Review: “Shadow Warrior (1997)” (Computer Game)

Well, since I recently learnt that “Shadow Warrior” has been re-made with amazing graphics, improved combat mechanics and a better storyline, I decided to re-visit the original game (mainly on account of the fact that my computer is too old to play the remake).

I have a lot of fond memories of playing this game as a teenager, especially after I worked out how to circumvent the “kid mode” feature (which removes all the blood, crude humour and nudity from the game) and after I learnt how to remove the stupid BBFC “darts” censorship too (more on that later).

Anyway, “Shadow Warrior” is a FPS game made by 3D Realms which uses an improved version of the “Build Engine” that they used for “Duke Nukem 3D”. It doesn’t really have too much of a plot. Basically, you are a ninja called Lo Wang who has to defeat a villain called Zilla and his army of zombies, ninjas, demons and monsters.

Unlike many FPS games, “Shadow Warrior” doesn’t really take itself seriously and it contains a lot of (fairly twisted) humour. It also features a rather distorted and stylised mixture of both Chinese and Japanese culture, history and mythology which gives the game a rather unique style when compared to other 1990s FPS games.

One thing I will say is that this game was made to be controversial and the controversy surrounding the original game seems to have flared up again now that the remake has been released.

However, whilst “Shadow Warrior” was probably originally controversial due to it’s cartoonishly high level of blood and guts and the fact that there are a few nude characters in it, most of the modern controversy surrounding it seems to be due to it’s rather stereotype-filled conflation of Chinese and Japanese culture and the fact that it isn’t exactly the most feminist game ever made. Although I think that there was also some criticism about these aspects of the game when it was originally released.

So, yes, this is an intentionally controversial game which you may or may not find offensive.

“Shadow Warrior” features a few new things which weren’t in “Duke Nukem 3D” such as functional vehicles, alternate fire modes for some weapons and 3D item sprites. But, in terms of gameplay, it’s fairly similar to “Duke Nukem 3D” – you explore each level, find keys, shoot anything that moves and find the exit button to progress to the next level. Like many FPS games from the 90s, the level design is absolutely superb and it rewards exploration and strategy.

However, “Shadow Warrior” is significantly more difficult than “Duke Nukem 3D” was and it is a good idea to save as often as you can whilst you are playing it because, even on normal difficulty, you’ll end up dying a lot. There are a lot of enemies and one type of enemy will explode when it gets close to you (not only that, it will sometimes return as a ghost to attack you again). So, yes, “Shadow Warrior” isn’t really a game for people who are new to FPS games.

You’ll either love or hate the twisted and puerile humour in “Shadow Warrior”, but it can still be hilarious when Lo Wang slices an enemy in half with his katana for the hundredth time and says something like “you aren’t half the man you used to be”. There is also a fair amount of spoken dialogue in this game too and the voice acting is intentionally over-the-top and cheesy. The music in this game is surprisingly dramatic too and it sometimes adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game.

The weapons in “Shadow Warrior” are wonderfully creative and, as well as a rather powerful katana (that can slice some enemies in half), you will also get a variety of interesting guns including a railgun and dual uzis. In addition to this, there are a couple of ninja weapons you can use such as throwing stars (shiruken) and caltrops.

Plus, body parts from two of the more powerful enemies also double up as weapons later in the game too. I doubt that you’d see this level of innovation in many modern games.

However, if you buy a 2nd hand UK version of this game, it won’t include the throwing stars. This is because, back in the 80s and 90s, the British censors had this bizarre policy which banned the depiction of certain weapons (nunchucks, throwing stars, flick knives and butterfly/balisong knives) in films, videos and videogames. This meant that, when “Shadow Warrior” was released in the UK, the throwing stars were replaced with darts. These darts are thrown in exactly the same way as the throwing stars are, which looks very surreal.

However, shortly after the game was released over here, 3D Realms released a patch on their website which converts the UK version back to the version of the game which the rest of the world enjoys. So, if you want to stick two fingers up at the BBFC, then you can download the patch here.

Graphically, “Shadow Warrior” has a slightly cartoonish kind of look to it. Whilst this cartoonishness isn’t as prominent as in older FPS games like “Doom” or “Wolfenstein 3D”, this game certainly looks fairly stylised and it will probably fill you with nostalgia when you compare it to the coldly realistic style of most modern FPS games.

Honestly, I miss good old fashioned sprite-based graphics in FPS games.

If you want to get hold of a copy of “Shadow Warrior”, then I would recommend downloading a (legal) free copy of it on Steam. Due to a screw-up with a promotion for the modern remake, the company who owns the rights to the original game allowed it to be released for free on Steam.

The version you can download and play on Steam is also a lot more reliable than the source ports which exist for older copies of the game (every time I tried to use of these source ports, it wasn’t more than a few minutes before either the program and/or my computer ended up crashing).

All in all, “Shadow Warrior” is a fairly solid 90s FPS game with challenging, but rewarding gameplay. As 1990s games go, I slightly prefer “Doom II”, but “Shadow Warrior” still stands on it’s own merits.

Visually, it is fairly unique and it’s certainly fairly original. But, as I said earlier, you may or may not be offended by this game. You have been warned. Still, since you can legally get it for free, download it and make up your own mind.

If I had to give “Shadow Warrior” a rating out of five, then it would get four.