Shadow Warrior was a proper breath of fresh air in an industry obsessed with 'shared worlds' and 'cinematic narratives' when all you really need are great big guns and hordes of beasties to point them at. Plus sprawling levels stuffed with hilarious secrets.
"If you miss the thrill of classic old-school shooters, the simple joy of blasting hordes of foes with oversized weapons and ferreting around for secrets, quicksaving and circle-strafing all the while, you should buy Shadow Warrior immediately," I wrote in last year in our Shadow Warrior PC review.
Now Flying Wild Hog's retro-themed slaughterfest is coming to Xbox One and PS4, the latter of which I was able to test out earlier this week. The result? Shadow Warrior is still a real, slam-bang, honest-to-goodness, three-fisted humdinger.
Here's a breezy plot dump in case you're unaware of the premise. We play as corporate troubleshooter Lo Wang, tasked with securing a legendary katana for his boss, only then becoming embroiled in a nightmarish demonic plot that threatens to consume the mundane world. Or, in other words, armies of demons are eager to taste your lead and steel, but won't make it easy for you. What follows is a twitchy, slippery student of the old school that feels fresh and vital. A return to form, perhaps, with a robust melee system on top of a massive arsenal of upgradeable guns.
This is pretty much as straight a port as you can get, though it's clear that Bandai Namco (who are on distribution and publishing duty this time) were keen to show us the prettiest version. Shadow Warrior has already been confirmed as native 900p on Microsoft's machine and 1080p on Sony's slanty powerhouse, though the frame rate pleasingly targets 60FPS on both platforms. As such, the action seems smooth and stable in the near-complete build I tested, with some impressively short loading times even compared to my experience with the PC version (though I wasn't running it off an SSD at the time, I freely admit!).
It's also very pretty indeed. Shadow Warrior was no slouch when it came to its art direction, using a rich colour palatte in most of its stages, and this seems to have translated very well to a big television. Textures are detailed, edges are crisp, particles are plentiful, creatures move fluidly and pleasingly erupt into showers of gore or meaty kibbles when shot, sliced or otherwise brutalised. Once again, everything explodes, from arcade cabinets to air conditioners. Which is fine by us.
As such, I quickly fell back into the swing of things, Shadow Warrior's combat loop of exploring the levels for ammo and deeply silly secrets (if you walk back down the road at the beginning of the game, you can look through to Flying Wild Hog's debut title Hard Reset!), dispatching the occasional ambush enemy by quickly dashing in and out of range with my katana, then engaging in fearsome arena showdowns that eventually glean resources to spend on extra ammo, upgrades and new abilities. It's an addictive complement to the action itself.
However, I'm still of the opinion that Shadow Warrior slightly missed its mark, despite still being an absolute tub-thumping joy. Yes, the old-school action was present and correct, but Flying Wild Hog tried to throw too many peripheral gameplay features into the pot, which resulted in the seasoning overpowering the meat of the dish. Terrible food analogies themselves (why do I write these things before lunch?), Shadow Warrior has a magic and a magical melee system that make you double-flick the stick and hold a particular button. It has upgrade systems upon upgrade systems. Dashing. Sprinting. Aim Down Sights. Karma. Lots and lots and lots of mechanics, which can arguably give you too many options to process in the middle of a life-or-death battle.
The DualShock 4 may be a comfortable and ergonomic bit of kit, but it still lacks the precision of a mouse and keyboard when trying to carefully sever an onrushing demon's leg with your last revolver bullet, especially since ADS is mapped to squeezing the right thumbstick. This was a conscious design decision to stop players from overusing ADS and concentrate on old-school strafing, but without the fine granular control of a gaming mouse, I found myself floundering at times. I suspect that a degree of aim assistance will be available in the final build, though, which should even things out.
Getting the hang of those double-taps takes practice too. After all, on a keyboard, you literally tap W, A, S or D. But on a controller, if you don't exactly tap in a cardinal compass direction, you might not get the skill you want. Again, though, this will likely be compensated for; if not by design, then by practice.
But it's still not enough to dilute what is still shaping up to be a great port of a seriously satisfying game. Alongside Wolfenstein: The New Order, I suspect Shadow Warrior may prove that gamers crave shooters with strong singleplayer campaigns and real personality over the traditional Christmas churn and bloated big-budget excess.