Of all the ‘90s games to revive, Shadow Warrior was a pretty bizarre choice. It was a cult classic at best – fun, but more or less a Duke Nukem 3D clone but with culturally insensitive jokes. But developer Flying Wild Hog pulled it off, as the 2013 return and 2016 sequel both showed that first-person shooters could still be over-the-top fun and funny at the same time – without any inappropriate dialogue. For the new Lo Wang’s third go-around in Shadow Warrior 3, the open world and the co-op are gone, with the focus instead on Wang himself.
“When we were reviving the IP, there were certain ingredients that we needed in order to make it faithful to the original,” lead gameplay designer Pawel Kowalewski told me. “[But now], for Shadow Warrior 3, we wanted to go back to our roots and make a game that’s focused on a linear single player campaign that’s filled with over-the-top action from the opening credits.” That was clearly on display in the 17-minute gameplay demo I saw.
The comedy side of Shadow Warrior is certainly reminiscent of Duke Nukem, with Wang tossing out a snide remark in almost every combat encounter, but it’s all observational comedy rather than cultural. And that was by design. “We added this whole backstory to Lo Wang to modernize him,” Kowalewski said. “He likes video games, comic books, American films. We wanted to shift the humor toward these things.”
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And you know what? It works. The dialogue in the demo I saw is funny. But that’s not the primary reason I walked away impressed. Gameplay is king, and Shadow Warrior 3 seems to benefit from its renewed focus on a linear, action-packed campaign. Wang wallruns, blasts bad guys with big guns, slices them with his katana, uses a grappling hook to swing from one space to the next – it’s high-speed gameplay that seems to vibe nicely with the over-the-top attitude Flying Wild Hog is going for. Enemy variety, meanwhile, seems impressive, with frequent mini-boss battles thrown in to keep you on your toes, and Shaun of the Dead-levels of gore to accompany the shooting, blasting, slicing, and smashing.
Using Unreal Engine 4 helps too. The team switched to it after the previous two games ran on an in-house rendering engine. “It’s a change for us,” Kowalewski said, “But it’s a change for the better. Working with Unreal speeds up the development process. The engine is very user friendly. We are achieving the same goals in less time.” For players, you’ll instantly notice how pretty Shadow Warrior 3 is, from lighting to textures to the amount of on-screen gore flying around at once without performance suffering.
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Shadow Warrior 3 also clearly echoes Doom, another ‘90s shooter that’s been successfully revived in the past decade. Sure, neither of them invented grappling hooks, midair dashes, or wallrunning, but Doom Eternal fused them all brilliantly earlier this year, so it’s tough not to notice the similarity here. Note that this isn’t even a complaint; those mechanics worked in Doom, and mixing in Wang’s katana here plus a healthy dose of over-the-top gore certainly left me with a lot of optimism about how fun Shadow Warrior 3’s combat will be.