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Shadow Warrior 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Release Date: Oct. 13, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Shadow Warrior 2'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 14, 2016 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Shadow Warrior 2 marks the triumphant return of Lo Wang and his trademark use of blades, bullets, and a sharp tongue to strike down the demonic hordes, but this time he's not going at it alone.

Buy Shadow Warrior 2

In 1997, one year after Duke Nukem 3D was released, Shadow Warrior was born. For some, it was nothing more than an excuse to put out a game similar to 3D Realms' big hit in both gameplay and crude humor, only with an Asian stereotype in the lead. For others, it was a perfect complementary game for those who preferred ancient demons over intergalactic aliens. Whatever your stance, it was a good game that found decent success. When it was remade in 2013, it did what Duke couldn't and made a successful transition to the current generation with a beautiful presentation and solid melee combat. Three years later, we have Shadow Warrior 2, a game that breaks away from the formula set by the remake but turns out just as sublime.

Once again, you play the role of Lo Wang, a mercenary now occupying a world where demons roam the Earth alongside the remaining humans. This isn't a postapocalyptic timeline, though, as humans are thriving. The more civilized demons live among them, far from the wilder ones in uninhabited areas. You've been sent in by one of the underlings of a major crime boss to rescue the boss' daughter from the corporation headed up by your old boss, Orochi Zilla. The mission goes well, except for the fact that the person you rescued, Kamiko, was injected with a serum that is doing all sorts of weird stuff to her. To prevent her death, her soul is transferred into the only viable host at the time: you. With her riding shotgun in your head, you must find out how to cure her so she can have her body back.

In what is becoming a more common trend recently, the story is driven not by plot or the chain of events surrounding it but by the characters themselves. Lo Wang is the obvious star here, and although he can be crude, he's personable enough that you'll appreciate his humor even if a few jokes fall flat. Everyone else interacts well with him, whether they simply act as the yin to his yang, match his crudeness, or can't believe the words coming out of his mouth. The banter is both realistic and hilarious but never outrageous enough to pull you from the game. Unless you're particular about phallic jokes and cursing, you'll be just fine in this world.

One of the driving forces for the remake was the combat system, and that remains completely intact here. Gunplay feels solid. Shotguns and assault rifles feel good, bigger stuff like grenade launchers put out expected kicks, and pistols get the job done even if they can't match the power of other weapons. You can go through the whole game with only guns, but half of the fun of the fighting system is the swordplay, which feels equally as tight. Melee feels good, which is still considered a big deal. Your sword has some weight to it, and you can be effective while standing a good distance from the enemy instead of being at point-blank range. The ability to hack off specific limbs and bodies makes melee feel so right that you'll seriously consider going melee-only for your run. Complementing this are a few chi-related actions that spend the mystical energy to unleash sword attacks, like a stronger thrust or a 360-degree slash.

Beyond the combat, however, Shadow Warrior 2 takes on some major changes from its predecessor. The first major change you'll notice is with your weapons. You can equip up to eight weapons at a time to your quick selection menu and do quick swaps. However, you'll never drop a gun, as you can carry so much more on your body at all times. By the end of the game, your arsenal will have increased to over 80 different weapons. There are standard sub-machine guns and rifles and a trusty bow and arrow, but they're all worth grabbing, even if you don't use them often. Melee weapons also get this treatment, but their differences are more pronounced. Short blades and weapons that fire plasma energy are cool, but you also have weapons like the claws of a dead demon and a sickle made of metal and bone. While the weapons are not as numerous as Borderlands, you get the same drip-feed of new loot from beginning to end, which serves as an impetus to keep going.

You'll also collect artifacts, which can improve your arsenal. The artifacts give stat effects, like increased damage or an increased chance of a critical hit, but they also provide elemental effects. In a short amount of time, you can have an arsenal that consists of a toxic shotgun, monster claws that ignite foes, a grenade launcher that gives you back some health, and an electric assault rifle. It costs nothing to equip and unequip the artifacts to weapons, so experimentation is highly encouraged, especially when you learn to use lesser artifacts to craft more powerful ones later on.

Chi-related actions also come into play, with more impact than before. Your old moves remain, but you can get — and level up — a bevy of passive and active abilities, such as increased chances for ammo packs to drop and the ability to convert chi into health. That last one is invaluable, since the game takes on classic conventions by having no regenerative health system in place. If you want to heal, you'll have to use your chi ability or pick up health packs in the world. On the flipside, you aren't penalized for falling from high spots, which would be at odds with your ability to double-jump at high altitudes and dash.

The allure of loot in both weapon and artifact forms would feel restricted if the game were still linear. Luckily, the title features a more open design, even if it hasn't gone completely open world. In the hub world, you can use your cash to get more weapons, ammo and abilities. You can warp back to this hub from any stage at any time, but that means enemies you've damaged will get their health back if you choose to leave before completing your tasks. The missions you get from your contacts are clearly marked as either story or side missions, so you know what to complete if you're trying to just finish the story or truly complete it. Completed quest areas also give you the option to explore them in free roam mode, mostly for the benefit of farming artifacts.

In order to make those return trips more appealing, the programmers designed them to be randomly generated. While that would normally spell disaster, since there's a good chance that the pieces can create bad level design when put together, that isn't necessarily the case. Each run of the same stage has a good flow to it, and while you may get unlucky and encounter a small stretch with nothing, it doesn't take long for the action to ramp up again.

The melding of the Borderlands-style loot fest with the classic shooter mentality of the more recent Doom makes for an interesting and enjoyable romp. The gunplay encourages you to be aggressive, since that's the best way to yield rewards. The lowliest artifacts can still be useful for something better down the road keeps encouraging you to revisit stages and hunt for more stuff. Enemies are mostly bullet sponges, but they're smart enough to evade some fire, even if they fail miserably. The only part that doesn't go well are mini-boss encounters. Unlike the actual bosses, the mini-bosses always fall into a pattern of attacking and shielding themselves with minions once their health is half-depleted. The encounters are still fun, if predictable.

Shadow Warrior 2 does feature a multiplayer component, and unlike most endeavors, it is completely co-op with no competitive modes. Free roam areas and missions can be tackled with a total of four players working together. As you would expect, everyone adopting a specific role makes multiplayer sessions work best, but the game remains fun even if everyone is running amok and doing their own thing. The enemy count isn't increased when more players are added, but their HP certainly is, making some bosses feel like bullet sponges if you take them on without help. Interestingly, progress is recorded differently, with the host getting both story progression and level/item saves while anyone else only gets the latter.

Graphically, the game looks absolutely stunning. The architecture of each of the buildings is nicely realized and brimming with details. The same goes for the weapons, with wood grain, etchings, and heat waves making you appreciate them even more. Environments are stunning thanks to a great use of light bloom and color that makes the futuristic cities look awe-inspiring and the wilderness just as beautiful. Wind and rain look lifelike, and the sway of plant life is enough to floor any but the most jaded of gamers. Particle effects, like smoke and copious amounts of blood, accentuate the appearance look even further, and the enemy designs are very nice. More amazing than the fact that a small studio did this is that all of this runs at a solid 60fps on pretty modest hardware with everything turned up — a feat that bigger development houses struggle to accomplish.

The accompanying soundscape is just as brilliant. The musical score provides a good action tone without being overwhelming or using lots of Eastern influence. It is constantly present, so there are no quiet moments, but it is never grating. The effects hit hard; gunfire is appropriately loud, and the sounds of metal slicing through flesh are especially satisfying in a sick and twisted way. The vocal performances are well done and make some of the dumbest lines in the game much more bearable.

Shadow Warrior 2 is amazing. The shift from linear to semi-open-world shooter hasn't hurt the game since the action remains constant and adheres to the classic shooter style over the more modern one. The multitude of new weapons gives the game some variety, even when taking artifacts into account, and the solid combat ties everything together into a very enjoyable package, whether you're going solo or cooperatively. It ranks up there with Doom as one of the best pure shooters of the year and one of the best timed exclusives on the PC in this genre.

Score: 9.0/10

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