If you like a good male genitalia joke, Shadow Warrior won't leave you hard up. After all, the main character's name is Lo Wang; it would be criminal if the game didn't make a few obvious gags.
Not that the contents of a man's underpants are the only subject Shadow Warrior touches on for humorous effect. Farts ("Silent but deadly, indeed"), hipsters ("You should move to Portland and start a band"), and plenty of other topics provide humorous fodder, and goofy fortune cookies you find scattered about the game's spacious levels also get in on the act. "You don't need a parachute to skydive. You need a parachute to skydive twice." Thank you, fortune cookie, for the sage advice.
Shadow Warrior's juvenile humor is in keeping with its forebear. This first-person shooter is a remake-slash-reimagining of a 1997 game that took many of its cues from Duke Nukem 3D, and while most of the remake's jokes are new, the puerile spirit remains. The script tosses in some casual racial humor and a number of cringe-worthy Asian characterizations, but unlike Duke's return in Duke Nukem Forever, Lo Wang's reappearance isn't a sad and outdated one. Shadow Warrior wears its dumb jokes lightly, peppering the high-octane action with immature quips but tackling the demonic soap opera of a story with straight-faced sincerity.
The juxtaposition of the silly and the serious can be jarring, leaving you to wonder if Shadow Warrior's dramatic and beautiful still-image scenes are appearing in the right game, but the dual-attitude narrative matches the game's overall tone. Many environments are lush and gorgeous if occasionally cliche. (Wang himself points out the triteness of signaling "Asian" with blossoming cherry trees.) Expected or not, the golden sunrays filtered through crowded bamboo stalks, and the resulting play of shadow and light on the murky water below, are stunning sights, and that serenity is a striking foil to the exuberant fantasy violence that pours from Shadow Warrior's thumping heart.
As expected for a game that was spawned from a late-'90s shooter, Shadow Warrior's action is unrelenting. When the soundtrack kicks into high gear, you know a mob of demons is on the prowl, and the only way to escape death is to mow the mob down with your large array of punchy weapons. You start with a simple revolver, which proves adequate enough when you're dealing with some low-rent grunts, but when the battle arenas get messy, you'll be glad of your impossibly gigantic arsenal. The crossbow is a particular delight, given how it pierces shields and exposes the multi-horned freaks hiding behind them. The shotgun, too, is a stalwart companion thanks to the ease with which it dispatches multiple skeletons in a single shot.
If you saw Duke Nukem's 2011 appearance as a personal slight, you'll be glad to know that Lo Wang still stands tall and proud.
Throw in a handy sword, plenty of shurikens, a rocket launcher, laser-spewing demon heads, and more, and you've got a recipe for viscera stew. This variety doesn't exist for variety's sake, however: different enemies move at different speeds, exhibit different behaviors, and are vulnerable to different weapons. And so you sprint and strafe around, switching between firearms when the situation calls for it, or perhaps because you ran out of ammo. On medium difficulty, battles aren't terribly stressful, but they find that magical sweet spot where you feel as if you overcame the odds without ever encountering the frustration that arises when too many enemies are shoved into too small a space. In fact, levels give you plenty of breathing room, so you're rarely backed into a corner, literally or figuratively.
Shadow Warrior's diversity of enemies, weapons, and scenery keep its old-fashioned, bunny-hopping, guns-blazing approach fresh. Nonetheless, a few idiosyncrasies may wear you down. Like many old shooters, Shadow Warrior does not always provide a clear direction, though it thankfully marks doors that lead to your objective with a golden glow. A level's openness often leads to aimlessness as you retread old ground trying to make your way back to a security office. Boss fights can be another drag, though not because the bosses don't make for a fearsome presence. An armored winged demon, for instance, looks as though it has leapt right out of the pages of the Book of Revelation, ready to pass judgment on you for your many penis jokes. Unfortunately, each boss is defeated in more or less the same straightforward manner, turning these lengthy battles into limp slogs.
The good news is that repetitive boss fights don't exemplify Shadow Warrior's long and vibrant campaign. Instead of taking the usual tactic of creating variety with set piece showdowns and vehicular detours, the game lets its level design, entertaining guns, and AI speak for themselves. There is, however, a notable nod to modern games by way of a robust upgrade system that allows you to improve your weapons, gain special powers, and provide passive bonuses. So you aren't just frying foes with flames and blasting them with bullets; you're also knocking them down with shock waves and sprinting away so you can use your healing abilities for a quick health boost.
The unusual control scheme for your powers, which involves double-tapping movement keys before pressing a mouse button, might have you firing off your weapon's secondary function by mistake instead of pulling up your magical shield. But the associated rhythm will come to you soon enough, leaving you to look forward to the next upgrade, the next weapon, and the next power. Shadow Warrior has a great sense of long-term momentum. The early hours, which seem exciting enough, are altogether tame once you reach a late-game sequence that has you fending off a veritable family reunion of demons in ruthless moods.
If you're going to remake a game known for its tacky humor, this is the way to do it. The crassness is here, but it's merely seasoning in a colorful old-school first-person shooter that allows excitement to build organically from the way its systems interact. If you saw Duke Nukem's 2011 appearance as a personal slight, you'll be glad to know that Lo Wang still stands tall and proud.