Shadow Warrior preview: fresh cut

"You've got Wang." These are the words that greeted me at the start of the closed E3 demo for Shadow Warrior. Right there, I had a feeling that Devolver Digital and Flying Wild Hog's reboot of the 1998 original understood the essence of what made it such a cult classic. The game's opening cutscene saw lead character Lo Wang driving down a road in a convertible, blaring Stan Bush's "The Touch." He gets a call from Zilla Enterprises founder Orochi Zilla, hiring him to retrieve the fabled Nobitsura Kage blade. After cutting down numerous Yakuza in an excessively ultraviolent manner, Wang retrieves a piece of the Nobitsura Kage, setting the stage for a supernatural story that has demons and monsters trying to stop Wang at all costs. focalbox The first thing to note is that Wang sounds very much like Ken Jeong of The Hangover fame, turning him from an outright Asian stereotype to... slightly less of an Asian stereotype. There's no explicit racial humor and no busty anime girls, but the essence of Wang shone through as he cut down enemies and reeled off one-liners like nobody's business. With a badass demeanor and a tongue as sharp as his katana, Wang manages to retain a sense of edginess without descending into a total caricature. Shadow Warrior initially set itself apart with sharp katana action and over-the-top violence and I'm pleased to say that the reboot does these combat ideas justice. Wang's katana can be swung around in eight directions and will lop off most limbs in one swing, leading to Kill Bill-like blood geysers. For those that would rather shoot demons in the face, there are plenty of firearms to brandish, including revolvers, dual-wield sub-machine guns, shotguns, and a crossbow. All weapons have a secondary fire function that can be used at any time. For example, the crossbow will fire explosive rounds that can be detonated remotely. All of these weapons can be upgraded throughout the game. The biggest addition to Wang's arsenal is magic, which acts as the katana's secondary attack. Spells can be charged with the right mouse button and any of the four directional keys, with the down key used for healing and the other three directions used for offense. Magic is helpful for crowd control and also for reaching distant foes. There's no mana or limitations for how often Wang can use magic, making it an appealing choice and can also be upgraded. However, the trade-off is that demons will become enraged upon sensing mystical energies, making them more powerful and more difficult to defeat. Don't expect Shadow Warrior to get bogged down by modern shooting tropes. Flying Wild Hog has a great respect for what makes an old-school shooter, as evidenced by their previous work on Hard Reset. Likewise, Shadow Warrior will not have any cover mechanics, restrictions on how many weapons you can carry, or cooldown times on any of Wang's magic. There are also several easter eggs that harken back to the original game, including secret areas designed with the old-school 3D Realms-style visuals and numerous bunny rabbits hopping around each level. There are also Shadow Warrior arcade cabinets that will play classic music from the original after inserting a coin.

A katana is nice, but Lo Wang can also wield heavy firearms

While much of Shadow Warrior aims to respect the original game, Flying Wild Hog has included many new aesthetics to their reboot. The old grays of the original have been traded in for more colorful Japanese landscapes. A more thoughtful narrative will unfold through comic book-style cutscenes and animated shorts that show growth in Lo Wang's character as the story progresses. A large part of that narrative plays off of Wang's burgeoning partnership with a banished spirit named Hoji. There's more that's yet to be revealed about Shadow Warrior, with game designer Pawel Kowalewski indicating that the game will also feature boss fights. While he didn't demonstrate this at E3, he hinted that the bosses would be massive in size, comparing them to the behemoth creatures from Shadows of the Colossus. While there's a strong possibility that Shadow Warrior will come to next-gen consoles, Flying Wild Hog made sure to emphasize that the game was created for a PC audience in an effort to stay true to its heritage. It'll be out later this year.