Shadow Warrior 3

Shadow Warrior 3 feels like the kind of game disbarred American lawyers would’ve made a career out of in the early aughts, railing against its over-the-top-violence, vulgarity, and questionable cultural representations (probably while secretly chuckling at its childish humor in some back room over whiskey and stogies like immature teenagers). Although Shadow Warrior 3 is indeed over-the-top, it’s so over-the-top that it circles back around to being toothless and mostly inoffensive. It’s also very much rooted in the designs of games actually from the aughts, so much so that I can’t help but to feel like I’ve done this all before. 

From the tongue-in-cheek appeal of a loveable douchebag up against staggering odds (Duke Nukem or Matt Hazard come to mind) to the colorful cast of insane cohorts and fugly enemies, Shadow Warrior 3 leans heavily on established staples of the arena shooter genre. It also incorporates a heavy dose of Asian themes and influences into its sensory-overload approach to design, most of which I suppose is due to the protagonist, Lo Wang, being of Chinese descent.

That being said, there are some mild, nagging stereotypes on the periphery of this Polish-developed title that can feel almost like borderline appropriation, but it thankfully never completely veers into full-blown cringe territory.

Shadow Warrior 3

That’s not to say that this game is devoid of cringe wholesale, because it’s got plenty to go around in other areas. Whoever greenlit the voice for Lo Wang’s sidekick — some sort of a spirit in a mask named Koji — should have to stay behind after class. This is one of the worst voice casting decisions I have heard in… I can’t even tell you how long. He reminded me of a reject character from Frisky Dingo or The Venture Bros. I think he’s meant to be endearing and an almost wholesome juxtaposition to Lo Wang’s grating bravado, but I wanted to stick a sock in him every time he opened his mouth slit, just so I wouldn’t have to listen to him yammer on any longer.

I’m no graphics maven, but I will say the visuals are mostly pleasant and fairly polished. Even though Shadow Warrior 3 is a native PS4 app, it looks rather nice on the eyes while also running smoothly on my PS5. This game has eye-searing color palettes for days, and the green grass patches that indicate where you can wall run and climb really pop, especially in areas that are bathed in red hues — whether that be from the roof tiles, the humongous wooden doors that adorn the palatial walls, or the blood splatter from dispatched ne’er-do-wells throughout the campaign.

Shadow Warrior 3

I do appreciate the glowing yellow vines that you must shoot in order to reveal a progression path or passage. After a hectic, disorientating fight, these illuminated vines can make the next section incredibly easy to pinpoint. 

Lo Wang, the protagonist and inept superhero wannabe, reminds me of the Merc with a Mouth himself, Deadpool, from his fourth-wall breaking asides and endless banter — both to himself and to whomever might be within earshot — to his penchant for stockpiling a massive arsenal of guns and swords, and even his tastes in style, adorning himself in red and black leather. He even makes a reference to another Marvel character, Spider-Man, while swinging from conveniently placed grappling points.

And speaking of swinging, this is a fun aspect of the game’s otherwise serviceable platforming toolkit, which can be a bit tedious — especially when Shadow Warrior 3 suddenly tasks you with a jumping, climbing, or swinging puzzle that must be completed in order to advance the story.

There was one instance in particular that involved targets that would lower or reposition platforms so I could reach a higher plateau, with a little wall-running thrown in for good measure. Although it seemed simple enough, there was some sort of glitch that would result in an instant death whenever I would lower the second platform and initiate the wall-run required to shoot and reach the third platform. It wasn’t every time — and it was impossible to predict whether or not it was coming — but I would just instantly die as if I were being crushed by the platform as it began to rise again, even though it wasn’t moving (as far as I can tell). And since this resulted in having to start that section over, which required fighting these two flying genies before I could attempt the puzzle again, the whole ordeal got old pretty quickly. This isn’t a game-breaker, but it’s definitely annoying. It’s something minor that can bring a game like Shadow Warrior 3 — which feels like it’s all about momentum — to a grinding halt.

Shadow Warrior 3

Thankfully, the combat is simple to pick up, not too difficult to master, and rather addictive. The sheer number and variety of enemies thrown at you at any given moment can be a lot to parse at times, but as long as you follow the old shark credo and keep moving, you should be able to avoid death and ultimately come out on top. I can’t even begin to estimate how many enemies I killed in this game, but I bet somewhere around a metric ton would be a good starting point.

And Shadow Warrior 3 does a great job of introducing different enemy types every couple of major arena dustups. This keeps things fresh and interesting, requiring the player to adapt to a new flying enemy instead of just the ground-based grunts, or an enemy that burrows under the ground to cause surface-level damage before flying into the air and hurling projectiles at you.

Shadow Warrior 3 also has an upgrade system for your weapons and player skills, which allows you to spend orbs found throughout each level. Through these upgrades, you can beef up your arsenal of guns and your trusty katana, adding effects or increasing magazine counts. The upgrades to your character skills can give ammo drops from melee kills or increase the regen rate of your Force-push-style melee attack, a palm thrusting chi blast. They’re nice little buffs to add incremental improvements to the game, but they can also feel like perfunctory busywork, upgrades for the sake of upgrades. They offer a moment of respite from the action and platforming elements, but they could have been a little deeper.

More interesting, though, is the in-game challenge system, which rewards you for doing things like performing a specific number of headshots or pushing a specific number of enemies using your Chi blast. Upon successfully checking a challenge off the list, you’ll unlock orbs to buy more skills or upgrade more of your weapons. This incentivizes creativity in your kills and mastery over the tools at your disposal, rewarding you with more orbs that you can then use to obtain more skills to help complete more challenges. It’s a nice loop that feels like a throwback to older arena shooters.

Shadow Warrior 3

Going into Shadow Warrior 3, I was a little hesitant about whether the combat would be too twitchy or punishing for my skill level. I still suck pretty hard when it comes to aiming rapidly with an analog stick, and my twitch responses have dulled in my old age. But in reality, I felt like every challenge was surmountable; these were merely obstacles waiting to be eviscerated, pitstops along my journey to accomplish whatever the hell my main objective was… toppling a huge dragon or whatever, I guess? And maybe saving the world. Or your friend? I don’t know. 

Having not played the previous two games in the Shadow Warrior series, I went into the third entry blind as a bat. For the most part, I had very little idea what was going on overall, or who some of the characters were in relation to others. This is totally on me and in no way reflects poorly on this game’s ability to deliver its narrative concisely, But having no knowledge of or affinity for any of these characters prior to this game did impact how well I was able to decode the goings on in the current story. I mean, aside from the basic directive of “Gotta do something to kill things to save the world.” 

If you managed to pre-order Shadow Warrior 3 — at least on PS4 or Xbox One — you get access to the first two games as a pre-order bonus, as well as an in-game skin for Lo Wang’s katana. So if you’re new to the series and happened to get in on that pre-order, you can check out the entire trilogy for the price of one game. My review version, I should point out, did not come with the first two games, so I was unable to test those out.

But even with no prior knowledge of what came before, this game really hinges on how well the combat performs. And the moment-to-moment gameplay is fun and frenetic, and still manageable even when the odds aren’t in Lo’s favor. Although, there were more than a handful of times when I struggled to make heads or tails of everything that was going on, or where I just couldn’t tell up from down based purely on how much sheer action was unfolding all around me. Lucky for me, it’s a perfectly sound strategy to simply go nuts with a shotgun and a sword, hoping that I would be the one to prevail when the dust settles. And the mostly generous checkpoint system means that even if I die, I can usually hop right back into the action, ready to shotgun and katana the hell outta everything while hoping to be the last one standing.

Shadow Warrior 3

Overall, Shadow Warrior 3 is a solid bit of fun and an entertaining way to spend a mindless weekend. It’s not gonna set the world on fire (at least not in the real world — the in-game world is another story), and it might not win any Game of the Year awards (unless it’s the “Best Game with the Worst Sidekick” award), but it’s enough to put a smile on my face and a twitch in my trigger finger.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Shadow Warrior 3 on PS4, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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