Classic Game Review
"Who Wants Some Wang?"
Howdy - this review is an experiment on my part. Hit me up with any feedback, suggestions for improvements, torches and pitchforks, and anything else besides.
Note: I learned just as I was writing this blog that reboot of Shadow Warrior is being developed... even more reason to revisit this game!
Developed by young prodigy Ken Silverman, Build was one of the most important first-person shooter game engines of the 1990s. Like the Doom engine before it, it was 2.5D rather than truly 3D; level geometry was two dimensional with an added height component. However, Silverman's profound talent enabled him to turn Build into an engine which far eclipsed Doom in terms of its ability to provide realistic, dynamic and interactive environments. While id Software were busily working on Quake – eventually released in 1996 and ushering in the era of true 3D shooters – their fellow Texans 3D Realms were developing what would become the holy trinity of Build engine games: Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, and Shadow Warrior.
After Duke 3D was released to huge success in '96, 3D Realms decided to sell all of their work on Blood in its entirety to Kirkland, Washington-based developer Monolith. This was to allow 3D Realms to focus all their efforts on Shadow Warrior, which was ultimately released in May 1997. While Blood was a major success for Monolith and still has many fans today, Shadow Warrior had a fairly muted reception and is much less well remembered. In an ironic twist, Blood has never had its source code released (meaning no source ports are available, and it must be run in DOSBox) whereas Shadow Warrior had its code released in 2005.
2) Concept and Story
Shadow Warrior was originally intended to be dark and serious in tone, hence its moody title. After the success of Duke 3D, however, 3D Realms had a re-think and decided to include in SW the tongue-in-cheek humour that had been such a cornerstone of that game. Although this made the game feel very much in the same vein as the other classic Build games, it also caused some justified controversy down the line. This was largely because of SW's setting, which is a fantastical alternate Asia made up of quite crudely mashed-together Chinese and Japanese elements. Make no mistake, SW is crass in parts and has been accused of thinly-veiled racism; but these troubling aspects apart, it is almost as amusing as Duke 3D.
Our hero is ninja/assassin/jack-of-all-trades Lo Wang, who for years has worked as a bodyguard for Master Zilla, technological genius and head of a monolithic corporation that sprawls across our alternate Asia. When Zilla turns to the dark arts and raises an army of zombie ninjas and evil demons in order to become even more powerful, Lo Wang draws the line and declines to have any part in it. Zilla knows that Wang is too dangerous a potential enemy to leave alive, however, and sends a squad of undead ninja assassins to strike at him in his “Dojo of Death”. After fending off this attempt on his life, Lo Wang spends 20 levels battling through city streets, mystical temples and various Zilla facilities in order to hunt down his former employer and save the world.
Shadow Warrior's gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, or in fact any other '90s FPS. There are plenty of enemies to take apart, an assortment of eccentric weapons, and a set of keys and keycards must be collected in turn in order to progress through each of the 20 maps. However, there are a number of key differences that mark SW out from the other Build games and in fact pave the way for today's modern shooters. First, the number of enemies is relatively low, and can be as few as 25 or 30 in some maps, owing to the greater emphasis on interactivity in the levels. The weapons are a little less straightforward than in many classic shooters, some having alternate fire modes. Furthermore, although SW has a number of bosses, it is not divided into episodes like many other classic shooters except for a shareware segment which comprises the first four levels. This makes SW feel much more like a coherent game than, say, Blood or Doom.
It's the interactivity that makes SW stand out in the gameplay department, though. Although all the Build games are (I feel) huge and under-recognised influences on Half-Life in particular, SW feels very much like that game in terms of the sheer thrilling dynamism of its maps. There are primitive drivable vehicles including a tank, a forklift and a small boat, remote-controlled cars, elaborate working machines, and destructible walls. In one case, a wall can be blown out in order to flood a room so that Lo Wang can swim into a previously-inaccessible duct. It's enormously impressive for 1997, and it's a step on from what was achieved in the already-wonderful Duke 3D.
4) Level Design
Due to their strictly level-based nature, level design is enormously important to the success of classic shooters and SW is no exception. Unfortunately, this game is a little more patchy in this area than, say, Duke 3D (although it is vastly superior to Doom II, which for all its towering reputation, is packed with truly dire level design). One early level, 'Zilla Construction' can be so frustrating that it is easy to be put off, and some of the more fantastical levels in the game's first half are also a little under par. However, 3D Realms really stepped things up with some of the more realistic, gritty environments later on. There's an airport level immediately preceded by a spectacular scripted plane crash (more shades of Half-Life), a raid on a Zilla-controlled oil refinery which sees Wang commandeer an armed vehicle for a rampage at the beginning, and a set of truly excellent nautical-themed maps. These are really the jewel in the game's crown, and include a submarine pen, the exterior and interior of a huge ninja-packed ship that Wang can swim under and into, and a superb Bond-villainesque underwater base. To top it off, the final level 'Stone Rain' takes place at the base of, up the side of, and inside an active volcano. Classy.
5) Playing Shadow Warrior
Probably the best way to get hold of Shadow Warrior is to pick it up via GOG.com (link not working, currently...). The pack sold there also includes the two official expansion packs, Twin Dragon and Wanted Destruction. The latter of these was not actually released until it was finally unearthed in 2005 and put out for free by 3D Realms. A third expansion titled Deadly Kiss was under development at Silly Software in 1998 and was to feature Lo Wang's little sister; however, interest in 2.5D shooters was waning due to the release of Quake II and Half-Life which probably explains why this third expansion was never heard about again.
Because the source code for the game was released, the development of source ports became a possibility. The one I'd recommend is called SWP, which runs well on Windows 7 and is compatible with the main game plus the two available expansions. Note, however, that the latest version is highly unstable (development ceased some time ago) and the most recent version that works well is version 4.3.0. That's available here (you'll need to scroll down a little).
Also on the ProAsm site is a whole bunch of other useful SW related files including the two freely available expansions, expansions made by ProAsm himself, plenty of multiplayer WangBang (deathmatch) maps, and even a high resolution pack.
6) Useful Links
The Official 3D Realms SW Site
GalleyUK's SW Video Playthrough (Also Twin Dragon / Wanton Destruction)
Shadow Warrior on Wikipedia
7) Pros, Cons, and Final Score
+ Classic, zany FPS fun the vein of Duke Nukem 3D
+ An array of entertaining weapons, from a katana to twin uzis
+ Some superb map design, especially later on, and interactive environments
- A number of inventory items are largely useless
- Fast enemies make playing without auto-aim very awkward
- Some crass, culturally insensitive humour in places
7 flying shurikens out of 10.