Recent reboots of beloved, overblown 90s action franchises have not, shall we say, gone very well. Enter Shadow Warrior, with a stated goal of bringing back the all the guns and all the blood of a no-cover shooter. Surprisingly, it's easy to play, and that makes it fun. I had a chance to play a beta build of the first four levels of the game. It had diverse, interesting environments with a variety of enemies and weapons - it was good looking, funny, and downright enjoyable. While some sections felt drawn out, and fights were occasionally repetitive, the game changed late 90s no-cover shooting sensibilities to the contemporary scene in a very fun way.
You're armed with a variety of weapons, magic, and a particularly deadly katana. The plot is this: you're corporate assassin Lo Wang on the hunt for an ancient katana before your boss, Orochi Zilla, gets mad at you for not delivering on time. That katana, sadly, happens to be wanted by ancient demons from another dimension. After teaming up with an outcast demon (like you do) and gaining magic powers, you go on a murderous cross-dimensional demon-killing spree after the sword.
Okay, so, it's not particularly inventive, but bear with me.
It is gleefully fun to fight in this game. You'll run into a room with a submachine gun in each hand, and when you empty your clip into an oncoming wave of enemies you'll swap rapidly to a katana. You'll unleash a blast of magic force to knock enemies down, then try and behead them once they hit the floor. After they're dead, you'll swap to your crossbow and put a bolt through an enemy spellcaster as you sprint towards his friends, then wind up another crossbow shot as you do a sideways slash into the last enemy and simultaneously lodge a bolt in its cranium.
As the fight ends, a rating pops up on screen - 1 to 5 stars - telling you how well you did based on speed, timing, and variety of your kills. While it wasn't always clear how to tell what went into your score, it was really fun to try and move quick enough to get a higher score. You get experience to upgrade your powers and abilities, as well, so there's a light character customization element, but nothing too detailed.
The best part is that you do that whole fight with about four keys. It's easy, as most controls are handled through simple double taps of your movement keys followed by a mouse click. Swordplay is as easy as pointing your cursor and moving in the right direction. Given how hectic the action is, it's nice to see a control scheme that works well for this type of gameplay. Controls are simple, fast, and accessible. No complicated combinations to remember.
The biggest danger, though, is that this game may fall into the same traps as Duke Nukem Forever. It could be horrible, with weird, out-of-sync gameplay and puerile humor that falls flat. So far, those pitfalls have been mostly avoided. The banter between the demon Hoji and Lo Wang is actually pretty witty most of the time. There are still plenty of eye roll worthy bad jokes and genitalia puns, but some of those are well timed. The occasional comedic one-liner falls completely flat, but it's likely that a lot of gamers will find those funny where some don't.
Overall, Shadow Warrior is shaping up to be a reboot of a game very few remember. If the game continues to improve before release then that won't be the case for long. This could very easily be a new Serious Sam for Devolver Digital, if they play their cards right.