“Everybody dead. I like that”
When Doom and Wolfenstein hit the ground running during the early nineties, the FPS publicity began. They were a simple graphical layout by today’s standards and the level design nothing more than navigating a maze. Basic sound effects, coupled together with midi soundtracks created a unique ambience. God knows it was enough to make my younger self shiver, like the gurgles of an Arch-vile, or a Hell Knight’s roar.
And for a while it was good. Even amidst the inevitable controversy, sales continued strongly throughout the decade. Various expansion packs and the ability to design your own maps gave much longevity to Doom.
However, bloody violence and mild horror settings could only stretch too far. in an era of video nasties and basic internet connectivity, inspiration came thick and fast. Suddenly, games such as Duke Nukem brought in movie references by the boatload. These included various one-liners (echoed from moves of the era) to more adult settings within the game’s world. It wasn’t enough you could dismember an enemy with melee attacks. Now you could do it within the confines of an alien-infested adult movie theatre.
But why stop there? Envelopes were meant to be pushed, though not everyone would agree with bad taste. But this was the era of South Park, where bad taste and controversial humour hit the ground running. Suddenly, it was ok to revel in politically incorrect humour, no matter how low brow. And Shadow Warrior was no exception. With a protagonist full of broken English and stereotypical enemies, Shadow Warrior came out and much like Duke Nukem, didn’t give a rat’s rear on whom it would offend.
Published by GT Interactive and developed by 3D realms of Duke Nukem fame, Shadow Warrior eventually arrived onto home computers in 1997. I actually remember one chap in high school bringing in the game via his laptop and I was bowled over by it. It certainly looked bloodier and bigger than other FPS games I’d seen before then. However, we never saw it again the next day, mostly because of the strict “No games” policy of our IT classroom.
Like Duke Nukem, the game actually had some basic motivation behind your character. It’s simple enough that it didn’t care for cutscenes before a mission, only varying locales filled with enemies. All you have to know is that you play as Lo Wang, an enforcer for the huge corporation known as Zilla Enterprises. But our protagonist’s boss has taken a liking to the dark side and uses demons and ninja to wrest control of Japan unto him. For some reason, this goes against the moral scruples of our hired killer and Lo Wang takes it upon himself to rid the world of Zilla.
But the game wouldn’t finish at the final battle between Lo Wang and Zilla. Two further expansions would continue the story. Twin Dragon would see Lo Wang face off against his twin brother called Hung Lo. The third and final game called Wanton Destruction places you in the USA visiting relatives.
Playing the game
Lo Wang doesn’t just come with a simple array of a pistol, SMG and shotgun. He has an arsenal comprising of ten different weapons, including two types of melee. From a miniature nuclear device to a rail gun and even a monster’s head, the game will let you revel in carnage from the get-go. Unlike other FPS titles of the era, Shadow Warrior will provide over half of available weapons within the first level. Naturally, the more powerful ones are hidden in secret rooms but even then, these are fairly straightforward puzzles.
Alongside these weapons, you’ll be able to acquire a number of tools. Night vision goggles, a smoke grenade and flashbangs are littered throughout the level. The repair kits allow you to repair disabled vehicles, while gas grenades give out damage over time to surrounding creatures. Mounted machine guns, boats and even tanks are useable, giving you a decisive, albeit short-lived advantage over mobs. Sticky bombs provide multiple uses, such as laying traps. These can also be used as traps for multiple enemies or tools to blast through cracked walls
The enemies themselves aren’t generally fond of subtlety either. What they lack in tactical ambushes or mobility, they make up for in accuracy and firepower. They will wield the same weapons you use, including shurikens and grenade launchers. By ‘they’ I mean ninjas, gangsters, ape/lizards and green muscular guardians that shoot fireballs from their eyes. Stood next to Duke Nukem, the difficulty has been ramped up a fair amount. Even on medium difficulty, you will find your health being sapped quickly by chumps armed with machine guns. The game does have it’s occasional bosses too, like a snake god and larger-than-normal sumo wrestlers. Naturally, don’t be shy about unloading all you have into these deadly finales.
Missions vary from the contemporary urban settings to numerous rural retreats and your run-of-the-mill secret industrial installation. It does away with wave-type encounters i.e shoot a fixed amount of creatures, explore the level and repeat. But compared to the likes of Doom, there is a more realistic feel to each level’s design. There are offices to ransack, warehouses to demolish and stereotypical downtown office blocks made up of individual rooms to navigate however you want. Key cards (made up of both keys and swipe cards) are the usual puzzle element here. Interactable buttons can be shot from a distance to further unlock areas too.
Perhaps one of my favourite places to explore/shoot up is a small town’s railway station. Beginning in a street full of cars and shops, you eventually make your way through to a train station, complete with modern trains and their carriages. Then you get access to enemy infested shops and it’s a riot to be liberal with explosives. One level even puts Lo Wang aboard a passenger aircraft, complete with separate passenger classes and cargo hold. You can even get out and traverse the exterior during the flight, although wind effects constantly push you backwards.
Developed by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital, the new and improved Shadow Warrior is a great leap in FPS games. As time went on, we grew tired of those edgy nineties. Bathroom jokes and crude one-liners were on their way out. Instead, they’d focus on protagonist development and motivation, illustrated with cutscenes. Lo Wang was no longer a simple muscle goon but a young man with actual dialogue and character. From the get-go, we see Lo Wang making his way to a rural location, looking to buy a particularly rare sword for his physically handicapped boss Orochi Zilla.
We later find out that prior to this meeting, Zilla had been approached by the ruler of the shadow realm. This evil deity would give the crime lord a new lease of life and an army of monsters to conquer the world. All it wanted in return was for Zilla and his cohorts to assemble parts of an ancient sword, known as the Nobitsura Kage.
Lo Wang makes his way to the owner of the first piece of this mystical sword with a suitcase full of currency. Perhaps inevitably, things quickly turn sours and our protagonist is facing off against an entire cadre of sword-wielding bodyguards. Making his way through the premises, weird vicious creatures come to the fore and attack the compound. Eventually, Lo Wang escapes to the city and now it’s only him against the creatures of the shadow realm.
He is joined by a cooperative demon called Hoji. While there are occasional transitional cutscenes, Hoji provides narration on the inner machinations of the shadow realm. Though the poor fella has to put up with Lo Wang’s occasional wisecracks! But for the most part, he leads Lo Wang on a journey to assemble the remaining pieces of the Nobitsura Kage. Hoji himself has quite a colourful background, that goes into a lot of detail throughout numerous cutscenes. At times, Lo Wang (the player character) feels more of a sidekick to Hoji’s personal vendetta against those who banished him.
Playing the sequel
Compared to the original, the layout of levels is extremely different. While there are keycards and keys in play, you are using them to go forward, instead of unlocking and backtracking familiar areas. There are still secrets dotted throughout each level. They may contain hidden ki crystals or money used to upgrade your abilities and weapons respectively. Unlike the simplistic nature of the original, you can further improve your weapons and supernatural abilities.
Hidden ki crystals let you add various abilities, such as health regeneration or advanced sword techniques. Money lets you either purchase weapon upgrades i.e larger magazines or bigger explosives. It also lets you purchase ammo for said weapons, should the level not provide enough. A karma point system is in effect should you create enough consecutive acts of carnage. Karma points awarded from enough damage dealt earn passive upgrades. This includes, but not limited to, increased health, stamina and increased damage on certain demons.
Like the original, each weapon is powerful enough and doesn’t make the previous one obsolete. The revolver is, quite frankly one of those most powerful pistols I’ve used since Resident Evil’s magnums. And the sword easily dispatches lesser demons with one or two swipes. Even when wielding firearms, you can still slash with your free hand. Shurikens still play their role of doing minor damage, allowing you to bring a firearm to deal the finishing blow. Even the guardian head makes an appearance when extracted from the torso of large guardian demons.
Playing them today. How well do they hold up?
Let us greet the white elephant head on. The original game is politically incorrect, fairly racist and full of typical Asian stereotyping. Dialogue spoken by both protagonist and enemies are full of quips that wouldn’t make it onto modern television shows, let alone a triple-A video game developer today. Naturally, the reboot does away with most of this ‘humour’ and instead relies on the conversations initiated by Hoji and Lo Wang regarding their current predicament.
Playing each game is still fun unto itself. Speaking as someone who was a teenager during the advent of South Park, the original could have been a whole lot more offensive. It’s degrading and tiresome in places, but when you’re dual-wielding guns against ninjas, you tend to tune it out. The primary appeal will always be the gun-ho gameplay, though it’s dated by today’s standards in terms of appearance and sound. It does feel a little more difficult than other FPS titles of the period, but with the more liberal use of explosives, the odds can be thinned in your favour.
Blowing up walls to find secrets, getting the drop on a serpent god with a nuclear missile and going nuts with the riot shotgun still feels immensely satisfying. The puzzle of searching for the next keycard remains a little infuriating at times, let alone finding the keyhole once you’ve found the required card!
However, the majority of the adversaries faced in the reboot consist mostly of demons, whereas it was a mix of ninjas, gangsters and occasional monsters in the original. So the levels take place in an even mix of shadow realm and human cities. And while the new Lo Wang might dispense with one-liners, they are a far cry from the politically incorrect jokes of the 90’s game. From drawing a sword to exploding an enemy, the original Lo Wang would quip something. Usually, it was along the lines of “You move like a pregnant yak” or “Holy cow!”
A lot of the dialogue in the reboot has been cleaned up. The new story feels padded out with substance and other characters besides the protagonist. An underlying tale explaining the feuds between the demons neatly stitches one event to the next. With this narrative in place, the levels have a solid reason to be connected. No longer are you just visiting various Zilla brand facilities for the sake of cleaning out demons.
The reboot is a worthy successor and while it lays on the narrative rather thick throughout, there’s still fun to be had slaying large groups of demons. Most of the lesser ones haven’t projectiles anyway, so it’s fairly straightforward to thin the herd with pistols or machine guns. If you’re decently equipped, bosses aren’t much hassle either. The end-of-level titans employ the exact same method of exposing vulnerable places while stunned. It’s literally a case of shooting them in the chest until they can’t take it anymore and then attacking the exposed joints.
As mentioned earlier, explosives aren’t employed so frequently in the reboot. Now you have to aim a little more carefully, though the sword is still effective as ever. Sticky bombs have moved on from simple grenades adhering to surfaces and enemies. Now they make up the secondary fire of the crossbow, but somehow feel a little weaker. The fully upgraded Yari rocket launcher is only as powerful as regular explosives from the original.
Both games are indicative of the period they were released in and while the reboot’s humour is reduced to brief witticisms, the core shooting mechanics remain the same. It’s you versus the entirety of hell once again, something a certain Martian marine could relate to. They’re still both cathartic and bloody at their core, nothing more complicated than that.