Shadow Warrior 2 – Review
A few years ago Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital surprised the hell out of me with the release of Shadow Warrior, a reboot of an incredibly racist (but otherwise good fun) game from the 90’s that used the Duke 3D engine. They surpassed my expectations with a super fun throwback style shooter that included possibly the best melee combat ever seen in an FPS. So when Shadow Warrior 2 was announced I felt justified in setting my hopes much higher. Well, I am more than pleased to say these hopes were not unfounded and that even in a year where Doom was released, Shadow Warrior 2 is the king of the no-nonsense shooter.
Once again I took control of Lo Wang, proficient purveyor of demon death and lover of the double entendre, as he finds himself in the middle of another demon crisis. At the end of the previous game the demon world and the human world collided and now it appears that the gates between the worlds are shattering even further, threatening a demonic invasion that would wipe humanity from the planet. Of course, this matters little to Lo Wang, he simply wants to kill demons, make dick jokes and get paid. The story is rather basic but it serves its purpose well. Shortly into the game Lo Wang finds himself sharing his mind with the soul of a scientist whose body is the key to breaking the demon gates. She is something of a nasty, self-righteous sod that is almost the polar opposite of the juvenile Lo Wang. Both of these characters should be unlovable based on their personality traits but for some unknown reason they play off each other well and by the end of the game I was genuinely enjoying their company.
But a Shakespearian story is not the reason to play Shadow Warrior. Combat is king in this game and boy o boy is it a visceral treat. If you are the type of person that after playing Doom thought “hmmm I really wish there were more enemies and the combat was 3X faster” (I am sure there are some that thought that) then Shadow Warrior 2 is the game for you. This game is chaotic FPS combat at its fastest and finest. Lo Wang has access to a few moves that changed the way I thought about FPS combat. The first is a dash move. This technique could be used as much as I liked and it allowed me to move around the battlefield like no other shooter before. Suddenly swordplay was a legitimate option because I could get in the face of my enemies in the blink of an eye. Add this dash to the double jump and I think I spent just as much time in the air as I did on the ground. It is hard to overstate how much the dash changes combat, making the whole experience feel like nothing that has come before.
Weapon and enemy design is also wonderfully over-the-top. The weapons (and there are heaps of them) range from simple pistols and katanas to skull shaped assault rifles and poison etched demon claws. My personal favourite was a chainsaw/samurai sword combo that did huge amounts of damage as it sawed its way through my enemies. Speaking of enemies, they are without exception exciting and entertaining to engage. The artists must have had a blast designing these creatures and despite the fast paced nature of the combat, they all show a surprising amount of competent AI. Demons will rush forward blindly but still manage to parry sword strokes, Robotic soldiers duck, weave and teleport out of the way of incoming attacks, Warlocks use other enemies as cover as they buff them and call in more support. The AI is by no means ground-breaking but in what is supposed to be a mindless shooter Lo Wang’s foes show a surprising amount of mind.
The structure of Shadow Warrior 2 has changed remarkably as well. The original was a linear experience but this entry has taken a few pages from the Borderlands playbook with its overall design. RPG style missions, free-roaming, random encounters with powered up enemies and mountains of loot make up the gameplay this time around. At first, I wasn’t sure about this approach, the initial parts of the game suffered a little because they lacked the purpose of the first game, but by the end credits I was really digging this bigger and bolder design. It took me roughly 11 hours to finish the game (including all side missions) and I can safely say that each hour played was better than the last and there aren’t many games I can say that about. There were some problems with this new style of gameplay however, most notably the loot system. The idea of improving weapons with add-ons is great but the process of doing so is painful. The menu system makes things way too convoluted, to the point that I always held off on using new weapons because I knew I would have to stuff around with the upgrades to get the most out of it. Hopefully the dev team can improve this before the console release because as much as the system was a pain with a mouse and keyboard it will be a nightmare with only a controller to navigate it.
Another new addition is Co-op play. The entire campaign can be played with up to four people and from my time in this mode it completely changes dynamics. I managed to play an hour or two of this mode and noticed immediately how different things feel. Situations can be tackled differently and I found that if one or two players got up close and personal with swords and shotguns while the other players hung back with rifles and bows mobs of enemies melted before our combined might. While the single player campaign is quite challenging at the normal difficulty level I do suggest that people bump things up to hard to get the most out of co-op.
One thing I was worried about going into the game was the performance. It is a worry with any game that has this much going on at once. Thankfully though, apart from some rare and brief frame-rate drops the game ran wonderfully well, which is an achievement the devs should be proud of. My solid (i7, 970) gaming rig was able to run it at Ultra without a hiccup and there was a whole host of graphics options to ensure that people with lesser rigs will still be able to play. The game looks great, not so much in the fine details (which is understandable given the nature of the game) but in the overall visual design. The game has a wonderfully refreshing Asian/Techno feel to it that can’t really be found elsewhere and exploring this unique world was a treat.
Shadow Warrior 2 achieved what all good sequels should strive for. It takes the core gameplay of the original, polishes it till it sparkles and then takes that gameplay in a new and fresh direction. The combat is second-to-none and the new RPG elements are a welcome addition. A few minor UI problems and the occasional frame-rate stutter do nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for this title. I honestly can’t say if I will go back and play the game again but for 11 or so hours I had an absolute blast. One of the first lines you hear in the game is “Who wants some Wang?” Well as it turns out, I do and I think you do too.