When fun gets fugly.
We’ve all been there when we are playing a game that tickles us with its nostalgic feathers and sparse but witty dialogue. We suck it all in, while we are knowingly lowered deeper into its lore like a heathen in an Indiana Jones movie being slowly lowered into a lava pit. And then, suddenly and unabashedly, we are balls deep into a story and game way past the point of no return. The plot devices start to get thin, the thing you are supposed to click on to progress to the next part of the level gets harder to find, and then you feel like you are doing chores in order to be rewarded with more story or hopefully a cutscene to end the damn game.
In Shadow Warrior, you play as Wang, a Japanese assassin that embodies and embraces the typical 80s pop-culture references down to the off-kilter racist mentality that snuck into movies like Big Trouble in Little China. If you are near your forties, you will feel like a kid again as you take in the cinematic flare that Wang brings. From him singing You Got The Touch to a Grimlock look-a-like bobblehead on his dashboard, to cursing about not wanting to solve another puzzle, Wang is the man. His deep layers of sarcasm, sincerity, and punctuality will eventually win you over. And he is pretty badass with a sword.
Very early in the game, Wang gets into a position where he must meld with a demon or perish. Luckily for him, the demon’s agenda is close enough to his own that he doesn’t suffer any moral dilemma, and he continues on his way to adding to an increasingly epic sized body count. Imbued with magical powers from joining with the demon, Wang can upgrade three different sets of abilities using crystals, karma, and money. He gains the power to heal, control the wind, and damage opponents with his sword. By using money, he can upgrade the weapons he finds through the course of the game. The weapons you find in this game are your typical fodder for a first or third-person shooter, but the upgrades and alternate firing methods give them a little extra spice.
That tends to be what this game is about. It takes themes we are familiar with, that maybe we wanted to insert ourselves into when we were kids, and spices it up with cinematic flare. Unfortunately, the flare starts to turn stale as the game progresses and the real culprits show themselves. The magical abilities use the touch pad and the left stick in a very clumsy way on the PS4 that will get you killed very often towards then the end of the game. These controls could have been easily allocated in another way. Also, the game starts to lose its flow as you struggle to find tiny buttons or control panels to progress later on.
When it comes to action games, I prefer ones you can master and show your proficiency in. You may be able to do that in the PC version of this game, but you will quickly reach a skill cap on the PS4 due to the limitations of the controls and then struggle to finish the game. While it’s not the shiniest gem, Shadow Warrior is a game for the dude who remembers arrows with explosive arrowheads or any actor that has starred in an Expendables film.