Thursday, 12 September 2013

Shadow Warrior (MS-DOS)

Today I am finally taking a look at Shadow Warrior or (Shadow Warrior Classic as its now been rechristened), 3D Realms' second game after the legendary Duke Nukem 3D and also the last they ever finished. Though to be fair they'd already spent a decade making games as Apogee.

This came out in the wake of Duke Nukem's epic success, when games based on the Build engine were coming out every two weeks or so. No seriously, Redneck Rampage hit shops a fortnight before this and Blood came out 18 days later. After Quake these 2.5D sprite based shooters had been made obsolete overnight, so they had a limited window of opportunity I guess.

I've played this one before and though I can't remember how it plays or even if it's any good, I promise you that I will be 100% biased towards it due to nostalgia. But I'll certainly do my best to criticise it anyway.

The game stars wisecracking Japanese-Chinese ninja Lo Wang, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the game's tone. It affectionately mocks Asian culture and kung-fu movies in the same way as Duke Nukem 3D mocked American culture and Hollywood action movies: badly.

But I'm hoping that 3D Realms' sense of humour will just be the idiosyncratic (and slightly offensive) icing on top of the delicious cake hidden underneath. An old-school 2.5D flavoured FPS gameplay cake. Anyway I'll give it to the end of the first episode to win me over or piss me off, as I reckon four levels should be enough time for me to get a handle on the game.

Damn, they're not messing around this time; the game starts with an assassin jumping in through the window with an Uzi. Fortunately I just happened to be facing the window at that exact moment and armed with a nasty looking katana, so the situation was soon resolved. I'm sure it won't be the first time Lo Wang's gotten blood all over his dojo floor.

Annoyingly though I wasn't allowed to pick up the assassin's weapon and no amount of pressing space is opening up any of the dojo walls. Or doors for that matter. I guess I'm just going to have to jump out of the window without a gun then.

Damn, it seems that my 'charge right at the group of submachine gun wielding enemies' tactic isn't working out like I'd imagined. I'd throw a few shurikens their way from a distance instead, but these guys like to duck behind the boxes when I try that. Plus I'd still get shot.


Right, I finally managed to kill all the enemies in the street outside, then I jumped onto some boxes and found a room hidden behind a window to investigate. In Duke 3D this would've been a secret room full of rocket launchers or something, but in this it turned out to be a mandatory gold key room filled with dudes shooting at me.

Well at least I've learned something from all this. Like not to blindly jump in through a window when I only have 36 health and a sword.


This time I killed the guys outside, killed both the dudes in this gold key room AND found an Uzi of my own which you can see me holding in this mirror. Which is pretty weird seeing as I'm actually holding a sword.

Hang on, I can also see a switch hidden on the back of the desk. Interesting, I wonder what that does...

Okay that was the 'use deadly gas bomb' button not the 'use switch' button. Easy mistake to make really as I haven't actually had to activate anything yet. Back to the load game menu then.

This gives me an excellent opportunity to mention that like Duke Nukem, Lo Wang has an inventory of useful items he collects on his travel, including a medikit and... well, a deadly gas bomb. no jet pack though it seems.

Gold key goes in the golden lock and now I have access to the train station across the street from Lo Wang's dojo. It's absolutely essential that we get in here, because there's nowhere else on Earth I can go. All roads are blocked off and all the other doors have regular sized locks requiring keys far too tiny for my clumsy ninja hands to use.

Oh by the way, check out that 3D key. That's voxel technology that is; a new addition to the Build engine that allows items like guns, health kits and keys to be drawn as three dimension pixel objects instead of flat sprites. You don't actually care do you? Fair enough, moving on.

The second I opened the door this happens!

C'mon man, you're supposed to hesitate for a moment or have an 'oh shit it's the player' reaction animation to give me a fair chance to paralyse you with gunfire. Or failing that, you could at least fire something I can easily dodge! How am I supposed to run around playing this like a classic first person shooter when you enemies instantly cut right through my health with unerring accuracy whenever I so much as pop my head out of cover?

Plus when I shoot him, he ducks behind the desk! This isn't Gears of War mate, get your ass out here in the open already and eat your damn bullets.

Well this guy at least is man enough to come out and face me. Or zombie enough perhaps. Huh, is that a chicken's head sticking out the corner of that box? Is he charging at me with a crate of dead chickens? Japan is weird.

Oh, it's DYNAMITE! Well that makes a lot more sense. Shit, I need to get some distance between us don't I?

Oh come on, that ain't fair. The zombie suicide bombers rise again as skeleton ghosts after attaining their explosive apotheosis, and then they haunt me! They're a little like the floating brain aliens in Duke 3D, except they like to fade away while I'm trying to shoot them, making me waste ammo and leaving me waiting around for them to appear again. So they're about as much fun to fight as anything in this game really.

But enough about fighting, check out that transparent water! That's one trick Duke Nukem 3D couldn't pull off with its less advanced version of the Build engine. You see, water sectors are actually in another part of the level entirely and you're teleported over when you duck underwater. This presumably works the same way, but it must be displaying an image of the other sector across the floor like a holographic screen.

You know, there's probably something wrong with a game when I'm more interested in how the water works than I am in shooting the enemies.

I'm consistently getting my ass kicked here in every room I enter, but fortunately I remembered that these pachinko machines give out real prizes. Some extra health and armour should help even the odds a little. There's actually extra heath, armour and ammo hidden all over the level in secret areas, but I think I kinda used it all up already.

"Go Speed Racer gooo!" quips Lo Wang as I press space.

I guess that must be the car from Speed Racer then, making a surprise cameo. I can actually drive it around this little track using the remote control, and there's two controllers here so you'd expect that the trick to getting the silver key would be fairly simple. Sadly though the second controller drives a third car around that you can't see right now, so it seems that solution to this puzzle is hidden elsewhere.


Aha, it appears that I have stumbled upon a secret monitor screen and the remote control for the silver key car, plus a missile launcher hidden in the compartment next to it! It's like... this building makes absolutely no sense!


Oh good, invisible enemies. The transparent demons could be a pain in the ass in Doom, but at least they were stuck using close range melee attacks. This guy can fill the screen with fireballs faster than I can say "Where the fuck did that bastard go now?"

On the plus side, I've found a quad barrel riot shotgun with rapid fire. Honestly, it's not as good as you'd expect from the description, though how could it be? It certainly seems to be ruining spooky shadowman's day at least.

Lo Wang's symbol on the inside of a train? What could it possibly mean? Oh it's just a Duke Nukem 3D style level exit. I think I'd better stop taking screenshots and hit the thing before the suicide enemies blow me up.

I've been mentioning Duke Nukem 3D a lot so far, but it's hard not to when the games are so similar, even down to the post mission stats. Holy shit, that took 22 minutes? That's not even counting all the times I reloaded! I can finish Duke 3D's first level on the same difficulty in under 5 without being in any real rush and that's the par time for this level.


After a while of struggling through level two I started to try to pin down in my head exactly why I haven't been enjoying Shadow Warrior that much. Could it simply be that I hate losing in video games and I was expecting a much easier ride, I wondered.

And then an enemy completely identical to all the Uzi enemies I've been fighting so far, down to the machine gun in his hand, blew me up with a missile launcher. It was at that point that I realised that I wasn't enjoying the game much because the game is bullshit.

Oh sorry, my mistake, he's not actually identical. His pants are a different shade of red.

Fuck yeah, I love driving around in my forklift truck blowing enemies away with its mounted machine gun! What's that, you can't see any enemies? Don't worry, I can't either. Sometimes though I see blood spraying up and find solace in the fact that some of my bullets must have found an opportunity to complete their noble purpose.

Did I mention that the forklift has "Titubishi" written across the side? It's a clever play on words you see. Actually what's clever here is that the forklift actually drives around the level, like the remote controlled cars on level 1, except with me in it. Drivable vehicles wasn't exactly revolutionary for video games at the time, but it was certainly new to Build engine shooters.

These people have a machine in their factory that prints security keys... to their own factory? Well I suppose they have to come from somewhere. Someday I want to play a game where I get to have an epic shoot out in the red keycard factory.

Incidentally I've already collected three other keys by this point and I had to do a lot of running around after that to get the power on before this machine would work, so it'd be fair to say that the levels in this are fairly substantial.

Here's a problem though: where the fuck do I use the gold key? Would it it be so hard for the people who make games like this to mark the doors with different colours on the map? Actually what am I saying, games like this don't even have maps anymore.


Well I activated a giant drill under the factory that excavated a hole leading to an underground pool of water with a diamond shaped portal at the end... which took me right to Lo Wang's master's house. And now I'm down in his torture basement looking at this picture on the wall thinking that this isn't even the weirdest thing I've seen in the game so far.

Then I accidentally stepped backwards onto a switch that lowered that poor gentleman on the right into a pool of lava, burning him alive while Lo Wang cheerfully sang the chorus of Disco Inferno. The thing is, doing this got me a key, so I guess that the level designer assumed that every player would deliberately murder this prisoner.

That's interesting, there's a cracked wall here similar to the ones in Duke Nukem 3D. If this game's anything like that (and let's face it, it is) I should be able to crack this with explosives to open up a new path.

Oh in case you're wondering, yes that is a naked anime woman having a shower in the waterfall over on the left, drawn in a completely different art style to the rest of the game. She's not even a secret like the Doomed space marine or dead Luke Skywalker in Duke 3D; she's right in the open and she's even humming a tune just to make sure you absolutely can't miss her.

Well I'd go over there and warn her that the house has been taken over by demon creatures, but there's no chance she hasn't heard the gunfire already. She knows what's going on, she just doesn't give a fuck, so I think it'd probably be best to leave her alone.

Alright there's a rotating statue in the middle of the lava here with a gong in the middle. If this is a puzzle, I don't get it. Shooting that switch on the right opens up a secret compartment in the wall opposite, but I can't reach it so that doesn't help me much.

Wait, you don't suppose I'm meant to jump onto this thing do you? But... I don't want to!


Huh, I'm being attacked by wasps now? How the hell am I supposed to shoot wasps?

This is ridiculous, I keep unloading everything Lo Wang has at them, but every time they either sting him to death or I accidentally step backwards off the volcano. I've tried a few times to just run past them, but this is a platforming section and half the time I end up missing the target and plummeting to the ground below.

The other half: death by wasps.


OKAY, FINE. There's only so many times a man can hit the load button before he starts getting a little tired of it and you insects just had to push me too far. This little device is my rocket launcher and inside it is a very special weapon I've been saving for a very special occasion. It's a nuclear weapon (of course 3D Realms had to add a nuke to a game set in Asia) and in my experience it tends to utterly annihilate every living being with a direct line of sight to the blast. And if that somehow doesn't get them, the radiation will.

My plan is fire it off towards that swarm in the distance, then duck behind the wall and wait for the flash.

B'WHAHAHuh? Is that a...  OH COME ON! Wasps are flying at me through the nuclear flash like all it did was piss them off.

Looks like I've got to give up on this and do the sensible thing: reload a slightly earlier save game and make sure I have way more health next time I get here.


THERE. I killed the whole damn insect horde! My strategy this time was to lure them out, back myself into a corner, and keep swinging until they were all dead. Cost me most of my health, but it's finally done now and I can get back to my awkward platforming.

Then I walked back around to the volcano and got one-shotted by a flaming rock that fell on me from off screen. And then it exploded. This game is an asshole.

Damn, that's... a cool looking flag; it's actually flapping in the wind up there. I wonder how that works, is it a voxel trick perhaps or... no, it must be a thin sector pulled down from the ceiling like a wall, with edges that tilt like a wave.

Oh plus Lo Wang's master has been murdered next to his throne and his naked anime girlfriend is weeping next to his corpse. What a shocking development. I'd go over there and comfort her, but Lo Wang's only capable of murder and dumb jokes so it's probably better that I didn't.

I found a portal hidden beside his throne and jumped through it expecting to reach the level exit, but nope! This map just keeps going, across the crater of a volcano, into a crushing ceiling room, through a switch puzzle... etc.


Oh right, games often have boss fights at the end of chapters don't they? I honestly didn't see this coming.

Just when I was actually starting to figure the regular enemies out and make some steady progress for once, that game puts me up against a four armed snake monster that'll almost certainly end up kicking my ass. Here's a clue to how well I'm doing right now: it's telling me on screen that I've just picked up a +50 health boost, and I only have 43 health.

Still at least I have the fortune cookie messages to keep my spirits up.

"Fortune Say: You never going to score."
"Fortune Say: Sorry, you no win this time, try again."
"Fortune Say: Don't you know you're the scum of society!?"

Wow, even the fortune cookies hate me. Did you know that fortune cookies are an American invention? Sorry, I just watched Iron Man 3 so I had that line going around my head. Man that is an awesome movie, a definite step up from the second film and they actually nailed the third act for once in the series. I thought it was interesting that they...

OH OKAY FINE! I'll go back and try the boss fight again! I'm so crap that this that I can't even take down a wasp with a nuke, but I'm sure I'll be able to take down a snake demon if I just persevere!


Man that was actually pretty easy in the end. But wait, the snake monster's actually teleporting away from me? But I was winning!
"HEY! Come back here and finish fight! Ugly, scary, snake... shitface!"
Couldn't have said it better myself Lo Wang. Though I probably wouldn't have put on that offensive accent. And with that we come to the end of the game's first episode.

But before I'm finished with the game I should mention that it comes with a fully featured version of Build, which I've found to be one of the fastest and easiest level editors I've ever used. Of course it's possible that could be due in part to the fact that I memorised every keyboard shortcut and studied all the tricks when I was a kid, but once you know what buttons to press it's pretty straightforward.

Well that's Shadow Warrior then. To be honest I... have completely forgotten to take a screenshot of the railgun. I guess it must not have been in the first episode. Hold on, I'll find the bastard, he can't be that hard to get hold of.


I present to you, Shadow Warrior's railgun!

Well it's certainly able to do some damage if you can ever actually hit anything with it, though sadly Lo Wang could only find a left handed one so he can't use the scope. I imagine this is actually the first proper spiral smoke trail railgun in video game history, beating Quake II by half a year, though I could be wrong about that.

I also found this thing attached to someone's neck. Just for a laugh Lo Wang decided to stick his fingers in its brain and as luck would have it, it turns out that doing that makes it fire off fireballs. So that's handy. Anyway I'm done with the game now.

Well that's Shadow Warrior then. To be honest I found it to be one long pain in the ass. They've taken the solid foundations of Duke 3D and built some interesting levels upon them, but then they populated those levels with assholes. Suicide bombers, wasps, ghosts, machine gunners with pinpoint accuracy... I just didn't find these enemies much fun to outmanoeuvre and the weapons felt underpowered. When it takes a good quarter of my bullets to kill one common enemy, then there's something wrong there. I'd frequently run out of ammo and then it'd automatically switch to the missile launcher mid-fight and I'd blow up! Did you know that Duke Nukem 3D also switches to explosive weapons when you run out of regular ammo? I didn't, because it NEVER HAPPENS.

Still, on the rare occasion that I wasn't blown up by the game's attempts to help me out, I found myself quite happy to have the missile launcher to hand as it meant I'd be able to make some progress for once. Explosions get things done and there's a surprising amount of missile ammo around, even in the first level, if you're willing to investigate the maps a little (hint, press space on everything even remotely suspicious.) The game's got some good old fashioned level design for sure, in that they're huge and sprawling and require a little backtracking, but I usually didn't find it hard to figure out where I was meant to be.

It's no good, I'm sorry but I have to give the game a star. No matter how much it pisses me off, there's just too much nostalgia here for me. Don't you dare consider this to be a recommendation though; I was able to find the fun in Daikatana so I'm clearly not to be trusted.

The entirety of Shadow Warrior is now absolutely free (and DRM-less) on Steam and you can grab it here.
Whatever else I think about it, I can't argue that it's not good value for money.

And so the time came at last where I finally shut up about Shadow Warrior. But if you want to use the comment box to praise the game, or rant about it, or just tell me what a damn good job I'm doing to try to cynically manipulate me into playing through your 15 game request suggestions, then go right ahead.


  1. This game is in the Humble Bundle right now.

    1. What, wasn't the free copy I linked to in the post good enough for ya?

      But yeah, the redux version of the game is on humble bundle this week only for a very reasonably price along with a whole lot of other shooters and I'd definitely recommend it over the original version. It's a bit slicker, mouselook is fixed and the new version of the theme is great.

  2. What? You skipped taking screenshots from whole 4th level (which is also longest and IMHO best level of whole Shadow Warrior)up to boss fight at end? No rabbit farm, no driveable tank, no flying carpet, no Lara Croft eater egg, no three pillars jumping puzzle, ...? I think at least something of that could prove worthy of picture. :( I am bit disapointed, were you under time pressure when you were writing this?

    1. P.S. Instead of that you gave us four(?!) screenshosts of only you dealing up with hornets, hmmm....

    2. Getting past those hornets took me as long as the entire fourth level did!

      To be honest I had ALL of those things in my post originally* (along with twice the hornet screenshots, shots of the volcano, the falling ceiling trap, the block puzzle and lots of pictures of trees), but I took them out in the second draft as the length was starting to get ridiculous. I could go on forever with these things, so I have to be ruthless with my editing as it's my goal to allow the average reader to finish the whole post without falling into a coma halfway through.

      Granted I have no idea how many screenshots people are willing to put up with, but I've been trying to fine tune the number based on the amount of complaints I get each time.

      *Well okay I didn't find Lara Croft.

    3. Well, I dont mind lenght of this article at all, what strikes me as odd is that lenght of space dedicated to your hornet encounter. I mean for somebody who doesnt know anything about this game, it can easily seem that your "epic" battle with hornets is the most memorable and expressive experience from whole playtrough. :-P

      About that Classic Redux version, IMO it is not reasonable offer at all and I dont recommend its buying. In principle its developers just took one *FREE* old obsolete source port (program that allows native playing specific old games in modern OSes) called JFSW, combined it with data files of full game and its two expansion packs (which can be for long time since now obtained legally for free too), added better support for widescreen resolutions and achievements (Hooray! How could we live without them before?) But JFSW got discountinued and later it got succesor SWP (also free) which is more advanced, has more features and fixed glitches (commercialy sold Redux version actually contains bugs that were already fixed in SWP long time ago). So, if you have original CD copy from 90s, then I recommend to use SWP, and if you dont have it, then download original dos version from Steam for free and combine it with SWP too. In both scenarios you get whole game with modern features and compatibility for FREE!

    4. Well to be fair I was showing off the nuke and the volcano as well. Also you wouldn't believe how many retries that fight with the hornets actually took me. Point taken though.

      On the other hand I was able to beat the hornets first time no trouble on the all-singing all-dancing Classic Redux edition thanks to it's silky smooth controls and slicker graphics! (But mostly my hours of practice in the original game.)

      Actually I 100% agree with you on every point about the Classic Redux version except that the humble bundle isn't a good deal. Sure 'free' will always be a better deal than 'costs anything' and the free source port probably matches (or surpasses) it on features, but a good hassle-free version of Shadow Warrior (with all expansions, 3 other games included and hopefully hassle-free multiplayer coming soon) for a dollar isn't entirely unreasonable to me. If you want to exchange money to acquire this game, this would be the time to do it is all I'm saying.

  3. Hi there, I first played Shadow Warrior in the late nineties so it is hard to be harsh about this game without the nostalgia effect kicking in...

    I have made a new voxel pack for shadow warrior, check it out (includes new voxels besides the ones of the original game)

    Check it out:

    By the way the forum and site have also lots of shadow warrior info, curiosities etc
    (unofficial Shadow Warrior fan site)


    Martin (mxrtxn)

  4. Thanks Mxrtxn! And yes, Shadow Warrior is an awesome game for sure.


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