Knowing that people care about Shadow Warrior brings a little joy to my heart. While the recent 2013 remake has been one of the best modern shooters, it feels more like Serious Sam(urai) than a true successor to the original. So to celebrate the modern title, I think it’s fit for us to take a look back at the game that started it all, 1997’s Shadow Warrior.
Shadow Warrior follows the old chinese-american warrior Lo Wang, who is one of the most eyebrow-raising video game heroes of all time. Every Asian stereotype in existence is at play here, from jokes about Ls sounding like Rs to enemies committing seppeku if they don’t manage to kill you. While this is sure to offend some, I honestly didn’t find it as bad as it could’ve been. Wang is still a likable character, even though he is a walking, talking caricature.
The story of Shadow Warrior may not be anything impressive, but it services the story. It’s a silly love letter to foreign martial arts movies, and it’s just enough to keep our hero running between levels and blowing up everything in site. Somehow, this silly plot was ‘deep’ enough to get multiple official novels based off of it. I don’t know how that happened either.
The game runs on Duke Nukem 3D’s Build engine, which is pushed to its limits with 3D models and drive-able vehicles. The weappns may not be as overkill as the ones shown in Duke Nukem 3D, but I prefer the creativity shown in Shadow Warrior’s arsenal. Lo Wang starts off with nothing but a trusty katana, but will soon get akimbo machine pistols, a demon head that can shoot rings of fire, ricocheting shirukens, caltrops, and a variety of other weapons. Each of them perform different, and have their own uses in different battle scenarios. The only downside to this massive arsenal is the quad-barreled Shotgun, which is insanely underpowered compared to the rest of the arsenal.
I often consider some of Shadow Warrior’s levels to be the peak in level design for the first person shooter. Not only are they littered with secrets and cool little interactions, they all fee like actual living, breathing places rather than random corridors like those of Doom. The first level showcases this best, being a simple subway station. Not a single element of the level feels too out of place for the setting, and it manages to mix it up by being split into very distinct areas. You start inside a building near the station, and your trip onto the train will take you through a lobby, an arcade, baggage claim, and even a koi pond.
The game’s Easter Eggs are some of the best in a FPS game, only rivaled by the original Duke Nukem. Keen-eyed players should be able to find the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, , Sailor Moon, and most infamously, Lara Croft. Despite all these visual touches, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a lot of the game’s textures are disappointingly weak. On the flipside, weapons look great when Lo Wang carries them around, especially the Demon Head.
At the end of the day, is Shadow Warrior worth it? Without a doubt. The graphics may not stand the test of time, it may offend a great deal of gamers, and the shotgun is one of the biggest letdowns when it comes to FPS weapons, but Shadow Warrior is a quality game however you slice it. Just, be prepared to get sucked in to a game you’ll undoubtedly waste too much time on.
Oh, and the book is still a thing and it’s still absolutely baffling.