Endless, endlessly cheap innuendo, extreme gore, coloured keycards, complete linearity - all the hallmarks of an exceptionally irritating and retrograde first-person shooter. Yet Shadow Warrior gets away with it. Just about.
A loose remake of the post-Doom 90s FPS of the same name, the only thing Shadow Warrior takes seriously is the flexibility and excess of its combat systems. Guns feature heavily, but the game's most reliable source of good times is the ever-present katana you wield, and a clutch of appropriately overpowered supernatural abilities.
It's a slick combination of big, bloody results from basic button bashing, and bigger, bloodier results from more calculated deployment of stuff like circular sword swipes, magic waves which hurl enemies aloft and desperate attempts at mystic healing while you erratically sprint away from a horde of pursuing monsters.
In other words, you can still feel like something of a god of blades even if you all you do is mash both mouse buttons - the game takes a certain amount of free license in terms of the visible results, so you'll be rewarded with plenty of beheadings of bifurcated torsos. Using the sword just feels good, and while the guns have their appeal they really can't hope to compete with the joy of the Katana. Shadow Warrior's an incredibly slick game on a technical level, and puts the lie to the oft-repeated claim that melee combat from a first-person perspective is hard to pull off.
The game is unrepentantly gruesome in its depiction of what a sword can do - the ground is littered with repulsively glistening internal organs after a battle - but the vast majority of the enemies are essentially comic book monsters with a nod to Japanese mythology. If you do take more time to learn the rapid, simple combo attacks, you'll be rewarded for it both in terms of visibly wilder devastation, and an experience points system of a sort which leads to power unlocks and upgrades.
You'll wind up having most powers eventually anyway, but between that and the option to purchase major weapon overhauls you'll definitely feel that you're tailoring an otherwise on-rails shooter to your own gory ends. There's definite scope and reason to replay levels, both to try out other powers and to see if you can achieve higher star ratings through more varied, fluid destruction in the larger fights.
The humour and voice acting is going to be divisive, however. Shadow Warrior makes no bones about the fact it's gone to clown school in this regard, and it's true to say there are some giggles to be had from the fact the main character's called 'Wang', but it can overstay its welcome.
It is, however, in keeping with the lousy puns and cheap gags of its 90s predecessor, and the broader 90s shooter - most typified by Duke Nukem 3D - category it's an affectionate and more elaborated homage to, so it's certainly going to warm the cockles of some hearts. It's occasionally charming and almost never actually offensive, but it can be mildly irritating, and any semblance of worthwhile narrative is sacrificed in the name of keeping up the silliness and double-entrendes.
The oft-glorious combat, often involving enormous hordes of enemies swarming towards you in open arena-like levels, more than makes up for this, as do a pretty generous helping of secret areas. Its best trick is to nod to nostalgia without actually being retro - it feels like a true meeting of two ages of gaming, rather than one pretending to be the other. Shadow Warrior's heart is in the right place, even if it might have been wiser to hold its tongue a little more.