2016 has been a big year for games, and one of the most welcome trends in my book is the transition of FPS games back to their speed infused arena roots. Whether it's Overwatch's Team Fortress 2 inspirations or DOOM's strict adherence to old school sensibilities, shooters in 2016 are picking up where they left off in the early 90s, right around the release of the original Shadow Warrior. How fitting then that 2013's Shadow Warrior was one of the first titles to quietly lead the charge in this shift. Flying Wild Hog reignited this style of FPS design three years ago, and 2016 sees the team attempting to use this influence to move the genre forward. Borrowing the best ideas from many recent shooter hits, Shadow Warrior 2 is a slick and satisfying FPS that delivers engaging combat at a blistering pace unlike anything else on the market.
It's been a handful of years since Lo Wang's initial battle with the demonic forces. Now working as a gun for hire, the beginning of the game sees our hero seeking out an ancient artifact for the Yakuza. One rescue mission later, and the voices in Wang's head are propelling him towards more noble goals, fighting hordes of demons as well as the technologically advanced forces of the Zilla corporation. For those who played the first game, Shadow Warrior 2 will be a treat, as it continues that game's narrative and even includes some cool moments that mirror the classic Build engine release. If you're new to Shadow Warrior, just be prepared for loads of one-liners and goofy cutscenes that stay out of the way when they need to, because everyone knows that the action is the star of the show.
Shadow Warrior 2 wisely sticks to what has worked so far in the franchise. Combat is an intoxicating mixture of guns and melee that is enhanced with a collection of mystical Chi powers. These range from healing yourself mid-battle to impaling enemies on spikes in order to make them stationary targets. What is new here is on the technical level. The game oozes viscera at every opportunity, even allowing players to turn shopkeepers and other NPC into standing fountains of blood for their own amusement. Dismemberment is also improved, allowing you to precisely chop off limbs with mouse control or just hack away until a demon is nothing but a pile of stumps. Everything from the most important story missions to the most lackadaisical free roaming exercise is improved by just how fun it is to shoot and slash baddies over and over.
Speaking of, the mission structure is one of the most dramatic departures from the previous game. Shadow Warrior was a linear shooter that stuck to its roots, but Shadow Warrior 2 is all about breaking out of the mold and exploring this combat in a whole new way. There are side missions to partake in filled with optional mini-bosses that each have a unique weapon to bequeath to you. Not that you'll be aching for choices since Shadow Warrior 2 boasts a ridiculous arsenal of 70 uniquely designed guns. Sure, some of them seem like palette swaps, but each gun has unique features and abilities that make them all worth trying, and I was always excited to see what new tools of destruction a new level would bring my way.
Of course, the arsenal of guns is only half the story, as Shadow Warrior 2 is primarily a loot shooter in the vein of Gearbox's Borderlands but with a slight tweak that improves the formula dramatically. Guns in Borderlands can all feel a bit samey over time, due to their procedural generation. Flying Wild Hog has gone out of their way to craft a huge number of unique guns that drop during the story, and the loot is instead hood ornament shaped weapon upgrades that change their properties. There is only one double-barreled Super Shotgun in the game, but you can apply upgrades to it to make it fit your style. One player might have a flaming shotgun that charges shots while another could have a toxic beauty that reloads with great speed. This preserves both the excitement of upgrading your arsenal over time and the uniquely named weapon varieties that shooter veterans love.
What isn't so easy to love is the game's length. Shadow Warrior 2 goes for a Borderlands vibe, but the amount of loot and weapon variation seems designed for a much bigger game. If you go through every side mission once, you're looking at about eight hours of content from beginning to end. Just as the game's systems seem to be clicking, it runs out of new tricks to throw your way and you're at the final boss encounter. There is a New Game + option for those who want to dive in again and experience more action, but the loot that drops in this second playthrough doesn't seem to keep ramping up with your character, giving you less reason to mess with your weapons and continue on. This is a game in serious need of an expansion pack or two to flesh out its systems and give you more reasons to play with your toys.
Of course, all this assumes that you'll make it through one playthrough of Shadow Warrior 2 unscathed. The game is sadly a mess technically, with extremely long load times between levels and occasional visual glitches. The online co-op functionality is questionably functional at best, which was showcased perfectly during my attempts to play the game with Kevin over on our Twitch channel. I've also had reports from colleagues of more serious crashing issues and at least one case of a corrupted save file. The game has been patched pretty much nonstop in the week that I've had it installed, so it seems the team are aware of these issues, but early adopters should still take note.
It's probably also worth mentioning the game's attitude, which is another improvement over its Gearbox contemporaries. Lo Wang is an appropriate overload of machismo that is counterbalanced with snarky allies that see through his unconvincing facade. He's great at what he does, but the game doesn't pretend that he's a conquering hero. Instead, he's an asshole that is tolerated for his skills, and the one-liners and jokes tend to track in that direction. It may stretch a bit far at times (including one jokey reference to transsexuals that I thought was clever but others might not dig), but I'd take this post-90s environment any day over the world of Tiny Tina and dubstep jokes.
Despite a few launch issues, I still chose to put my faith in Shadow Warrior 2. The game feels like a labor of love from a developer just beginning to stretch its legs and establish itself as one of the premier names in FPS action. Having already started the year right with Hard Reset Redux , this game continues their path towards an effortless evolution of the old-school shooter mentality. Dashing through levels at blistering speeds, dropping down five stories without taking damage and then chopping the legs out under a boss in the first stages of our battle are some of the best moments I've had gaming this year, and my most pressing issue with it is that I just wanted more. The narrative works when it needs to, but the engaging action is put before anything else, and it's worth fighting through the game's growing pains to get at that adrenaline-fueled excitement.
Shadow Warrior 2 is a delightfully bloody romp that pleases shooter fans of any age. Despite a short length and some technical hiccups, nothing can stop this game's crazy momentum.
- Amazing Combat
- Varied Arsenal of Weapons
- Stan Bush Music
- Techincal Hiccups
- Short Length
- A Single Mention of Harambe