No matter the quality of individual games, Flying Wild Hog's Shadow Warrior trilogy has been a smashing success. The Polish developers took a DOOM-era FPS that aged like a dead fish and revived it into a viable series of frantic first-person shooters. Each new game has shed the previous entry's style for a brand new take on the genre, although Shadow Warrior 3 does take more than a little inspiration from 2013's entry in the series. The new game also tries to bring in elements from DOOM Eternal and Titanfall 2 to make the ultimate first-person ninja shooter. Unfortunately, the end result is less than the sum of its parts, an overly linear adventure that never quite clicks in the way that both of the previous games did.
Following Shadow Warrior 2's apocalyptic ending, Lo Wang finds himself on a barren rock of a planet. A godlike dragon has destroyed most of the world, leaving him and a handful of uneasy allies as all that stands in the way of humanity's last breath. You won't need that much context from the last game to get what's going on, but you might need a primer on the setup from the original Shadow Warrior in order to fully appreciate what's at stake. Overall, Shadow Warrior 3 seems far too concerned with its own worldbuilding, trying to overcorrect what fans didn't like last time and letting it get in the way of the action.
This isn't to say that Shadow Warrior 3 is a serious tale about the end of the world. This is still a game where our hero breaks the fourth wall at every opportunity and references how viral a particularly nasty kill could be as a Twitch clip. It all fits right in with the grand tradition of boomer shooter one-liners, and I couldn't get enough. The only real issue is when the game inches slightly into Matt Hazard territory by having Lo Wang complain about an overly simplistic puzzle or comment on how certain mechanics are in every shooter nowadays. It's never great to have a game point out how tedious something is while forcing you to do it, and not even Lo Wang's tongue-in-cheek delivery can make that medicine go down.
As you might expect, Shadow Warrior 3 is at its best when focusing on its combat arenas. Unlike the last game's vast levels, Shadow Warrior 3 funnels players into bespoke arenas where demons spawn in waves right next to explosive barrels and deadly buzzsaws. Lo Wang has a grand arsenal of weapons at his disposal, but he doesn't have a lot of storage space for ammo. It works a lot like modern DOOM, where you're expected to switch between melee hits with the katana and gunfire to refill health, ammo, and a special meter that doles out this game's version of Glory Kills. Instead of just stomping heads in, Lo Wang can extract Gore Tools, which usually operate as temporary super weapons to clear off particularly nasty opponents. On top of all that, Wang has a Chi Blast that can propel enemies off cliffs or into spike pits. It's a lot to get a handle on, and that's part of the problem.
Enemies in Shadow Warrior 3 all have certain strengths and weaknesses, each requiring the use of specific weapons to take them down efficiently. Grenades can knock a swordsman out of his deflective stance, shotguns tear through giant oni with hammers, and an upgraded railgun can freeze hordes of floating bomb-throwing swamis. This is fine in isolation, but it quickly becomes overwhelming when five types of enemies swarm in at once and pin Lo Wang down. Our hero is pretty slow on his feet and doesn't have the same maneuverability as Doomguy. Sometimes, it's preferable to just unload weapon after weapon with reckless abandon and hope for the best rather than carefully pick and choose what's the best tool for the job.
This tendency toward shooting first and asking questions later feels like it should be a good thing. Unfortunately, enemies feel like bullet sponges if you're not taking advantage of their built-in weaknesses, and this makes combat drag on far longer than it should. Extra moves like pushing enemies into spikes and blasting them with elemental sword swings are hidden behind less than intuitive button presses on a controller, meaning that I often went without them. The default controls feel a bit off at the best of times, and having to jam on both bumpers or pull off a Street Fighter combo in the middle of a frantic firefight led to avoidable deaths and more frustration than fun. I can definitely see how Shadow Warrior's combat dance should work, but all the moving parts rarely gel into a cohesive whole.
The other half of Shadow Warrior 3 concerns first-person platforming, a worryingly common inclusion in all manner of shooters nowadays. The team at Flying Wild Hog pulls off some impressive sequences using a combination of wall-running, bounce pads, and the aforementioned grappling hook, but part of that is due to an Uncharted-esque feeling that everything is on rails. The hook homes in on targets and moves Lo Wang aggressively toward where he's supposed to go, breaking the illusion of player control more often than not. This game already suffers from levels with very little off the beaten path, so adding on run and jump segments that might as well be in a cutscene is a step too far. Just like with the combat arenas, leaping across huge gaps and swinging through the trees can be a thrill, but it's all a fleeting endeavor that's quickly forgotten.
In a way, that just about says it all about Shadow Warrior 3. There are only a couple of notable boss encounters, and the other levels lack memorable areas and scenarios. You just get wave after wave of the same 12 or so bad guys mixed in with grapple physics and bad jokes for variety's sake. The campaign can be a breezy 7-8 hours for shooter veterans, and the game doesn't even have the courtesy to unlock a level select once you finish up. Perhaps the developers knew that this one was a one-and-done, a popcorn classic that won't stick with players far beyond the credits rolling. Considering the legacy of Shadow Warrior 3's immediate predecessors, that's a real shame, but at least it's a guilty pleasure while it lasts.
TechRaptor reviewed Shadow Warrior 3 on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
- Varied arsenal of unique and deadly weaponry
- Nostalgically corny one-liners
- Colorful environments to swing through
- Automated traversal mechanics
- Jumbled, superfluous storytelling
- Combat sandbox that never quite comes together