The Polish Flying Wild Hog is known for its love of shooters. With the exception of the "cute" Juju, the rest of their catalogue includes titles like Hard Reset, the reboot and sequel to 3D Realms' Shadow Warrior, and the upcoming Evil West. Shadow Warrior 3 was one of the development team's most anticipated moves, as the second installment in the series, although generally received good reviews, there was a lot of controversy over its looter-shooter approach, differentiating it from the classic FPS formula of the reboot.
Guess what's going on in Shadow Warrior 3? That's right, the direction changes again. It completely ditches the looter-shooter mentality and opts for that of an arena shooter, with a bit of platforming, along the lines of Doom Eternal. If I were at a company meeting, I can assume that the company people are simply looking at what sells best at the time and acting accordingly. "What's in vogue right now, Borderlands and Destiny? Fine, let's make a looter-shooter we'll call Shadow Warrior 2. What game has made a splash recently, Doom Eternal? Let's make something similar."
Admittedly, in the cold logic of numbers, this holds up and if the result is good and not just a shoddy copy, I see no reason to criticise the company for trying to grab a piece of the pie. On the other hand, you have a franchise on your hands where each game of the series is different and therefore appeals to a different audience. It's a daring strategy that risks displeasing a large part of the audience that followed you in your last attempt, but at the same time maybe, I say maybe, you'll manage to win over new fans. Shadow Warrior 3 goes to great lengths to present a beautifully chaotic FPS that breaks away from the "mess" of the controversial 2nd.. If it succeeds, you'll know right away.
The game continues the story of Lo Wang, where together with former employer, former enemy and current sidekick Orochi Zilla they take on a seemingly very difficult mission. Unwittingly, the heroes have freed from his eternal prison an Ancient Dragon, who is on the loose on the planet, bringing sorrow and destruction in his wake. If they don't do something quickly, it's only a matter of time before the apocalypse comes, so the two friends (?) are forced to resort to the famous mask of the dead god Hoji and magic in order to find a way to seal him permanently and irrevocably in his cell.
That's pretty much the central idea of the story, which is filled with cut-scenes, Lo Wang's monologues and remote conversations with the other protagonists of the adventure, sprinkled with some spicy humor. In essence, no matter how much Flying Wild Hog attempts to create a complete story, it's unlikely to hold your interest until the end, as it's merely the garnish for the merciless carnage to follow. The characters in the story pass rather indifferently, while the toilet humor to which it often resorts works rather negatively. Maybe it's just me getting old, but I didn't laugh at any of Lo Wang's cold jokes or the various gags set up.
Now for the main course, we should first of all mention that the gameplay of Shadow Warrior 3 is divided into two parts: platform and in shooting. Strange as it may seem, the platform element is not exactly a supplementary element, but a large part of the game's content. Lo Wang has the ability to double jump and dash, which allows him to reach quite high and far, while also being equipped with a grapple hook, which he can launch at predetermined points to reach distant platforms. The challenge of platforming segments is low, as it's clear where to move each time, which raises questions about the point of adding it. Probably the reason is to break the monotony of shooting a bit, on the other hand there are some levels where the opposite happens: shooting breaks the monotony of jumping around.
Of course, the reason for its existence may be that Wang's acrobatic skills can be used during battle. So in the arenas, because that's what it's all about, and in the segment of shooting, things improve dramatically. This is one of the most intense FPS's we've played in recent years, and while it requires non-stop running, it's not limited to just that in order to survive.
Each arena is cleverly designed to facilitate the extensive use of Wang's stunts (wall jump, grapple hook, dashing, etc.), the activation of environmental traps for some quick and easy kills (or suicides, if we run into them), and the full use of the arsenal at our disposal. An arsenal that is gradually enriched, with each weapon having truly unique behavior and utility on the battlefield. Of course, it is possible to upgrade them by collecting the corresponding weapon orbs scattered around the stages, which change the effectiveness and/or behaviour of each weapon. For example, the first weapon we pick up, the Outlaw has the ability to create explosions when you get a headshot or the Riot Gun, which works like a shotgun, can go into full auto mode and not need to reload as often. Of course, a constant companion remains the Katana which, besides being upgradable as well, is lifesaving at close ranges and small enemies in general.
Lo Wang himself couldn't be left out of the upgrade feast, only he needs his own orbs to increase his maximum health, the effectiveness of the explosive barrels in the arenas (more useful than you think), and the move Chi–Blast, which performs a quick "push" on the enemies. Very handy for either throwing some poor mob into the void or releasing the weak spot of an ironclad enemy. Both weapons and endurance orbs can be multiplied if we complete some challenges during the game, such as killing 100 people with the Katana or getting 25 headshots with the Outlaw.
The orbs affair doesn't stop there. Besides the healing orbs that are likely to be dropped by a defeated monster, there are the finisher orbs, which in turn fill the corresponding bar. Once filled, then we can perform a... fatality, which besides restoring our health to maximum, allows us to take the victim's weapon for personal use for a limited time.
Depending on the size and strength of each enemy, it can take anywhere from one to three finisher bars to kill them instantly, and the weapon you're given is a real game changer in many cases. Therefore, one of the things to keep in mind is when is the right time to use finisher moves, while also considering the amount of time it takes to respawn the healing and magazine points of the current arena. Alas, the game doesn't let you bite off more than you can chew. Even though Lo Wang is armed to the teeth, the sheer abundance and dynamics of enemy attacks are so vast that it's easy to get carried away.
However, as much as it may not seem like it at first, Shadow Warrior 3 is not a tough game. Playing on Medium difficulty level, there were few times when Lo Wang took a look at the sky for the last time, and those were mostly towards the end of the game, where battles lasted up to ten minutes. Of course, it plays a role in the winning outcome if we realize in time which is the right weapon for each of the, if I may call it, "unusually unusual" enemies that flood the arenas. For example, the guys wielding a huge sword block shots with conventional weapons, so we'd better go for the explosive Crimson Bull or Basilisk to take them out of the fight. In general though, the game doesn't strictly limit which weapon we use on each enemy, as everything more or less has an effect. It's just that our lives will be easier if we know exactly what we're doing and don't indiscriminately shoot with whatever comes through our heads at the time. So the "headache" we got while playing Doom Eternal doesn't apply here.
As a consequence of the relatively low difficulty level (try hard mode if you want more of a challenge), is the fact that Shadow Warrior 3 ends quickly and with no option for co-op or multiplayer mode. In my playthrough it took me about 6.5 to 7 hours to watch the end credits and without breaking much of a sweat. A rather disappointing length, as the game is quite addictive, especially in its final stages when we've now significantly beefed up Wang and his equipment. And somewhere in there it ends, with a final boss fight that I got through on the first try...
Of course, one could say that the game is quite repetitive and this is not too far from the truth. The platforming is standard and sometimes "drags" unnecessarily too much, the arenas look similar to each other, the enemies don't change from arena to arena, they just add one or two more species each time and there's often a sense of deja-vu as you progress. With that in mind, perhaps its short length doesn't work to its detriment.
Technically, however, Shadow Warrior 3 is remarkable. In these games, frames per second are the most important thing in the world, and the Unreal Engine manages brilliantly to keep them pinned at 60 (at 1080p resolution, i7-11700k, 16GB, 1660Ti), no matter what was happening on the screen. And believe me, there's a LOT going on, and it's happening beautifully. I also don't see why it can't do it even on older machines, let alone when it has a couple of configuration options. Surprisingly though, the cut-scenes "run" at 30fps, which is initially disconcerting, but after a while it gets used to it.
As a child of Unreal Engine, the game is quite visually beautiful, with the environment combining feudal Japan with plenty of supernatural elements. It won't drop your jaw, but it stands very well in today's era, especially with the imaginative way in which the animation of some mobs, the abundant gore (18+) and the splatter of finisher moves have been implemented. On the audio aspect, the very good voice-over of the heroes stands out, which has been done by other actors from the previous ones in the series, but without compromising on quality. The soundtrack is what you would expect from a game of this genre: dynamic and atmospheric at times, with an essence of the Far East, it will accompany your bloody journey worthily.
In conclusion, Shadow Warrior 3 isn't the next "big" FPS we might have been expecting, but it's a quality work from a team that knows how to deliver a good shooter to its audience. Fans of the genre shouldn't miss it, and for those looking for a strong action-packed "dose", the game is a worthwhile proposition.