Within Shadow Warrior 3’s opening minutes, protagonist Lo Wang stands in dirtied underwear, screaming profanities at a massive dragon outside his window. This comedic introduction sets the stage for a lighthearted and breezy approach to storytelling and combat – both satisfying in over-the-top ways while coming up a little short in scope and variety.
No matter what is happening on screen, developer Flying Wild Hog almost always goes for the cheap laugh. Zany pop culture references, a near endless stream of lines like “I think I just peed a little” when barely making a jump, and jokes about human body parts are delivered like they are going out of style. Some hit in comedic ways, but most don’t, yet there’s a charm to these swings and misses that work in Shadow Warrior 3’s favor – it’s almost funnier when the humor is terrible.
After putting some clothes on and hatching a plan to use dark magic to kill the dragon, Wang shows us he’s no slouch on the battlefield. Given his move set and overly violent approach to killing, he looks like the understudy of Doom’s Slayer – a strange and mouthy version of him who is a blast to control. He doesn’t stop moving once combat begins, lighting up demons of all sizes with a rattle of machine guns, a flurry of swords, and even using their own weapons against them. If Wang pauses for a brief second, the enemy will likely kill him quickly. Thankfully, the vertically-designed arenas work in his favor, with traversal lines and escape routes liberally littered throughout to create separation from the swarms. With a small yet balanced selection of armaments, chaining together kills can be a lot of fun, especially when adding in the nicely designed environmental maneuvers of double jumping, wall running, grappling, and dashing. Some arenas even do the fighting for you, such as spinning sawblade traps that can be activated from afar to chop up foes. All told, the combat flow feels nice and makes you feel powerful.
This run-and-gun action is not for the faint of heart, however: Demons pop like zits to the shotgun, intestines soar through the air like party streamers after sword slashes, and every explosion turns an enemy into a bloody mess. When Wang racks up enough carnage, he can direct a finishing move to one enemy. Just like Doom, the action pauses for a gory fatality, like ripping off a giant’s arm and using it as a hammer or tearing off someone’s head and squishing it to juice. The carnage is a bit much, and seeing the identical death sequences frequently grows tiring, but some moments bring about humor – more of that is desperately needed to change things up.
After an hour of play, Wang says, “Chopping demons to pieces is the one thing I can’t ever get tired of,” and it’s not meant to be sarcastic, but comes across that way given just how frequently the same conflicts erupt. Flying Wild Hog tries to inject variety into the battles with new enemy types in each zone, but relies too heavily on the same grunts, which pose little threat and end up stealing excitement from almost every battle.
Platforming sequences usually occur after most encounters, but rarely last more than a few seconds and don’t do much for the player, other than give you a chance to catch your breath before the next brawl. This is a shame as the motions are quite good, yet the action rarely shows how exciting they can be. The best diversions are a harrowing rooftop ascent, and a set-piece moment in which Wang chases a tanuki through a cavern – a moment lasting long enough to give the platforming meaning in a goofy way.
When moving between areas, the player is encouraged to keep an eye out for hidden upgrades that can enhance Wang’s weapons and base attributes in significant ways (like headshots triggering explosions), but a good number of these items are found on the critical path or are earned as rewards for completing challenges. Sadly, the game doesn’t let you revisit past levels to collect perks you may have missed.
Shadow Warrior 3 rushes along with zaniness and gore dispensed in loads, and that combo is oddly satisfying. It feels different, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is wildly aggressive in how much it wants to make you laugh. I appreciate this approach and had a good time with this game, despite how often it hits the same gameplay and humor notes. When most major releases these days are 100-hour juggernauts, Shadow Warrior 3’s five-hour playthrough is a nice alternative and is worth a look. Just be prepared to groan frequently and be oddly amused by those groans.