Shadow Warrior 3: Modern games, epitomized

Shadow Warrior 3 is a game that epitomizes everything, both good and bad, about modern games.

It’s a beautiful-looking game, full of color and a complex Asian-inspired aesthetic, and it runs extremely well for all its fidelity, maintaining a smooth 60fps on the PS5 during all but the most chaotic, explosive moments. The gameplay is simple and repetitive but plenty of fun, consisting of platforming sections in between arena-like areas where the player must slay hordes of demons using a vast variety of weapons, abilities, and environmental hazards. It’s a far cry from the 3D-Realms Shadow Warrior of the 90s, but it leans into its strengths.

However, like many modern games, the writing is poor, even atrocious at points. Shadow Warrior III has a thin story and some of the worst dialogue I’ve heard in a game, and even though it shouldn’t matter so much in a shooter, the constant presence of the characters’ speech does disturb the product as a whole. Luckily, it’s still easy to ignore the story and focus on killing things.

I remember ten years ago when all the talk of the industry was about how important the story was to the medium, and now most times, I wish they just skipped such pretense. Shadow Warrior 3 would have been great with less talking.

Gameplay – 7/10

Shadow Warrior 3 has a narrow focus to its gameplay, with minimal deviation from its core design. It’s almost like the developers watched too many lectures on “gameplay loops” and took the whole thing to heart. The entire game consists of running down corridors made to cleverly not look like corridors by incorporating platforming until the player must jump down into an arena, where the core combat takes place. There is virtually no exploration, and if you stray just a foot off the prescribed path, the game kills you and sets you back to the start of the section.

Compare this to 1997’s Shadow Warrior, in which secrets abound, and the environments are constructed to give multiple paths through large, sometimes labyrinthine levels. It really is odd that this game, made by polish developers Flying Wild Hog, shares the same name as that old title made in Texas. The gameplay variety in Shadow Warrior III comes in the arena sections, where unique monster combinations and environments create new combat challenges. That’s where most of the fun happens.

There are only two places in the entire game where this is changed up: the two boss fights. These left me wanting more. The first boss in particular (the “ancient cock”) was the most challenging point in the game for me, a real dark-souls moment where I had to take a step back and think about how I was playing the game. The final boss was equally interesting, though not as challenging.

Unfortunately, those arena sections became boring toward the end of the game, even though it’s not a long campaign. Besides the “seen that already” feeling I started to have, the game gets easier through a simple set of RPG mechanics that allow you to upgrade your weapons, and a smart player (which I suppose I am) will be able to quickly understand which ones are the most powerful. Eventually, I just wanted the game to end so I could be done and write this review.

By the way, I played the campaign on normal mode with a controller. The PS5 oddly supports keyboard controls, but not a mouse. I think hard would be the more appropriate mode on PC, but hard (from what I tried) is certainly beatable with a controller for those experienced with them.

Aesthetics – 9/10

Shadow Warrior III is a visual feast. It uses a smattering of every cliché idea of “Asian” or “Japanese” aesthetics, all saturated far beyond anything tasteful, to create something very cool. It’s the reverse of the endless desaturated brown that dominated the graphics paradigm of last gen, and looks spectacular on my OLED. Every area, every scene, is composed with artistic intent and nothing feels like a smattering of assets. I mentioned corridors that don’t look like corridors—that’s because the paths are open to the sky, and every area is put together with interesting foregrounds and backgrounds.

Giant dragons slowly fly past gargantuan Japanese castles filled with blooming trees; rivers reflecting the sunset are disturbed by demons flying in from a distance; the player traipses through the innards of a kaiju, with all the gory surroundings you’d expect. The art and visual design team earned their money. And the monsters are horrific yet somehow fit together with the over-colored environments.

All this art is delivered with high fidelity and, better yet, high framerates, making the fast-paced action sections more responsive than if they had targeted 30fps. The negative criticisms I have are two: the cutscenes run at a lower framerate, where the character animations seem stilted, and the design of Lo Wang (the main character) doesn’t fit with his previous versions.

Story – 4/10

Here we have the bad part. On the surface, the story is serviceable as an excuse to shuttle the player through all the different set pieces of the game—its strong point. Unfortunately, the developers tried to do too much with Lo Wang without really understanding the character, or perhaps weren’t brave enough to use him the way he ought to be.

The dialogue in Shadow Warrior III is among the worst I’ve heard in a video game, which is saying something as most video game dialogue is bad to begin with. Created by 3D realms (known better for Duke Nukem) in the 1990s, Lo Wang utilizes the snarky, sarcastic, anti-PC comedy of the era, and that is an era that is long past. What was novel and edgy in 1997 is not novel in 2022. Imitating that sort of humor just won’t have the same impact that it had on teens back then, and if you legitimately brought it forward, you’d get a strong taste of cancel culture because the anti-pc humor of the 90s would be considered full misogyny or sexual harassment now. Because it’s defanged, Shadow Warrior 3’s humor comes off as parody, only not funny.

That’s not the main problem, though. The real issue is that the dialogue sounds like it was written by someone with autism, or perhaps (since it is a Polish developer), it was written by people to whom English is a foreign language. The lead writer listed on Mobygames is Haris Orkin, who has a long career with many good games to back it up, so the atrocious dialogue is baffling.

I mention autism. This is not to insult anyone on the autism spectrum, but I say it with sincerity as individuals on the spectrum can miss the context of idiomatic statements, and this game is filled with inappropriate idioms. Lo Wang, at one point, says “I hope she doesn’t screw the pooch,” absent its normal meaning, or maybe as if he thought the character in question actually has sex with dogs (the idiom means “to mess up something really bad”). This is just one example of many. The effect is an imitation of modern Marvel movie dialogue written by Drax the Destroyer, or perhaps your drunk friend trying to make pop culture references while you talk about hamburgers.

It’s not witty; it’s not funny; it’s not even edgy. Every line just made me cringe. And the bad snark is thrown at you constantly. Lo Wang has turned from a badass assassin that’s also a sexist troll into the Fat Thor of video game characters.

As the plot—it’s simple, which is fine for a game. It’s just peachy by my standards to have a plot that exists solely to get the hero to act (the princess is captured, AGAIN) or to connect the various levels. Shadow Warrior III does a bit more. A giant dragon got summoned in, and you have to kill it, or it will eat all existence. A great video game conflict if I’ve ever seen one. There are some obstacles and a few twists along the way. You meet some new and colorful characters, help out a friend, and it concludes with a satisfying ending where everything ends up the way it ought to.

The only problem with the plot is in the exposition, where Lo Wang pontificates to mask in his underwear of what has just happened and that he has to “get his mojo back,” as if he is Austin Powers. It’s unnecessary and holds the player back from experiencing the gameplay and does little to frame the story or explain much of anything. It would have been better to play it straight rather than use a flashback/in media res trope.

Bad dialogue, if it is persistent enough, really can sink a story ship.

Overall – 6.7/10

Overall, Shadow Warrior III is an enjoyable, if overly focused, game whose relatively short playtime (around 8 hours) is disrupted by bad dialogue, and so it squeaks out an average rating. I’d have trouble recommending this game at the 60 dollar price point, but if you can find it on sale or get it for free with a subscription, I’d say it is definitely worth a play-through.

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: Jack Higgins, Saber-Tooth Tigers, The Northman –

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