Okay. Okay, I’m ready for this. I’ve got the words. I’ve got the touch. I’ve got the power. Let’s get this rolling.
For a while, I’ve been watching the Shadow Warrior footage as it came out, and the difference between it and Rise of the Triad was striking. Everyone loved every bit of Rise of the Triad footage that came out. Every second of it was pure bliss, people got hype like nothing else.
Compare with Shadow Warrior. With all of the Shadow Warrior footage that came out, people generally responded with “…eh! It’s Shadow Warrior!”. I’ll admit my only main reactions were from the ZDoom thread, the Early FPS Megathread on SA, and /vr/, but practically nobody I know was truly excited for this game. Even I was having trouble getting excited.
Then we got our first real glimpse of the game. 15 minutes of pure, raw gameplay footage.
So, what do I think of it?
My God, this looks like shit.
This looks like cutscene-heavy setpoint-focused slow-paced RPG-elements bogged-down shit.
All right, let me backpedal waaaayyyyyyyyy the fuck back and put a massive asterisk with a “that’s just, like, your opinion” disclaimer attached onto that sentence.
A: 15 minutes is not the full game. This is way early in development—I don’t think it’s even pre-alpha yet. They may completely revamp the early stuff.
B: Neither cutscenes nor RPG elements are inherently bad. This is obvious, but still worth mentioning nonetheless.
C: A lad on the SomethingAwful thread got a preview build, and according to him after you get past all the cutscene bullshit the game is pretty fun. Likewise, Revision3 said that the gameplay is incredibly fun and fast-paced. So who knows, maybe IGN in its eternal wisdom decided to stream only the shitty parts.
D: This is a reboot. Not a remake like Rise of the Triad was. It’s not going to be complete 1:1 everything’s-intact approach.
Now with that hanging over my head, I’m going to tear this thing a new one.
What sets Shadow Warrior apart from its other Build-engine-based brethren? What was at the core of Shadow Warrior?
Duke Nukem 3D‘s aesthetic niche was Hollywood action movies, and its gameplay niche was usable environmental setpieces in mostly non-linear levels with a huge emphasis on z-axis movement and multiple floors.
Blood‘s aesthetic niche was over-the-top horror flicks, and its gameplay niche was unorthodox weapons in destructable environments—oh and being balls-in-a-vice hard.
Shadow Warrior‘s aesthetic niche was heroic bloodshed movies, and its gameplay niche was a best-of-both-worlds approach—it had Blood‘s unorthodox weapons and destructable fun-times and it had Duke Nukem 3D‘s non-linear levels with interactive bits and lots of z-axis room-over-room layouts.
Okay, so what does a Shadow Warrior reboot need? What’s the core elements of Shadow Warrior that need to be represented?
One. Heroic bloodshed overarching theme.
Two. Crazy unorthodox weapons.
Three. Wide-open areas with a lot of z-axis and destructable/interactive components.
The gameplay shown does not do any of these well.
Let’s start from the top.
First off. What is “heroic bloodshed”?
Heroic Bloodshed is the unofficial term. I just use it ‘cause TVTropes and Wikipedia use it. You may also know it as Blood Opera, Gun Fu, or Oh My God John Woo Is Holding Two Guns Hell Yes. It’s the Chinese take on America’s gunslinging action films and Japan’s martial arts films, popularized by John Woo and Chow Yun Fat, creating a combination that was both and yet neither. What does it entail? Gritty-grim enforcers of the law or honor-driven hitmen/assassins, frequently driven by honor/revenge, and resulting in a massive massacre of bloody blood, giblets and red stuff flying around everywhere as the criminal either avenges his honor/mentor/family or the detective finally brings that goddamn perp to justice.
What does this have to do with Shadow Warrior? Everything. The entire game is a Chinese Heroic Bloodshed film put in a (very lighthearted) game. You have the honor-driven Chinese assassin whose morality causes him to snub his boss, whom puts a hit out on him. Driven by revenge, Lo Wang creates a bloody path of revenge before finally putting his evil dishonorable boss down.
Game. Set. Match. Checkmate. Bingo. Do not pass go. You have a Heroic Bloodshed movie. This pitch is PERFECT. It’s practically the distillation of every formula that could have made a good Hong Kong gun fu movie.
Then along comes the reboot, which seems to favor ancient wuxia—a mystical sword that can summon demons? Well, it’s not out of place of Shadow Warrior, I suppose—the original had demons and zombies all over the place. But there’s no betrayal, no honor, nothing that fits the original Shadow Warrior’s theme. In this, Lo Wang is just a very persistent businessman who wants his damn sword. Nothing of honor, nothing of revenge, just “Bitch took my skull!”. He’s not an assassin, he’s a comic book collector—which, okay, could lead itself to some clever pop culture references, but it’s just brought up twice by saying that he collects comic books. Without any jokes. Oh, and he’s accompanied by the mandatory voice-in-your-head bane of modern games that everyone has been trying to ape since Halo. The “ghost in your head” bit is just as stupid as it was in Darkwatch, guys—though at least this dude is a condescending smart-ass and has personality, rather than dutifully telling you what to do and where to do it.
Second off, the crazy unorthodox weapons.
I can’t really say much more about Shadow Warrior‘s weaponry that isn’t already said. The STARTING WEAPON is an UZI and SHURIKENS—the former usually reserved for a chaingun/assault rifle role, and the latter not even considered. Hell, practically right off the bat you get to dual-wield the uzis too, a staple of Chinese gun fu. The shotgun is a gatling belt-fed cannon that could rapid-fire shots. Not too much later, you get get a rocket launcher that has a nuclear warhead option.
What does the reboot have? It, uh…has a katana. And a revolver. At least you get your shurikens, but those need to be upgraded to first. And only work if your katana is out. Whoopee. And then there’s a double-barrel shotgun. And a crossbow. Not really unique, as far as a loadout goes. It seems that most of the cooler components will be locked behind the upgrade system, which is pretty much a gigantic kick in the dick; the weapons will no longer emphasize how skilled you are with them, how badass you are, instead you’ll need to grind for EXP to make them even bigger and better. Another bane of modern games, which Shadow Warrior had no need of. The guns were awesome right out of the gate, you didn’t need to upgrade them.
Third off, the environments. I will say one thing—the environments are certainly colorful. I haven’t seen this much pink since Barbie’s Horse Adventures.
Now with that out of the way, everything is so damn flat it’s not even funny. Watching the gameplay videos, everything seems to work off the generic Serious Sam approach of enemies far in the distance slowly closing in on you, you spin around and take care of them. They’re wide open, yes, but they’re flat and non-descript. You start in the dojo and katana-fight a horde of goons in a flat tea house. You hike on through and carve up more goons in flat corridors. You eventually go through like four cutscenes in a row, get tied up, get thrown in a cage, get a katana, then hike on through some (admittedly very beautiful) flat Japanese gardens, hiking across flat grass and heading through the flat buildings. Where’s the height variation? Where’s the ladders? Where’s the leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper? Where’s the crawling up crates and heading to a crane to blow up a door? The very first level of Shadow Warrior had you dropping down a few stories out of the dojo, then going back up again to get a second uzi.
Actually, where’s the blowing things up as a whole? Through all the gameplay footage, it seems that very little of the environment actually exploded. Compare to the original Shadow Warrior, where there’s explosions literally out the very first door—two cars plow into each other? EXPLOSIONS. Enemies in chinese hats carrying crates? The crates are filled with EXPLOSIONS. Enter the very next level, and the CAVES EXPLODE. Barrels placed everywhere, some labelled plainly with TNT on them, just to explode. Hey, Johnny, why do we need to put a barrel of TNT on a bridge? Because explosions. Hey, Phillip, why do we need to put a tank outside of the Zilla Enterprises factory? Because EXPLOSIONS. Hey, Master Leep, why is your bathroom only accessible if we rocket the ceiling? BECAUSE EXPLOSIONS DAMN YOU.
So, the three crucial components of Shadow Warrior, and the reboot doesn’t seem to match any of them. What does this mean?
That the reboot isn’t really Shadow Warrior.
I mean, sure, it’s still ninjas fighting demons, and sure there’s still katanas and uzis, and sure there’s still Lo Wang, but it’s not Shadow Warrior. It’s Shadow Warrior in the same way DmC: Devil may Cry was Devil May Cry—it looked at some screenshots and gameplay videos, went “Oh, we can do this!”, and tried to copy the Cliff’s Notes version without recognizing the formula that the original followed.
Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the reboot is going to be incredible, and I’m just doomsaying when there isn’t even any doom in the first place. And Lord knows that, no matter what, I’m still going to be diving for a copy of the game.
But right now, it’s more because of a sense of hope and persistent optimism more than genuine excitement.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re pulling a Serious Sam 3 on us, where the first area was intentionally bullshit. Maybe they want to set up a contrast for the entire rest of the game. Maybe they just need to do a little research. Maybe everything is going to be perfect—I mean, Rise of the Triad was incredible, wasn’t it?
Oh, wait. I wouldn’t know.
I can’t play the damn thing.