If you are looking for a game to enjoy with kids, yeah Shadow Warrior 3 probably isn’t the one. Gore, adult humor and visceral mind-blowing action are all ahead of you as you boot this threequal from Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital. On top of that is all the swearing. Not just the swearing the game’s protagonists spew out, but the swearing pouring from your own face as you die, and die, and die again.
My 13-year-old daughter came into my home office while I was playing this to ask me to tone down my language. Get out kid, I’ve got demons to eviscerate.
Shadow Warrior history and backstory
I’m not going to dwell here, there’s no point. I hadn’t played the other two games in the rebooted series, although I did play the original waaaay back at the end of the 90s and, even though Shadow Warrior 3 continues the story, it hardly matters. You play Lo Wang (yes, I’m assuming it is the first of the many penis gags), but this time, obviously the real world has changed and Flying Wild Hog has changed the voice actor of Wang to Mike Moh from Jason Liebrecht.
Devolver said on announcing Moh that the voice changes were part of an effort to “correct our mistake” of not casting Asian actors for Asian roles. Also arriving are Andromeda Dunker (Motoko) and SungWon Cho (Zilla). Moh’s most notable TV work was as Steve Cho in Empire, but he also has some martial arts experience as Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Obviously, parts of the internet reacted with predictable outrage about the removal of a white actor from an Asian role, but the less said about them the better. Basically, if they choose to carry out their threats of boycotting the game, well I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep and I doubt the good folks at Devolver will either.
So, with the furor of some corners of the right fresh in my mind, I booted up Shadow Warriors, not knowing what to expect and after a clever introduction which fills you in on a little bit of backstory, dragon this, betrayal that, swearing-a-plenty – it looks beautiful I might also add, I was dropped straight into what serves as Shadow Warrior 3’s training level.
Man, reading that sentence back does it a disservice. The opening moments of Shadow Warrior 3 are exceptional, and I am old enough and wise enough to have played a lot of games in my time in this gig. For starters it looks amazing as it introduces you to the mechanics of the game, not just blowing demon’s heads off in a shower of giblets, but also the parkour elements that every good leather-jacketed wannabe ninja of the future will need to learn.
I played on mouse and keyboard (obviously) but a controller is an option too, but as you are taught the basics of double-jumping and then double jumping with a dash involved to propel you forward, little do you know that you may well come to hate some of these sections of devious level-design later on in the game. I certainly still do, but more of that later.
Once you have jumped back and forward a few times between the introduction and this tutorial presented in the form of flashbacks you will be equipped to start the game proper, and things do not slow down any from here on in.
From the moment you get into Shadow Warrior 3 properly, it is easy to love. It looks amazing, runs so smoothly and the fighting and killing are thoroughly enjoyable – yes that sounds sinister I know. The mechanics of collecting Finisher orbs (the gold ones) as you charge around and filling your Finisher Guage soon becomes essential. Filling the gauge allows you to perform a Finisher move on an enemy and gain a huge strategical advantage. Killing a standard enemy like in the screen below will double your health and that’s something you will come to rely a lot on as it also refills the HP gauge, many is the time I have been about to drop dead when I have just got my hands on one of these chaps in time and got right back into the fight.
Killing harder enemies with a Finisher takes more of your gauge but gives you access to a super-powered Gore weapon for a few seconds which can decimate the enemies around you and turn the tide in a beat. In fact, learning when to perform a finisher and on which enemy is integral to progress in Shadow Warrior 3, and when it clicks is when the game becomes a lot less frustrating than it can be at times.
The game saves itself regularly which is very handy and it is rare you will have to go back an annoying amount to retrace your steps. It’s not always the case as you will read below, but, in the main, Shadow Warrior 3 gets it spot on.
Along the way, you will be gradually introduced to innovative new enemies and weapons. Foes such as floating Laser Shoguns will, once introduced, continue to pop up in waves and cause you problems. Most enemies have a specific way to defeat them, and getting that down is also another key to progression.
Weaponry and indeed Lo Wang can be upgraded as you play by collecting different color orbs. Some, but not all, and hidden off the beaten track and are a reward for exploring, but I wish this was a bit more frequent.
Guns can be upgraded to require less reloading or even take out multiple enemies and Lo Wang can have new skills added, such as a regenerating health bar or the ability to push enemies away with Chi – sort of a psychic Ninja blast which comes in ultra-handy when the bad guys have a rush on.
Where Shadow Warrior 3 wins the day though is that it is just so damn playable. It feels like you are supposed to be having fun blowing stuff up and making a right old mess of whatever is in front of you.
I wish I didn’t need to write this section, and that it wasn’t potentially going to be as long as it is, because I fear for some it may be off-putting and that is not the intention. For starters, our review copy has been played to death for a fortnight before the release date and a Day One patch may sort some of this out so that you would never have known it was there, but no patch is going to address some of the things that drove me crazy about Shadow Warrior 3.
Let’s get the bugs out of the way first as they are the easiest to deal with and hopefully won’t be around too long. I soon lost track of the amount of time I got stuck in the scenery. I’d miss a jump by inches and find myself tantalizing out of reach of where I needed to be but still alive. I’d desperately try to recover by clambering up but no amount of jumping would improve my situation and eventually I’d just have to step off to my death and return to the last checkpoint. Irritating, especially when it happens again and again. There was even a time I thought I had landed where I thought I was supposed to be and spent a couple of minutes realizing that I was in fact trapped within the scenery with no forward progression possible and forced to eventually kill myself.
To be fair there was only one occasion I had to quit to the menu and reload the game because even death wasn’t an option, but it just jars you out of the great experience you will be having to that point. Hopefully fixable though.
I have had experiences where upon killing the first part of a boss in a boss fight, the second section of the fight just didn’t trigger and I was wandering around the arena just losing off rockets at the boss who refused to get up and carry on the fight. That was another trip back to the menu.
As annoying as these issues are the bigger problems with the game hang on its design. I flip-flopped over my score so much with it as once you get considerably into the game you realize what is happening is you have to go through a big of a run-through the scenery, maybe a parkour section but very rarely with any enemies, just some plot dialogue for company before you happen upon a section, which is nearly always circular in nature where you are suddenly bombarded by enemy after enemy. The only way to progress further is to eradicate every last one of them, The saving grace of this is it is generally a whole bunch of fun doing so. I do fear that some may find the level layout repetitive however.
These mini arena fights take on a tactic of their own as you get better, basically, they involved dashing rounds in circles blowing away everything you can, and restocking on the health and ammo that spawns at set points every minute or so. Some of these sections include ledges you can jump to, grappling hooks to whizz you to the other side in a hurry, and – one of my favorite bits – pieces of giant machinery you can activate which will cause things such as giant blades to activate eviscerating anything in their path, but fundamentally, they are all kinda the same.
The game autosave at hidden checkpoints and if you die, and you will – Elden Ring will be looking at this going, ‘dude, you kill the player a lot!’ – you will be chucked back to the start of the arena battle. Now some of these are pretty long fights and it can be ultra annoying to be going at one for the best part of ten minutes only to have to restart it again.
They also tend to ramp up the difficulty as they go along, throwing pretty much every enemy at you in waves. In fact, that’s kinda what these sections of Shadow Warrior 3 are – massive, relentless wave shooters with very little finesse. But that’s not what the game is going for so it’s fine to a point.
My final moan is on how unfair and even cruel Shadow Warrior 3 can feel at times. This doesn’t seem to be on the shooting sections, more the parkour sections which are often thrown at you at pace, i.e you are falling down a mountainside not knowing what is ahead so you shoot a barrier, hurtle around a corner, just about manage to use your grappling hook for a jump, land, jumpdash onto the wall to run over some spikes, land and then die because it was;t immediately obvious there’s another gripping hook point you need to hit, while you are finishing surviving all the previous bits.
There are sections later on where you literally have seconds to work out where to go next and you have spent the entire game jumping and swinging forwards so you make about five difficult jumps and die, repeat and die again about 100 times before you realize the next jump is actually 90 degrees to your right. It’s impossible to know that without getting to the point where you have tried everything else, especially as there is a misleading jump point right ahead of you and you have conditioned yourself into thinking it is you that is in the wrong.
There’s a section towards the end of the game that is just ridiculous for throwing quickfire obstacles at you with wall runs, grappling hooks and everything having to be timed to the microsecond or you spike yourself. When you start getting good at passing the first 10 of these obstacles the 11th kills you and it’s back to the start. When you finally pass the 11th, the 12th does for you. How I haven’t smashed things up. Changing the difficulty for my aging reflexes doesn’t help here either – that just reduced the enemy killing sections. The parkour is all down to you. And it will finish off people weaker than me. Shadow Warrior 3 can be a cruel, unforgiving beast.
Now we certainly aren’t talking about the game here which looks stunning but if slightly puerile humor isn’t your bag you may well find a lot of the dialogue on the crass side. Now I certainly don’t care about the bad language but a lot of the puns seem crowbarred in and there were times I was a bit like, ‘Oh shut up Lo Wang’.
The mid-game boss I referred to involves some giant chicken thing looking after a dragon egg that you need to get to. IN game it is referred to as the Ancient Cock. I spent a little time wondering if it was a dick joke or just me after all Cocks don’t lay hens etc but not everybody is a veterinarian! Any doubts I had were put to bed in the dialogue after defeating it though with chatty mask sidekick Hoji saying, ” That giant cock sure slapped you around” and Lo Wang commenting that it was the second biggest cock he’d seen. It’s probably quite funny, I found it quite funny but not everybody will, and if you wouldn’t then Shadow Warrior 3 is definitely not for you!
There was another bit where we see Lo Wang taking a relaxing soak and his genitalia is covered by a large black box that moves around the scene with him. I thought nothing of this until I was flicking through my screenshots for this review, have a look below and see what you think? I didn’t notice at the time, is it a glitch or another cock gag?
So whether it actually gets too much it ceases to be clever will be largely down to the individual player. It’s certainly not always clever and nuanced though, put it that way.
When it works Shadow Warrior 3 is one of my favorite games for such a long time. I have to play a lot of games for my job (tough gig, right?) but with Shadow Warrior 3 I found myself loading it up for fun, and that is rare for me these days and that is the biggest accolade I can give it on a personal level.
It’s an absolute over-the-top blast, but then it lets you down with niggles. If somebody said ‘design the perfect game for you’ this comes close in so many ways. It’s really easy to pick up, infuriating at so many times but in that way that means you want to beat it. Perseverance will generally get you past what you might have been stuck on for ages but is that a good waste of your time or is it a trick to extend the experience? I can’t say for sure. Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m getting rubbish at games but I don’t think so. So as much as it is the most fun I have had with a game in a long time, it is also the first game in the same period I have mentally accused it to myself of being a bit unfair in places.
The gunplay mechanics are great, the Finisher movers and Gore weapons are a lot of fun, and as you play you learn the strategies to beat it, even if, by and large, it is the same strategy throughout the game. And it looks gorgeous, okay you could take it to task for anomalies like why are the vines you need to wall run on present on icy surfaces, but that is nit-picking when the graphics are so fluid.
As irritating as Shadow Warrior 3 can be, I defy you to not have a really good time playing it to its spectacular conclusion.