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Build Engine Retrospective Part 2: Shadow Warrior

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GAME: Shadow Warrior



YEAR: 1997


Note: Screenshots are from the Classic Redux version of the game.


Riding on the immense success (and soccer mom notoriety) of Duke Nukem 3D, and despite Quake's massive success with its fully 3D engine, 3D Realms decided to utilize the somewhat less graphically impressive but still versatile Build engine for several more projects, of only one they ended up releasing themselves in the end. A horror themed game (which ended up being the Monolith published Blood), an Egyptian themed game (which ended up being PowerSlave aka Exhumed) and a game spoofing Kung Fu movies (Shadow Warrior), which is the game I'm taking a look at today in the second part of my Build Engine Retrospective.


The overarching theme of the 3D Realms Build Engine games seem to be that they all take inspiration from other genres. Duke Nukem 3D was a spoof on action movies (and sci-fi to an extent), Blood was more of a horror/slasher movie spoof and thus Shadow Warrior is a spoof of Kung Fu movies. Granted, this is not to be confused with spoofing Asian culture (although it does that to a fair degree as well) but rather spoofing the kind of Asian culture typically depicted in Kung Fu movies. Like Duke Nukem 3D the story is rather thin and mostly consists of spoofing movie clichés and tropes.



She looks happy to see me...


The game puts you in the shoes of Lo Wang, a reference-spewing hunk of one-liners of the Chinese persuasion who is pitted against an evil corporation named Zilla (get it...?) and finds that his master has been killed by their henchmen and goes after them for revenge. What follows is a rampage through numerous levels of elaborate castles, volcanoes, construction yards, facing a couple of bosses before finally facing down Zilla himself. So needless to say the story is practically on par with pretty much every shooter of the era and it serves just enough to give you a backdrop for the game's levels, but never gets in the way of what really matters, the gameplay.


Truth to be told, I've never really been a huge kung fu movie fan, and while the game does contain some anime references, most of them are of stuff I've never seen so it felt a bit difficult for me to really "get" a lot of the references and such in this game (outside the ones that aren't strictly kung fu movie references). But that's not to say I didn't enjoy it as this game still offers some classic 90's FPS charm in spades, at least for the most part. And while a lot of the silly stuff in the game might be considered slightly culturally insensitive nowadays, it's not really meant to be taken seriously.



Konami would love this game.


The gameplay is pretty much identical to that of Duke 3D and other similar Build engine shooters, so if you've played those games you will most likely feel right at home in Shadow Warrior. It does however do its own spin on things and even does some things that could be considered upgrades from Duke 3D (which we will get back to in a bit). Most of the things are pretty much equivalent of the same things from Duke 3D. For instance, the main gameplay still consists of hunting keys to unlock doors, and the inventory items function have some of the same functions (such as the medkit and the night vision goggles). The weapons are also somewhat similar to Duke Nukem 3D, though with the similarities out of the way, let's focus on the differences and what makes Shadow Warrior unique, and so much fun.


The first thing you will probably notice is that you actually have a melee weapon in this game (you still have fists if you absolutely wanna karate-chop enemies to death), and it's actually a fairly powerful melee weapon too (befitting the game's title a fair bit). Another thing you will also notice is that enemy death animations are also dependent on which weapon you use to kill them as slicing them with a sword will give a different result compared to peppering them with UZI's or splattering them across the room with a Missile Launcher. Speaking of which, let's discuss the other weapons. In addition to the sword, you have Shuriken/darts (which you throw 3 at a time of, and can pick up from the environment again), the Riot Gun (basically a shotgun), the UZI (which can be dualwielded once you find another one), the Missile Launcher, the Grenade Launcher, the Sticky Grenades, the Railgun, a Guardian's Head (yes) and a Ripper Heart (an actual beating heart). As you can see, some of the weapons are fairly standard for the time while others are... let's say, more unique. Especially the Railgun since it's probably the earliest FPS to use one as far as I know, a whole year before a similar implementation in Quake 2. Given the movie Eraser came out around this time, it's easy to understand why Railguns became such a hot topic in shooters for a while.



The game is fairly bloody for its time with unique death animations depending on the weapon used.


Now in addition to the more unique weapons, a lot of them also feature something new for the time: alternate firing modes. For instance, you can activate an auto mode on the Riot Gun, turning it into a pretty devastation auto-shotgun that fires several barrels instead of just one, and you can obtain "heat seeking cards" for the missile launcher, granting you missiles that home in on targets, as well as FREAKIN' NUCLEAR WARHEADS! If anything isn't a sign this game was made in the 90's, that definitely is, because this makes the missile launcher the most devastating weapon in the game (mostly to yourself mind you, but still...).


The game is fairly difficult, even on easy mode... at least early on. Once you get into the further levels, ammunition is fairly common to come across for pretty much all your weapons, and weapons like the Railgun completely OWN smaller enemies, at times gibbing them in single shots, and ammo for the Railgun is surprisingly not that scarce, I don't think I ever encountered a single instance where I ran out of ammo on that thing (I was playing on Easy difficulty mind you and I was using it somewhat sparingly). Not to mention fortune cookies (which function as the game's equivalent of the Nuclear Health pickups from Duke 3D) are increasingly common in later levels as well as medkits. This kind of makes the game's difficulty curve a bit uneven as you'll start out pretty weak with weapons that aren't capable of dispatching enemies quickly so on the higher difficulties where the enemy count is higher you'll most likely have a really bad time in the beginning of the game, but then the game almost becomes too easy once you get your hands on the more powerful weapons in the game.





Some of the inventory items are also fairly unique to the game, giving you smoke bombs (which function as invisibility powerups and increase your fist damage), repair kits (can be used to repair broken vehicles (yes the game has vehicles...)), gas bombs, flash bombs (kinda useless), and Caltrops can be tossed onto the floor to hurt enemies (these are kinda useless too).


For most of the game I ended up not really using much of the inventory items and mostly stuck to the riotgun, UZI's, Railgun and the grenade and missile launchers. The guardian head is a cool weapon but most of the time I just kinda forget it's there. The ripper heart is kind of useful as it summons a secondary Lo Wang who goes around killing enemies using a railgun but these are kinda rare pickups anyway. I mean, it kind of suffers the same issues as Duke 3D in that sure, the unique weapons are unique and cool and gimmicky, but when it comes down to it, you'll most likely use the other weapons since ammo is much more common for them. I don't think I ever used caltrops a single time because the enemy AI isn't really that smart and will just kinda wander around aimlessly or shoot at you.



A giant sumo wrestler using farts as an attack. Classy.


And as has been mentioned in other reviews, yes, the game features a fair bit of platforming but it never really got to the point of tedium for me, and moving into third person mode (using the F7 key) really helped with these parts of the game anyway. So I don't really consider it a negative aspect of the game and it does bring some additional challenge to the levels without being overbearing like in the modern remake of Rise of the Triad.


Graphically the game looks fairly impressive for a Build engine game, featuring some 3D objects in place of sprites for stuff like weapons, powerups and keys. It achieved this by using voxels (3-dimensional volumetric pixels) to give objects a 3-dimensional appearance without actually using polygonal 3D models. But for the most time, the palette looks kinda brown and ugly (not sure if this was done intentionally) and while I like some of the more urban industrial looking levels, a lot of the other levels just look kinda bland and a bit drab aside from the numerous Chinese style buildings and such. I can remember some levels standing out a bit to me, like an airport with a crashed airplane, a train station early in the game and a volcano as the final level, but a few of the levels just kinda blend together in my head. That's not to say the level design is bad or anything, I just found that a lot of the time it felt a bit uninspired and a bit of a product of its time. Most of the time, navigating the game was a breeze.



Jesus, Lo Wang, can't you let a naked Anime lady with diarrhea have some privacy?


What I really love about these Build engine games is just how visceral some of them feel and using the game's arsenal feels incredibly satisfying. Hearing the chunky shot of the Riot Gun, the peppering bulletspray of the UZI's, the intense ZAP of the Railgun and the slashing of the sword all brings to mind classic action movies and you just don't feel this kind of combat in games anymore. It definitely has its own style from this era. I also love the delivery of Lo Wang and while he may come off as a bit annoyingly stereotypical at times, his somewhat dopey delivery kinda makes some of his lines pretty funny. The music is thematically fitting, and was probably the first Build engine title to utilize CD Redbook Audio for its soundtrack rather than relying on MIDI. It's not that memorable for the most part compared to some of the tunes from Duke 3D but it's there, sets the mood and gives the game the kind of Asian vibe it needs without feeling in the way. Andrew Hulshult also remixed the title theme for the Classic Redux edition of the game and it sounds suitably rocked up, giving it more energy than the original.



I'm sure this scenario has occurred in some Tomb Raider fanfics...


With all of its naked Sailor Moon influenced girls, protagonist constantly trying to sound funny, and somewhat bigger reliance on fart jokes and scat humor, I can't help but feel like this game wasn't really made for me. I find it a bit harder to get through than Duke Nukem 3D, and a lot of it doesn't hold up as well today in my opinion in regards to both content and level design, but I was still having a good time for the most part when the game wasn't making me cringe too hard, but it was still a bit of a chore at times. I had never finished this game before doing this review and I doubt I ever will again. I had a few moments where I giggled a bit, sure, but I wasn't enjoying myself as much as I wish I was. With that in mind, I still recommend this game. Out of all the Build engine games, Shadow Warrior isn't really that high on my list and for that reason I can't really score it as high as Duke 3D, but if you love oldschool FPS's, especially using the Build engine, it's worth a shot, and hopefully it will click with you more than it did for me.


STORY: 6/10



SOUND: 7/10




Source: https://alyxxgameroom.blogspot.no/2018/04/build-engine-retrospective-part-2.html

Game developments at http://nukedprotons.blogspot.com

Check out my music at http://technomancer.bandcamp.com

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