2013’s Shadow Warrior reboot marked a return for 3D Realms’ ’90s FPS in a way that was far more keenly welcomed than Duke Nukem Forever. With much less weight upon its shoulders, Flying Wild Hog were free to innovate without preconception, and as such the debut managed to please long time fans and win over new audiences. A sequel followed in 2016 and shook up the formula dramatically. Now we arrive at Shadow Warrior 3. And while Lo Wang is still adequately equipped with one-liners, very little else will feel familiar.
Shadow Warrior 3 feels like a game that has been stripped back to basics. The assortment of weapons, variety of attacks and volume of enemies has been greatly reduced. So too has the semi-free-roaming element of the second game. Yet, in place is a much tighter affair. Shadow Warrior 3 is less about the adventure and more about pushing the player with both combat and navigational challenges. This will likely divide audience opinion quite significantly.
The gameplay loop presents so many changes from Shadow Warrior 2 that it’s hard to deny the development team have been influenced by other titles released in the interim. In fact, the hallmarks of DOOM Eternal are all over Shadow Warrior 3. The player no longer has to simply contend with working their way around a map and killing whatever crosses their path. In Shadow Warrior 3, they now also have navigational challenges which involve dexterity. Wallrunning, sliding, climbing, double-jumping, mid-air dashing and grappling hook swinging in very specific orders are called upon frequently.
The player will navigate levels using these abilities before coming to specifically designed arenas to engage in combat. These arenas vary greatly in the assets they provide; multiple tiers, obstructed viewpoints, environmental weapons, explosive barrels and grapple points, to name a few. Each arena will provide a different assortment of bad guys to take out with these assets. Then of course, there’s also Shadow Warrior 3‘s own take on Glory Kills.
Conversely, Shadow Warrior 2 featured randomly generated maps with randomly positioned enemies, and strict pools of enemy types to be drawn from depending on the map theme. It’s not hard to see the changes in place. And it’s not hard to see where the developers may have gotten a lot of their ideas from.
However, writing Shadow Warrior 3 off as a ‘DOOM clone’ would be a mistake. People once did this back in 1997, with the original Shadow Warrior, and look how that turned out. Instead, it’s best to think that Flying Wild Hog wanted to challenge the perceptions of their audience. And having decided on a change to the formula, looked at the best the genre has recently offered. The result is a game that will be as divisive as DOOM Eternal itself; while half of the audience will think it’s the best game in the series, the other half will peg it as the worst.
In reality though, punishing a developer for experimenting is not something that should be considered normal. Shadow Warrior 3 may miss the mark in a few respects, but it is still a resoundingly enjoyable game. A tightknit level design means the player is never at a loss as to exactly what the next challenge is, and the combat scenarios rank amongst the best the genre has to offer. Each of the titles of this modern reboot have been significantly different to one another. If that trend is to continue we simply can’t wait to see what Flying Wild Hog come up with for number four.