melded with some sharp graphics and grotesque decapitations.