Do you know those TV shows that have that one epic season before repeating the same formula over and over and ending on a whimper? Well, the video game version of that might just be Shadow Warrior 3, a gory quip-filled FPS with an Asian-fusion fantasy story that starts off cock-sure, before hitting its limit and trailing off into mediocrity by giving all the wrong features its attention.
It shouldn’t have been this way though, as the Doom-esque blasting and Deadpool-like humour combined with stunning environments that has you scaling mountains and cliff faces, running through bamboo forests and admiring Chinese/Japanese temples, starts the player off impressed and raring to go. Call me crazy, but after being whipped-up in a giddy euphoria from playing around with the dismembering swordplay, I was half expecting to be able to add SW3 to my list of favourite games of 2022.
What the befalls the game though is a linear structure that devours any chance for anything unique (bar killable rabbits that spawn bad guys with rabbit ears) as cutscenes, battles and grapple hook sections robotically repeat themselves without improving, making the gameplay incredibly predictable.
The gun/swordplay is relatively decent – allowing for bloodspurting goodness in any given moment – but the battlefields are often far too small and poorly-designed, forcing the action into a box unfit for purpose. This essentially means that when the game starts to overcrowd these small platforms with waves of enemies there are few ways to enjoy it. The only other real gameplay element, the grapple hook sections, are used to transport you from one battle to the next, but take up far too high a percentage of the gameplay and is seemingly artificially extended for inane character interactions.
Interestingly, the Shadow Warrior series has gotten shorter with each new entry – in this instance removing Multiplayer, New Game+, and all other extra features – which you’d assume would mean that the developer has been working away to perfect the formula – addition by subtraction, if you will. Unfortunately, SW3 actually ends up too streamlined, leaving only enough room for some average gory kills and the odd quick-witted comment. For some this will be enough, but it could have been so much better.
Helping you deal with the quick build-up of enemies are temporary – but admittedly hilarious – ‘finishing weapons’, which are removed from the body of the enemy and are used to unleash hell upon your foes – such as a blackhole, a homing eyeball that shoots lasers and a Gatling gun that shoots fireworks. Sadly, these seconds-long interjections are far too awesome for their own good, as they highlight the imbalance of your permanent weapons.
Furthermore, these super weapons expose the inability of the battle system to achieve anything impressive or requiring any kind of skill. A slow-motion feature could easily have been integrated to allow highlight-reel sword slashing with existing abilities such as the running dive along the ground and the chi-blast, but instead, and in another example of taking away any control and satisfaction from the player, it’s another of the prior-mentioned ‘finishing weapons’ that receives the benefit.
Sadly, this underutilized aspect is also true of the enemies who tend to camp in their area depending on which of the two attacks they’ve been given. If they have short range attacks they hang out inches from your face, if they have projectiles they’ll be a short distance away, but they rarely can do both. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that there are only two minor bosses that are particularly satisfying to defeat, as they don’t follow the same pattern as all the others. One, a Multi-Arm Swordsman, has both long and short range attacks and the other, a Jack-in-the-Box, simply laughs at you as it runs away while leaving suspended blades in the air.
There is a story here, one where the protagonist must team up with a former enemy to defeat a dragon that he accidentally unleashed upon the world, but the 5-hour long narrative largely considers one-liners to be its character building, until Lo Wang sees fit to save his incredibly boring ‘best friend’. This acts like a double-punch with both banal conversation and unnecessarily extended grapple hook sections making you wish for a speedy return to the monotonous blasting.
In deciding that ambition is the dragon that needs toppling, Shadow Warrior 3 is aggressively average, restricting its own potential with poor level design and underwhelming weapons and enemies. Quite how it manages to fluff its lines, despite having all the ingredients for success – humour, great visuals and Doom-lite gunplay – is frustrating, but if you are able to look past this, it does still provide an opportunity for you to switch off with some mindless entertainment in short spurts.