The 2013 reboot of Shadow Warrior is a weird and fun game for many reasons. The focus on silly humor, the referential easter eggs scattered throughout the game, the obscene levels of gore. They all come together to make a uniquely ridiculous experience. On paper, the reboot of the 1997 DOOM-era shooter of the same name shouldn’t have worked, and yet it did. And still does.
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The thing that makes Shadow Warrior truly stand out is its combat. Not its gunplay, which is functional and occasionally underwhelming, but its melee sword combat. Protagonist Lo Wang’s trusty samurai sword is both his and Shadow Warrior’s greatest asset. At its core, your sword is swift, brutal, and incredibly satisfying to use. Slicing demons’ limbs and decapitating the fiends of hell is endlessly fun and ridiculous, and it’s enough to make this tongue-in-cheek B-game worth going back to five years later.
It’s not just blindly slashing at hordes of demonic enemies with a super sharp sword that’s fun, but also the added depth of the game’s dial-in combo system that makes it gratifying and meaningful throughout the game’s 6-8 hour story. Shadow Warrior features a variety of powerful abilities that can be pulled off by punching in the correct sequence of buttons, akin to the likes of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Some of these abilities allow you to pull off uniquely devastating sword attacks, such as a 360-spin move, to truly wreak havoc on those pesky demons.
This added complexity is welcome in a game that would otherwise be mashing and spraying your way through waves of demons. It encourages you to plan your assaults more carefully, where finding the right time to pull of a certain move is as important as having good aim. These combos also apply to your healing spell. Although you can find healing kits in the environment, your main source of healing during combat is through this spell. The need to input the right combo at critical moments creates some tense and exciting moments—dashing about and slicing anything that comes near you, while also trying to create space to heal. This is when Shadow Warrior is at its best, and these are the moments that make it worth re-visiting.
Five years after its initial release, Shadow Warrior still offers the same fast-paced, gory, and absurd experience that the series reboot promised. The writing can be a little juvenile at times, occasionally funny but typically groan-worthy, while the protagonist Lo Wang is as subtle as his name. Whether or not the game’s humor is for you, the action and swordplay is a blast, and you’re sure to get some fun out of it, even if it’s not enough to keep you going throughout the game’s surprisingly lengthy story.
If you’ve never played it, consider picking up next time there’s a Steam sale or a heavy GOG discount. It’s not the greatest shooter ever made, and the tone might get quickly irksome for some, but it’s still a fun and silly game with some extremely satisfying melee combat. First-person melee combat is hard to get right, but Shadow Warrior is certainly a game that does it justice.