The return of Shadow Warrior was arguably the biggest surprise of E3 2013. Developed by the Painkiller veterans at Flying Wild Hogs, responsible for the 2011 FPS Hard Reset, it is perhaps the most unexpected candidate for this recent series of reboots.
The original Shadow Warrior was released by 3D Realms in 1997, a year after launching Duke Nukem 3D. Yet despite several technical improvements to DN3D’s Build engine and a few unique gameplay mechanics that wouldn’t catch on until the likes of Halo were released, it never achieved quite the same level of success as the Duke Nukem franchise. Part of that can be attributed to the controversy surrounding its release; what was allegedly designed to be a parody of early martial arts movies (much as Duke Nukem 3D was a satire of Hollywood action films from the 1980’s) ended up drawing much criticism from the Asian-American community for its rather… hodgepodge portrayal of Chinese and Japanese culture. Subsequently, Shadow Warrior was abandoned and 3D Realms focused on other titles until their 2009-buyout.
While Flying Wild Hogs has stated in an interview with Penny Arcade that they want handle the license with more tact then Lo Wang’s original politically incorrect adventures, gameplay footage reviewed by various commentators and journalists such as Total Biscuit and Gametrailers suggests that the final product is still a bit more like a Japanese “Kung-Fu Hustle” then something akin Jet Li’s “The Forbidden Kingdom.” The protagonist is still known by the same groan-worthy moniker but the dialog is humorous (at some point early in the game Mr. Wang acquires a demonic sidekick and the two frequently exchange jabs at one another in Total Biscuit's commentary.) Perhaps by “more tact,” Flying Wild Hogs was referring to toning down the general hyper-sexuality that 3D Realms was known for in the mid 90’s?
Mechanically the game blends both the original Shadow Warrior and Flying Wild Hogs’ prior experience with Painkiller; creating a classic FPS experience that throws the players against waves of enemies. The weapons are immediately familiar to anyone that played the first game, mixing a few traditional Japanese martial arts weapons with the arsenal of “cool but impractical” firearms 3D Realms was known for. The quad-barrel riot shotgun returns, as does the crossbow with the exploding bolts, and of course Lo Wang’s melee weapon of choice is a katana. While fairly rooted in its heritage as a corridor shooter, Wang’s arsenal is quite versatile. His sword in particular appears to be much more useful then shooter fans would think, enemies can absorb an incredible amount of bullets so often
With a number of old franchises both beloved and obscure getting resurrected and retold to varying degrees of success, one has to wonder what other intellectual property will be dug up and either lovingly remade or hashed together for a quick nostalgia-fueled buck. Will this odd interest in one of 3D Realms less successful titles spark a revival of some of their other classics? Perhaps we might see the return of Mylo Steamwitz or Blake Stone…