Confident in its world of hyper violence and stupidity, there’s some neat innovation under the skin of Shadow Warrior 2, says Matt Martin.
I like Shadow Warrior 2 because it’s violent and noisy and it talks a lot of shit. I can relate to its schtick.
But underneath the bolshy exterior there’s a bunch of slick, thoughtful improvements that make this a deeper game that you’re probably giving it credit for. Developer Flying Wild Hog is making what it wants to make, and it wants to make a chaotic co-op smash-up with overpowered weapons and cool effects, some neat twists on gameplay and looting, with all the tongue-flapping enthusiasm of a dog with two dicks.
Shadow Warrior 2 is about a gobshite hero slicing up demons and pumping lead into anything with glowing eyes. Like Wolfenstein: The New Order it’s a throwback to the traditional first-person shooter, but Flying Wild Hog has some fresh ideas that should make it attractive to those of us who feel like pressing a button to pick up fallen ammo feels a little bit too retro for 2015.
“The katana is no longer a fall back weapon for when bullets run dry. Bladed melee weapons are much more of a first choice for assault, and they’re lethal.”
Before you roll your eyes at the idea of 4-player co-op, know this: everyone plays the game as anti-hero Lo Wang, and experiences the campaign story in the same way. When and if you’re playing in co-op, you’ll see other players as mercenaries helping out. It’s a little smoke and mirrors trick that keeps it feeling like a singleplayer game at heart. You all experience the story yourself, it just so happens there’s some assistance in the world from other players.
This isn’t a team game that requires a heavy, or a scout. No one wants to play the healer. Players can upgrade their character and weapons with loot drops and gems, but that’s as diverse as it gets. Classes don’t exist. It’s drop-in and and drop-out co-op, so you can play lone wolf if you want or drag some mates along from start to finish.
Another neat twist is that locations/levels in the game will change as you return to them. When you enter a location for a second time expect the layout to have warped. While these aren’t procedurally generated, Flying Hog’s tech can move buildings, trees, the direction of rivers and more to give between three and five patchwork variations on each level, slotting together chunks of the world to make it feel fresh and a little hand-crafted. The lighting will change accordingly, and like the previous game there’s an emphasis on colour and bright outdoor environments, rather than the oppressive dark tones of most military first-person shooters.
The first (or last) Shadow Warrior was a linear game, but this sequel doesn’t want to lead players through an A to B to C funnel. While not open world, locations are big enough that you can go over, around or through buildings and obstacles, which makes sense if you’re going to have up to four players pummelling demons and other psychopaths.
The arsenal of weapons has been upgraded with this in mind too. Where as before the katana was used as a fall back weapon for when bullets run dry, now bladed weapons are much more of a first choice for assault. There are lots of them – not just a single sword – and they are absolutely lethal up close. The pay off is that you have to get inside a enemy’s personal space to use them, although a range of new sprints and double jumps make traversing the world and getting into demon’s guts a lot easier.
The new procedural cutting system crucially makes it more fun to use melee weapons too, leaving enemies dismembered in so many more creative ways than the older 8-directional attacks ever did. Flying Wild Hog wants you to use blades as a primary weapon and save the guns to whittle down enemies from a distance.
What else is new? The team told us they want to create the most ornate guns in any first-person shooter, magic returns but is so much more than just a healing tool, and there’s a lot more one-liners to keep the repetitive nature of Wang’s knob jokes to a minimum. That Shadow Warrior humor is still there from start to finish, and whether you find it amusing or tiresome, hopefully it will remain in the background to a game that’s faster, varied and more creative than the last.
With so many military, sci-fi and so damn serious first-person shooters to choose from, Shadow Warrior 2 stands out like a blood stain on a dress shirt. But it should make an impression as a good FPS in its own right. It’s confident in its own skin; daft and hyper violent on the surface, with design twists behind the scenes offering a deeper game than it may get credit for.
Shadow Warrior 2 is due for PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2016.