Man, remember when Apogee and 3D Realms were considered one of the coolest PC publishers? Then Duke Nukem Forever happened and now they’re just a shell of their former glory only to be laughed at. Where did it start going all wrong? Probably when they thought they could make a Duke Nukem 3D ripoff of their own. Ladies and germs, this is Shadow Warrior.
Released in early 1997 only on PC, it was an amazing flop. It didn’t sell as well as Duke 3D did. There were going to be three expansions, which only one — Twin Dragons — got a commercial release; the other two — Deadly Kiss and Wanton Destruction — would be cancelled after the poor sales of the original game. (Wanton Destruction did get released many years later as freeware, though.) Shadow Warrior is considered to be part of the “Holy Trinity” of shooters that used Ken Silverman’s Build engine: The others being Duke Nukem 3D and either Redneck Rampage or Blood, depending on who you talk to. (Some people consider all four to be important, making this a “Holy Quadrinity.” Which is totally not a word.)
I had already bought Duke, Redneck Rampage and Blood through GOG.com, but bizarrely Shadow Warrior was nowhere to be found on that service (as of the time I write this). The only ways to buy it were through 3D Realms’ online store at a ridiculous-for-an-old-game price of $10, or hunt down a copy on eBay or local shops. Well, luck was on my side when I finally found a copy at a Goodwill recently. After a little cajoling with DOSBox to get it to work properly, I was ready to play Shadow Warrior, told by the man himself that “You no mess with the Lo Wang.” I had heard from friends that this game wasn’t very good. Was this gonna be a repeat of the Blood II debacle, where I found enjoyment in a game everybody else hated? No, because where I can find some enjoyment and goofiness in Blood II, it is almost nowhere to be found in Shadow Warrior.
The game starts out in Lo Wang’s dojo, where some goons come in from Master Zilla, who apparently wants you dead after you find out he wants to rule the world or something to that effect, and even kills Lo Wang’s master in the process later in the game, forcing Wang to avenge his death and kill Master Zilla. Honestly, this story is dumb and cliched. However, this was pre-Half-Life and pre-Deus Ex. Shadow Warrior was made when stories in first-person shooters were there just to make the unrelated levels connect to each other somehow. I can’t fault 3D Realms for that.
What I can fault them for is everything else. From the enemy design, to the sometimes confusing level design, to all the dumb pop culture references, makes Shadow Warrior feel like the equivalent of an Asylum film knockoff of a famous movie. Lo Wang acts like Duke in which he gives dumb one-liners like “Howsa that for Kung Fu Fighting you Chickenashit?!” to “Cocks and balls, squashy penis,” even saying “Ancient Chinese secret!” any time you find a secret area. Unfortunately Lo Wang doesn’t have many movie lines he can steal from like Duke did, so his jokes comes off flat, lewd and mostly unfunny. John Galt gave it a shot, but Lo Wang just doesn’t hold a candle to Duke in terms of cheesy one liners. The game is also punishingly difficult, with many enemies being able to do rapid amounts of damage and small enemies that are a real nuisance to hit. Granted, Build engine games can be tough for many different reasons, but Shadow Warrior is considerably harder due to enemies that can easily whittle down your health pretty fast. Not only that, armor is considerably scarcer in this game.
Coupled with mixed oriental references all over the place – It has dojos, references to eating animals, fortune cookies as health boosts; plus the weird anime references before anime was even a thing in the US, really makes this one of the more bizarre first-person shooters out there. Granted, it’s not as bizarre as PO’ed, but this game is definitely all over the place.
What if I told you that they really expected Shadow Warrior to be this amazing phenomenon? Along with announcing those three expansion packs, the game is a big advertisement for the Total Entertainment Network on it, and it even had a few novels based on the game, which I heard from many are worse than even the Doom novels. There’s even a special music track on the game’s CD titled “Lo Wang’s Rap.” It’s… totally something alright.
So I’ve come to this conclusion why Shadow Warrior isn’t as good as the rest: I blame George Broussard for everything to do with this game.
Broussard is the co-owner and head honcho of Apogee and 3D Realms, and was likely the reason Duke Nukem Forever took forever (ha ha) to release. He’s probably also the reason Shadow Warrior is crap too. Enemies who are bullet sponges who can kill you pretty quick? Broussard’s call. Hiding areas needed to progress in secret rooms, leading to a lot of confusion? Blame Broussard. Fucking killer bee enemies that are almost impossible to hit? Broussard’s fault! Anime characters (voiced by Lani Minella no less!) and enemies in dominatrix gear? BLAME GEORGE MOTHERFUCKING BROUSSARD.
I’m convinced if somebody else did this game, it would’ve turned out much better, much like what happened to Blood. I seriously believe Broussard is the reason this game sucks a big one. Though, it may also be the fault of several designers involved, including a pre-Gearbox Software Randy Pitchford, so maybe it’s an overall collective of total suckage. Despite my overall rage and hatred of this, there are a few good things going for it, such as the art style, Lee Jackson’s soundtrack, and some interesting interactivity where you can drive RC cars by using your mouse and keyboard. There’s just not enough good there to counter all the bad.
Either way, Shadow Warrior is worth a look at least, but isn’t as good as its contemporaries. If you wanna find a copy, you can go the eBay route or snag it on GOG.com for $6, which includes the two released expansions. Oh well, at least it couldn’t get much worse, could it?
Oh wait, it got much worse. Damn it.
(EDIT 2/8/13: Minor corrections and updates since the article’s original posting.)