When the original Shadow Warrior came out in 1997, it was dismissed by some, and embraced by others, for being yet another Doom-like first-person shooter. A sentiment that was echoed when the remake was released in 2013. But while Shadow Warrior 2 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC) is thankfully more of the same, it’s also unfortunately just more of the same.
For those unfamiliar with the original or the remake, Shadow Warrior 2 has you fighting demons and jerks with a full complement of guns, swords, and other weapons, all while spouting pop culture references and dumb jokes. In other words, it’s like if Deadpool was the hero of the new Doom. Well, sort of. The point is, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes it decidedly more in the vein of such over-the-top shooters as Bulletstorm or Duke Nukem Forever than something such serious shooters as Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare or Battlefield 1.
But Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t just Shadow Warrior with some new battlefields and a different plot. This sequel has some major structural changes that, not surprisingly, are both good and bad.
Where the previous game was linear, but often had nooks and crannies you could explore, looking for treasure, Shadow Warrior 2 has a much more open approach to its level design. Similarly, the story and mission selection is a more open and less linear as well, kind of like a role-playing game. While you have main story quests, you also have side missions, as well as hub area where you can get these missions, go shopping, or talk to people.
On the plus side, being more open — both in its missions and battlefields — makes Shadow Warrior 2 more varied than the previous game, if only just a little. As is always the case when a shooter has open battlefields, adding them to this game means you now have multiple ways you can approach your enemies, and multiple ways they can approach you. Which makes for some rather frantic, and thus engaging, firefights and fisticuffs.
Unfortunately, the lack of a linear path, in both its quests and locations, doesn’t always work in the game’s favor. The strength of Shadow Warrior was how, in old school fashion, it went down a single path, building and building until you hit a climax — i.e., a boss battle with someone the size of King Kong — and then kept going until the final showdown. But Shadow Warrior 2 feels more convoluted, like it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened. Especially if you don’t pay attention to the story, which you’ll be tempted to do, given how it’s rather inane and forgettable. Which is why this became way more fun when I imposed a linear path to this by always following the dotted line on the mini map that showed the way to the next objective.
Along the same lines, Shadow Warrior 2 also gives you some new weapons, as well as ways to improve them, and the results are similarly both good and bad.
For starters, you can now augment your weapons and armor in Shadow Warrior 2 by picking up lucky charms that are dropped by your enemies or just lying around. Though specific to certain weapons, these enhancements are varied and sometimes powerful, adding special attacks and abilities like gems do in a role-playing game.
As for your new weapons, these largely fall into the bladed category, and are highlighted by a set of dual short swords called The Bladez Of Zaibatsu and a pair of curved blades called Rippers. Neither of which are twice as deadly as your swords, but they’re still effective. Especially since, as in the previous game, you can do some simple combos with them. Not a lot, mind, you — this isn’t Injustice 2 — but enough to keep this from being as redundant as a Dynasty Warriors game.
In fact, your melee weapons are actually more fun than your guns this time around. While the remake of Shadow Warrior did a great job of being equal strong as a shooter as it was a hack & slash game, by having you battle way more enemies who like to get close, Shadow Warrior 2 decidedly works best as hack & slash game in which you also have a gun in case you need it.
But that’s not the problem. The problem is that some of your new weapons in Shadow Warrior 2 are overpowered. Most notably the Deck-ARD, a revolver that looks like the one Harrison Ford used in Blade Runner. The Bladez Of Zaibatsu can also be a bit overwhelming, as they can shoot devastating blades of energy like your katana did at the end of the first game, though this requires ammo.
Shadow Warrior 2 also, annoyingly, eliminates one of the ways it let you blend ranged and melee attacks in the previous game. In the original, you could easily do a fast, upward swipe with your blade while you were using your gun, and could quickly throw shurikens at someone far away when you were using your sword. But while it’s easy enough to swap between both weapons and weapon types in this sequel, eliminating this quick switch mechanic makes combat in Shadow Warriors 2 feel less unique.
You also have some magic powers in Shadow Warrior 2, though unlike in the previous game, I never found them to be necessary here. But then, the only really helpful one in the original was the one that restored your health, something you don’t need to worry about now, since it seems like every enemy carries a band aid around for emergencies.
Shadow Warrior 2 also has platforming parts that work as well here as they do in other first-person shooters…which is to say they don’t. Then there’s the odd inconsistencies, like how you have to hit a button to grab some collectibles, while others just jump into your inventory. A problem that’s aggravated by the fact that you sometimes have to be in just the right spot for the button prompt to appear.
Also, remember how I said this was like if Deadpool was the hero of the new Doom. And then added, “Well, sort of.” Try as it may, and it tries way too hard, Shadow Warrior 2 just isn’t that funny. Certainly not as funny as Deadpool. Or Deadpool, for that matter. Most of the jokes are obvious and predictable, relying more on nostalgia than a clever juxtaposition.
Shadow Warrior 2 also suffers from a problem so common that now just copy this paragraph from other game reviews and change the particulars: the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading the menus, the mission objectives, and most of the on-screen messaging.
The thing is, for all its flaws, Shadow Warrior 2 often manages to be fun. But only if you, ironically, don’t take it too seriously. It has some harrowing battles that feature a good variety of enemy types and cool weapons to use against them. While it’s not as good as such similarly over-the-top shooter as Doom and the recently remastered version of Bulletstorm, it’s certainly better than Duke Nukem Forever. Which is why this middling sequel is both easy to embrace…and equally easy to dismiss.