To say that video games have become much more politically correct over the years is no bold claim. One inappropriate joke or passing comment could result in unwanted criticism from countless people, just the kind of thing game developers want to avoid entirely. It wasn’t always like this, however. Sometimes, developers pushed games beyond the boundaries of tastefulness.
3D Realms’ iconic shooter Duke Nukem 3D, was offensive, challenging, and oh so fun. Its satirical and tongue-in-cheek content was enough to upset more than a few people after its release in 1996. After that, the company released an Eastern-themed spiritual successor Shadow Warrior. Looking past the cheesy one-liners, parodies of bad kung-fu movies and racial humour, Shadow Warrior really pushed its engine to its limits, helping the poorly-selling title achieve a cult-classic status over time. A title well-deserved, too.
If you’ve played Duke Nukem 3D, you may be disappointed to hear that Shadow Warrior is not as lengthy or balanced. You’ll come across quite a few irritating enemies across its 22 levels. The worst of the bunch are the uzi-wielding ninjas that jump, climb, and even perform special attacks, like fire homing missiles or cast spells (depending on the colour of their trousers). If that wasn’t annoying enough, there are suicide-bombers that usually turn into hard-to-hit ghosts on death, and killer hornets that attack in swarms.
A ninja’s never ready for a fight without his mighty katana or a handful of shurikens, but these are quickly outclassed by weapons like uzis, a slow-firing railgun, a grenade launcher, and a fire-breathing monster head. Many of these weapons actually have alternate-fire modes, like the riot shotgun. Normally it’s quite accurate, but its alt-fire lets you unload four shells in rapid-succession before automatically reloading, making it an excellent choice for close-encounters. Another example would be the ability to launch a mini-nuke from your rocket launcher. Just be sure to take cover if you do. Big arsenal, big fun.
Much like Duke Nukem 3D, you can carry items in your inventory, like portable health kits, smoke bombs to turn you invisible, and repair kits. The rest aren’t as useful as ol’ Duke’s gear, though, so you probably won’t be using them as much. Health kits and fortune cookies will give you health, and while body armour can be collected to protect you from enemy attacks, it gets chewed up far too quickly. Somehow, falling from a six-foot drop will damage our supposedly-agile hero, and will inexplicably dent your armour points, too.
Lo Wang is after his former-employer, Master Zilla, who unleashed hordes of demons across the land. His hunt for Zilla will take you across various well-designed and creative locations like a bath house, an underwater facility, a subpen, among many others. You’ll need to search for keys to advance. Of course, there are plenty of secrets to explore, and the occasional bit of scenery to interact with. Some of the enemy placements and traps can be a bit cheap at times; some areas contain far too many bad guys who can pick you off in seconds.
The level design is more complex compared to that of Duke Nukem 3D, thanks to the updated Build engine. Players can climb ladders, fire turrets, and even drive vehicles. Getting ahold of a machine gun turret or tank makes you feel like death on wheels, even if the steering feels a little clunky. Snooty reviewers at the time scoffed Shadow Warrior for not being a fully-3D title like Quake, though it does have 3D items, detailed sprites and some varicolored visuals throughout.
Numerous oriental-themed songs await within Shadow Warrior, courtesy of Lee Jackson (creator of Duke Nukem 3D’s iconic main theme, and composer for more than half of the songs in that game). Songs like “Attention”, with its twanging strings, are a brilliant listen, while ambient tracks like “Thunder Winds” will give you chills. Plus, those who beat the game are treated to the hilarious “Lo Wang’s Rap” at the end.
John William Galt’s performance as Lo Wang will tickle you pink with all sorts of over-the-top, cheesy one-liners. Make no mistake, the awkwardly-named protagonist is a badass, and while he does love to make corny puns about his surname, you can’t avoid laughing when he splatters an enemy and exclaims “eat this, pencil-d**k!”
It may be in bad taste, and can be pretty irritating at times, but Shadow Warrior is still a worthwhile shooter. Excellent level design, a superb soundtrack, silly jokes and some great gunplay make it a great addition to 3D Realms’ repertoire of shooters. It may be technologically advanced than its predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D, yet ol’ Duke had more levels and polish to its gameplay. Regardless, the best thing is that this one’s free to download from online game retailers, so if you’re hungering for a tricky title from yesteryear, then pick up your katana and slice yourself some wang in this gem of a FPS. Grasshoppers and wannabe-ninjas need not apply.