Many Highs. One Big Lo.
HIGH Hilarious, breakneck gameplay that continually offers new variety.
LOW Player models pale in comparison to the effects and environments.
WTF Lo Wang begins to get a little grating by the ten-hour mark.
Shadow Warrior 2 for the Xbox One might be the most unexpected surprise in my two years of reviewing titles for GameCritics. Not because it’s enjoyable, but rather because this is – wait for it – a console port of a sequel to a 2013 remake of a 1997 title. It’s also surprising as a lengthy, often hilarious and ridiculously enjoyable title for most of its running time, serving as both an homage to classic first-person action and a fourth-wall breaking, self-deprecating explosion of purposefully-bad jokes and on-screen brutality.
And brutal it is. With a strong emphasis on swordplay, Shadow Warrior 2 puts gamers in the shoes of wisecracking hero Lo Wang. Here, Wang is tasked with finding and saving the daughter of an esteemed Yakuza boss who’s been separated from her body through some mystical mumbo-jumbo that got a little lost amidst the breakneck pace of visceral carnage and one-liners.
Within minutes of the opening cutscene, gamers will be fully aware of Lo Wang’s depth of character – a lesson in storytelling, this is not. The developers added plenty of riotous dialogue and off-color remarks throughout the adventure, but the overall narrative is fairly thin. It’s doubtful gamers will care once the action begins, but a character as silver-tongued as Lo Wang should have had a little more motivation and purpose to justify the sheer madness of the action that follows.
Still, Wang’s movement and deft sword- and gunplay offer depth where it counts. Successfully bridging a wide array of unique attack styles with some serious nods to old-school FPS tropes such as accrued money, health and magic upgrades, Shadow Warrior 2 seamlessly morphs different gameplay elements into something different from standard console shooters.
The standout moments in the game are driven by this variety. Some enemies are easily dispatched through standard sword and gun strikes, while more creative, projectile tactics offer advantage over others. Throughout the game, players will leverage both traditional and supernatural attacks, and a growing collection of superhuman movement options that provide access to previously unattainable areas.
For example, players might not be able to create mass amounts of environmental destruction with the default loadout, but once they’ve leveled Lo Wang’s arsenal to a more appropriate level, upgrades to ranged and melee weapons can create access to secret areas containing some meaningful (and some completely useless) Easter Eggs from the developers. The game has plenty of collectibles, and the potential “chain reactions” that come from higher levels of destruction make for some entertaining moments.
Though largely a linear experience, Shadow Warrior 2 does a good job of emulating a sandbox by employing a central hub world which offers a wide range of side missions and upgrade paths. This, of course, leads to new loot, more toys, and some nifty weapon upgrades through a well-implemented RPG-esque system.
Shadow Warrior 2 also offers considerable replay value once the initial playthrough is complete. Through a New Game + mode, players can give the campaign another run with a full arsenal of weapons and skills, making it much easier (and more enjoyable) to free-roam through all the areas missed the first time around. And if gamers still can’t get enough Wang after more than twenty or so hours, a co-op multiplayer mode allows up to four partners to battle a slew of well-armed enemies in tandem.
Visually, Shadow Warrior 2 is a mixed bag. On one hand, the Xbox One does an admirable job of keeping up with the PC version of the game (reviewed here back in December 2016), especially with regard to the ornate environments and backgrounds. However, it appears that the developers had to take a few liberties with the character models to keep the fast-paced action in place. Though they’re not hideous, they certainly seem jarring against a sensory maelstrom of action, effects and well-implemented audio.
Even though Lo Wang and his encyclopedia of offensive terms can get a little tiresome by the end of the journey, Flying Wild Hog squeezed a lot of play variety onto this disc. Deftly combining looting and RPG elements with speedy, accessible sword and shooting mechanics, they’ve created an unforgettable experience for fans of console first-person gaming.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital. It is currently available on Windows PC, PS4 Xbox One. A review copy of the title was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox One. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and it was completed. There is also a co-op multiplayer mode, and it was tested for 1 hour.
Parents: This game has been rated M by the ESRB and contains Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Nudity, Drug Reference, Strong Language. This one is Not. For. Kids. ‘Nuff said.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: The game uses some audio cues to reflect onscreen action, but these are not necessary for successful play.
Remappable Controls: The XBO version of the game does not offer remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.