Shadow Warrior: Brutal Violence in a Beautiful World

The original Shadow Warrior is an odd one to revive.  The game itself was great, filled with crazy weapons, tons of enemies, environmental interactivity, and all the bloody violence the Build Engine could pump out.  It even starred a non-traditional hero with Lo Wang, who was an old Asian guy but, unfortunately, was also a completely unfunny stereotype.  So there were problems, but if you could ignore Lo Wang then the game itself was well worth shooting, blasting, and eviscerating your way through.  Seeing as it’s free on Steam, there’s no reason not to give it a look and see what we thought of as cutting edge back in the 90s.

14 years is a long time for a series to lie dormant, but there must be something in the air this year with both Rise of the Triad and Shadow Warrior getting rebuilt from scratch.  The new Shadow Warrior de-ages Lo Wang a few decades, turning him into a smart-assed employee of Zilla Corporation, trying to broker a deal between Zilla and the possessor of a unique sword.  Things go bad, demons attack, Lo Wang merges with a helpful demon and starts learning new skills and Ki powers, and a whole load of monsters get vivisected into their component parts.  Shadow Warrior is bloody, brutal, violent, and surprisingly pretty.

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One of the first and most obvious things, once I was able to start walking around the beta, was how lovely and detailed the environments are.  There’s an excellent design sense at work even in the areas that are little more than links between one fight and another.  The sun shines through the branches of the trees, casting shadows on the ground.  Shooting a fireworks cart sends a colorful display shooting through the sky as the moonbeams cut through the mist.  A candle-lit path is lined by wisps of smoke rising up and lingering delicately in the air.  When you’re not covering the scenery in monster organs it’s worth slowing down to soak in the ambiance.

But monsters aren’t known for their patience, and pretty as the scenery is we’re here to destroy things, not go sightseeing.  Lo Wang amasses a decent enough arsenal, with unique alt-fire options for each weapon, but most of the time you’ll want to use the incredibly handy katana.  Lo Wang is fast and agile, and the katana slices through just about anything it meets.  It doesn’t take long to realize the fastest and most fun way to take out a horde is to charge straight at them, revving up a heavy thrust on the way to take out the leading  cannon fodder, and then start slicing like a madman as heads pop off, torsos get bisected, arms go flying, and squidgy internal organs litter the ground.  Guns are nice and useful for enemies out of reach, but carving demons into bloody meat slabs feels disturbingly satisfying.

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It’s not like you’ll be spending all your time flailing a sword around, though.  Lo Wang has skills and Ki powers that are activated by a double-tap of a directional key plus left or right mouse button.  Healing is always available as an option, although no more than 65% of health, but anything more requires finding Ki crystals and earning Karma points, plus finding money to upgrade weapons.  Lo Wang has many ways to power up, from combat skills to passive damage modifiers to enhanced speed, and it’s worth stopping and thinking before spending the points.

With a little under a month to go, Shadow Warrior is both incredibly fun and also in need of some final polish.  There’s several places you can wander off course, having fun looking at bits of scenery that aren’t designed for public view.  Hopefully these holes will be plugged before release, but there’s rather a lot of them in the early levels at the moment.  On the plus side, it makes searching for secrets more entertaining that it would normally be.

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still has a month to go right now, with its late September release seeming unfairly distant after getting to experience the first few levels.  The bloody violence of the shooting and slashing combat mixed well with the fantastically pretty levels, and even the dialogue between Lo Wang and his demon companion was fun to listen to.  Shadow Warrior was an unexpected surprise when it was announced for resurrection earlier this year, and it’s great to see the re-imagining coming along so well.