Shadow Warrior 3 Review: A Third Helping of Wang
“Who wants some Wang?” asked an amusingly stereotyped FPS protagonist when the original Shadow Warrior was released back in 1997. Apparently, a lot of people wanted some Wang, since the rebooted series of Shadow Warrior is now on its third, katana-wielding, blood-splattered entry.
Shadow Warrior 3 starts off with the “retied” ninja and ex-hitman Wang in his underwear, looking dishevelled, ranting about how he accidentally set off a giant world-eating dragon currently in the process of destroying the world – whoopsie-doodle! He’s mourning the passing of his trickster God friend Hoji, cradling his mask. However, his mentor-cum-rival Orochi Zilla enters the sad scene, demanding Wang pull himself together to save the world, handing him his twin sub-machine guns and sending him on his way.
There’s some great comic interplay between Wang and Zilla, with the two of them trading barbs as they reluctantly work together to try and save the world. Wang also unleashes plenty of one-liners which are, by his own admission, a bit hit-or-miss. However, the good ones land pretty solidly and give the proceedings a flavour of that classic 90s attitude we love to see.
The story, unlike so many typical gaming struggles against possible world-ending doom, is a very light-hearted and cynical one. Wang isn’t just a noble hero who makes the occasional wisecrack, but an acerbic, emotional and mercurial anti-hero whose rash decisions end up making the situation worse as much as he makes it better. He strikes the right balance between being flawed and relatable, whilst also being a well-meaning guy who you want to root for.
It’s very rare that I can drop right into a game, hitting the ground running at high speed like when I was first given control of Wang as he scales the back of the Doom Dragon. No “press the WASD keys to move your character” tedious tutorials here. In seconds, I was double-jumping over vast chasms, wall-running across vines and sprinting between demonic tengu, cutting them into several constituent pieces with Wang’s katana. Later on, Wang even gains access to a grappling hook, making platforming segments even more exciting as you can swing and leap across vast distances, mixing up the platforming even more.
The sheer speed and fluidity that everything moves at is thrilling to behold from a first-person perspective, and remarkably intuitive as Wang rappels and wall-runs through the kaleidoscopically colorful Shadowlands.
Between platforming sections, Wang will come to a wide-open arena areas (suspiciously littered with explosive barrels) whereupon Tengu will warp in and he’ll need to kill them to proceed. The weapons available to do this are varied, ranging from the more conventional like a pistol or submachine gun all the way to the more insane like a shuriken launcher that bounces projectiles around, carving through hostile monsters at the point of impact.
The platforming aspects and fast-paced action fits seamlessly into the combat as Wang can swing across chasms and wall-run across vines walls to escape enemy fire and find healing orbs when he’s low on health. One of Wang’s core abilities is his chi blast, which he can further use to turn the terrain to his advantage, pushing Tengu off of ledges or into walls of spikes, impaling them brutally. This is also handy against certain enemy types, like the giant floating samurai head. Using the chi strike against them will turn them around, exposing their weak point
Wang can also use his grappling hook to turn the tide, grabbing foes and pulling himself closer to slice them into ribbons. Likewise, he can use the grappling hook to pull or chi-blast explosive barrels closer to a crowd of charging bad guys, causing a conflagration of perforated Tengu.
On his journey Wang can find mysterious shadow orbs to upgrade his abilities. The upgrade tree really lets you personalize your play style. Whereas one ability lets Wang regenerate his health over time, another ability makes enemies killed by exploding barrels become explosive themselves, upping the destruction.
Combat is always this relentlessly fast-paced negotiation of terrain and enemy types. You’ll never slow down to count bullets because all ammo types are universally available from handy blue orbs and constantly respawning. This way the pace is kept intensely urgent, and you’re always focusing on the next enemy in front of you. Shadow Warrior 3 commits wholeheartedly to being a visceral arena shooter and outright elevates the subgenre as a brutally violent art form.
The demonic Tengu Wang faces down against are as brilliantly diverse in aesthetic style as they are to fight, and you can see this in the ominously named “Gore Tools”, weapons Wang will literally tear out of his demonic foes.
The finisher mechanic gives players the chance to be extra creative and devious when felling the many foes they’ll encounter. Once Wang has gathered enough yellow energy orbs, he can perform a finisher that instantly kills the unfortunate tengu in front of him, in an exquisitely animated and satisfyingly brutal way. When facing down one of the giant ogres, Wang can tear off one of their bulky arms, all the grimy viscera and sinew rending in the process, and use it to club nearby Tengu to death.
I soon settled on favoured strategies when using finishers. The dual katana wielding Hattori can deflect Wang’s bullets, making them particularly tough to kill, and they require two full finisher bars to execute them and take one of their giant katanas. When carrying one of these massive swords, Wang can dash rapidly between enemies like a ninja, performing devastating strikes. This is really effective against a spread out combination of aerial and on-foot foes. However, the stocky blue tengu can be bested with just one finisher where Wang will pull their mask out of their face, using it as a grenade that freezes enemies in a wide radius. Once enemies are frozen they are helpless and can be easily shattered into shards with a few bullets or katana slices. Doing this can be more economical when facing a large cluster of ground-based foes. It is satisfying, cleverly modifying your strategy on the fly to create the greatest carnage.
If I can find any issues with Shadow Warrior 3, it’s that it’s so focused on its high-octane combination of platforming and arena-shooting that it’s almost somewhat limited. Though there are some hidden skill orbs and lore archives to find tucked away on various cliff-tops and platforms, these are generally just a quick fork from the very linear path forward. There’s also the fact Wang is exclusively traveling through the mystical shadowlands. I kind of missed the opportunity you had in some of the earlier Shadow Warrior games to visit urban locations (and encounter a wide variety of easter eggs like the infamous nubile uzi-wielding anime girls).
Fans of the original Shadow Warrior and other Build Engine shooters might be disappointed that these levels are more like straight lines with occasional detours rather than a variety of sprawling locations filled with secrets and more organic details. The full campaign clocked in at just under eight hours for me, and it was definitely fun, but I definitely think the game would have been perfectly suited to some sort of survival mode where Wang has to survive as many waves as possible. As it stands, Shadow Warrior 3 is a wild ride, but one you don’t really feel compelled to get back on again once it’s over.
If you sometimes get tired of plodding, greyish-brownish-greenish pseudo-realistic military shooters, this is the antidote. Dazzlingly colourful, unrelentingly fast-paced, unrepentantly zany and bursting with potential for player creativity, Shadow Warrior 3 is absolutely joyous to play from start to finish. So after 25 years, do I STILL want some Wang? You’re damn right I do!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC(Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One ; Publisher: Devolver Digital; Developer: Flying Wild Hog; Players: 1; Released: March 1st, 2022;
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Shadow Warrior 3 provided by the publisher.