Shadow Warrior 2 review

Game Info
Platform Win
Publisher Devolver Digital
Developer Flying Wild Hog
Release Date Oct 13, 2016

Shadow Warrior 2 is a relic from another time.

It harkens back to the days when games were ultraviolent and the protagonists were quippy and quick with the poop gags. Lo Wang, the primary penis joke and hero from the original 1997 Shadow Warrior and this modern reboot, is the epitome of this 1990s-era badass wannabe. He has access to all the guns. He gets away with punchlines like "don't mess with the Wang." He's a walking Asian stereotype. He is a joke.

This wasn't viewed as a problem in 1997 — and maybe even again in 2013, when Flying Wild Hog rebooted the series. Despite the annoying, immature jokes, Wang was likeable, and sympathetic in his journey. He was a capable fighter and hitman who just happened to cross paths with the supernatural. Compared to the jerks that were controlling the world he was almost saintly, and the player felt bad for him. Despite his abilities, he was just a dude who liked stupid jokes. He was fun.

Shadow Warrior 2 loses what made the first one so fun

I mention all of this because these are the qualities Shadow Warrior 2 tries to replicate. But it possesses little of what made the first one so fun. Shadow Warrior 2 doesn't improve on the chaotic combat or systems of the last game — it doesn't feel like any kind of progression. This might have been okay in 1997, but in 2016, Shadow Warrior 2 needed to be a lot more than what it is: a repetitive, outdated, unfunny game.

After a cutscene straight from the first game — with Wang, his car, and "You Got the Touch" by Stan Bush playing on the radio — Shadow Warrior 2 immediately throws the player into action with nothing but a sword. The violence is extreme. Monsters have a goopy quality to them, practically melting when Wang slices them up. The metallic soldiers encountered in other levels spark and disintegrate when struck, and it was satisfying to constantly hear the clanging of my sword against their armor and to watch them fall. By the end of the game, the total body count was in the hundreds. I wouldn’t have been shocked if it passed a thousand.

shadow warrior 2

But the rest of the campaign’s 12 or so hours don’t live up to the fun of those first few minutes. Everything about the design choices in Shadow Warrior 2 feels stuck in the past and the designers didn’t have the chance to update. It hit me the moment I saw the first human faces, which are misshapen and lifeless. Bodies move awkwardly, with hips that sometimes move in a way that makes it look like people are thrusting at the air. The women are almost all dressed in skintight outfits highlighting outrageous curves. This includes robots called D.O.L.L.S., walking sex objects that moan when Wang cuts them up.

Getting past the aesthetics, there are other mechanical problems. Eschewing the last game’s linear progression, Shadow Warrior 2 relies on a quest system, with a home village serving as a hub to stock up on items, talk with people, and pick up new missions. With the help of Kamiko, a mysterious ally who lives inside Wang’s head for most of the game, the player can easily teleport from one location to another.

After I experienced each setting, the game became repetitive. Enemies rarely change, except that sometimes there are more of them and sometimes they’re bigger than normal. This is the main marker of progression, though players also gain access to bigger, less realistic, more powerful weapons. Wang earns skill points, which acquire new abilities and upgrade them. Slain enemies also drop upgrades, which may be equipped to enhance weapons’ damage or give them elemental effects.

shadow warrior 2

Upgrades are one of the few ways levels are spiced up, since the user can play around with different builds to find the most effective weapons and try out different combinations in co-op mode, where up to four players can play through the missions. It’s one of the few ways to get enjoyment out of the game. However, aside from the occasional boss battle that might require a different strategy, each approach is the same: point and shoot.

Upon realizing that the combat wasn’t going to evolve in any meaningful way, I hoped for relief in Shadow Warrior 2’s story. I didn’t find much. Lo Wang is an ... okay protagonist. He sort of has a moral code. When one of the characters admits to raping a woman, Wang calls him a piece of shit. Wang is against fascism and rags on the people that hire him, cognizant that he’s doing dirty work for dirty people in the name of cash.

That said, and I didn’t think this was possible, Wang makes too many stupid jokes. In the last game, there was a balance between his immature sense of humor and moments when he had to be serious. In Shadow Warrior 2, Wang can’t go five seconds without cracking wise, much to the annoyance of everyone around him (and me). These jokes are bad and happen too frequently. There are only so many "oh, you said duty; I thought you said doodie" jokes I can take before it gets tired. Thanks to the horrible dialogue and the racist stereotyping, I found it impossible to connect with him as a player. This is tough considering that, you know, he’s the main character.

Kamiko doesn’t fare any better. She’s introduced as a capable woman with a scientific and archaic background, and her presence is constant. But she spends the majority of the game exasperated by Wang and serving as a plot device. She has a connection to every other character, but because she can only talk using Wang’s voice, she doesn’t get to interact with any of them. She’s there for exposition, to help Wang teleport, and to move the plot along. She has nothing else to show for herself.

shadow warrior 2

Kamiko and Wang’s back-and-forth is refreshing at first, since she often repeated what I was thinking. But she isn’t given much to do other than be annoyed at him. When it actually matters, as in one moment where she withstands a particularly disturbing violation, she barely reacts. There’s no character growth either. At the end of the game, when she and Wang agree that they’re friends, it feels forced. There’s nothing in between that suggested that she was gaining a respect for him and vice versa. There was just arguing.

Any other potentially interesting story details brought into to the game are wasted. One tragic character’s selfless motivations end up destroying her, but she’s introduced halfway through the game, degraded when she makes a bad transphobic joke, and made a villain. Wang gets embroiled in god politics and the evil Zilla Corporation, all of which feels like filler — most of the game’s runtime is filled with combat and missions that have little connection to one another, which makes most of the experience useless.

Wrap Up:

Shadow Warrior 2 feels hollow

Shadow Warrior 2 is a game about slicing and shooting through hordes of monsters and soldiers. It’s about as classic a setup as the shooter genre has in that regard. A player itching to hack up some demons could do a lot worse. But everything else about Shadow Warrior 2 feels hollow. The characters are lifeless, the jokes aren’t funny, the story is worthless, and the levels are repetitive. There might be a place for a 1997-style game in 2016 — something simple with a narrow focus that plays on many of the boring, sexist, and lazy traditions that gaming has left behind — but Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t nearly enough.

Shadow Warrior 2 was reviewed using a retail Steam key provided by the developer. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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5 Win