I have fond memories of the Shadow Warrior franchise. Having played the original a little over 20 years ago on the old family PC, I was fairly certain I was prepared for the insanity the rebooted franchise would throw at me. This rebooted trilogy has indeed proved serviceable if a little safe. Make no mistake; Shadow Warrior 3 dives headfirst into the insanity instilled in the previous two games, it is undeniably safe in its gameplay mechanics. However, it rarely reaches for anything deep, albeit providing solid gameplay, blistering pace and consistent humour.
A Beast to Slay
Shadow Warrior 3 takes place after the events of the previous game, with an enormous dragon left on the loose about Earth. Players take control of Lo Wang, as it soon becomes his duty to set out into the abyss and slay the beast. The narrative beyond this point is admittedly thin. However, it’s quite easy to forgive Shadow Warrior 3’s linear plot, simply because the blistering pace prioritises general gameplay and combat long enough that you’ll rarely pay attention to the details in between. The story itself is littered with witty one-liners, which managed to get a chuckle out of me every so often. Lo Wang never takes himself too seriously, making it that much easier to engross yourself in the broader lore and task at hand.
The incredible pace is the true saviour, but also responsible for the linearity that Shadow Warrior 3 presents. Most of your time spent with the game involves clearing out an enclosed area filled with demons, platforming between certain sections, and buckling up to do it all again. Thanks to some familiar yet solid gameplay mechanics and a runtime of around 8 hours, Shadow Warrior 3 tells its tale and wraps things up before anything gets too stale.
Shoot ’em Up, Run ’em Down
In terms of combat, players will get the chance to wield a total of six weapons throughout the campaign, from handguns and shotguns to dual submachine guns, grenade launchers and rail guns. Aside from some interesting aesthetics, these weapons don’t necessarily feel unique, compared to anything you’ve played before. Without the inclusion of an alternate fire, any variety and spice found in these weapons come much later in the game, thanks to some basic upgrades. Thankfully, Lo Wang also provides his trusty katana for players when things get up close and personal. It’s incredibly satisfying visually, to see enemies fall into pieces, but not necessarily deep considering melee combat is confined to a single shoulder button.
Players will get the chance to build a ‘Finisher’ metre through combat, which you can use to slay most enemies immediately. It feels a lot like 2016’s Doom reboot as you grab enemies and tear them apart. Only this time around, Lo Wang can disarm some tougher enemies in the process, allowing players to utilise some of the more outlandish and powerful weapons, including a firecracker launcher, ludicrously long samurai sword and even a piece of an enemy’s skull that freezes surrounding enemies when thrown.
In between combat, you’ll be jumping, climbing, wall running and swinging about with your grappling hook. The way forward is never tedious or ambiguous, and platforming is smooth and responsive if a little basic. While certain sections require precise timing, it’s rather forgivable. You’ll rarely miss a step or fall of a ledge, only because there’s not much to choose between in terms of deviating paths. It’s worth noting that general platforming is lighting fast, with the ability to double jump, and dash, encouraging you to power through. That being said, platforming in Shadow Warrior 3 only serves as a means to an end, bringing you that much closer to your next inevitable arena of enemies to beat down.
The Tools of the Trade
You’ll get the chance to upgrade Lo Wang’s abilities and weapons via tokens found in-game. Each weapon provides three upgrades, but they never really change the feel of a weapon or add to its functionality in any way. Beyond extra ammo reserves and added elemental damage, players will be able to get through the game with their trusty aiming skills, rather than a reliance on these upgrades. Fortunately, the game rarely feels difficult, once again emphasising that feeling of consistent pace and progression.
Shadow Warrior 3 does its best to spruce things up with the occasional set pieces and witty one-liner, but it rarely amounts to anything more than a temporary chuckle. You could argue that the experience is all it needs to be, providing players with enough laughs, combat and chaos to get you by, enough if the experience lacks any deeper qualities that encourage a second playthrough or even a mechanic that feels unique to the series, or third iteration. Each mechanic feels familiar, and in that regard, incredibly safe.
Shadow Warrior 3 was definitely fun while it lasted. The shorter length and blistering pace allow you to forgive the narrative’s shortcomings and familiar mechanics. Everything feels functional, but without the ability to upgrade weapons in a way that makes them feel varied and unique, most of Shadow Warrior 3’s mechanics feel like a means to an end. There’s a goggle to be had, thanks to Lo Wang’s light-hearted humour, but the game rarely reaches for anything to call its own, instead opting for a safe, yet fun adventure.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Functional mechanics; Consistent pace; Witty one-liners
Lowlights: Weapon selection can get stale; Rarely presents any new ideas
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.