Back when I was a young child trying to survive the harsh heat of summers in south Georgia, one of the most exciting parts of my breaks were the days I spent at summer camp. It wasn’t the kind of camp one might think of from things like 1998’s The Parent Trap or 2005’s Psychonauts, where you would leave home for the entire summer to adventure in the wilderness. No, this was more of a daycare center for kids whose parents didn’t work any less despite the summer break. Most days at camp would be comprised of playing games at the rec center, eating lunch and snacks, playing handhelds in the corner, and often driving up the road to the community pool. But Wednesdays were the best days of the whole camp because Wednesdays were field trip days. The entire day would be a visit to a random water park, museum, movie theater, mini-golf course, bowling alley, or any other center of amusement within a 50 or so mile radius.

There is nothing groundbreaking about hitting up a go-cart course or going out to the local arcade, but compared to the mundanity of life in a small town, it is incredibly enthralling. And despite the excitement of those trips, they were all fleeting as we’d only stay there for 4-6 hours before being bussed back to the rec center and picked up to go home. Shadow Warrior 3 is like those field trips. It does nothing new and even takes elements from other games pretty shamelessly, but it blends them together to make a delightful ride. And it truly is a ride, not just because it’s more linear than even the original Shadow Warrior reboot title, but because it’s proportionally just as brief as an amusement ride it lasts roughly 6 hours, much shorter than most games like it.

But one thing I didn’t mention about summer camp is the other kids I would spend those days with. Sure, I had my small circle of friends I would hang out with, but since attendance wasn’t mandatory, their regular absences were replaced by other kids that were just…there. Sometimes, you meet a new friend this way, but often, you get stuck with a kid that doesn’t really have friends, and soon enough you discover that it’s because many find them annoying. Lo Wang, the protagonist of the Shadow Warrior series, is this somewhat annoying child, with so many memes, pop culture references, and puns to recite that he seemingly never runs out of them. He’s a friend that you’ll only be with for those few hours, but if his specific brand of humor isn’t to your liking, then you might ask your mom to let you stay home today. But if you can at least tolerate him, then you’ll be in for a treat that any fan of first-person shooters will at least appreciate if not outright love.

Shooting stuff feels GREAT.

So, as a shooter, how is the game exactly? Well, it’s basically a near-direct copy of Doom Eternal’s combat mechanics and Titanfall 2’s traversal mechanics and platforming. Doom Eternal’s biggest identifying trait was that enemies were as much of a resource as they were an infestation to irradicate. Whenever you ran low on health, ammo, or armor, Eternal gave you the tools to get them all back if you used your tools correctly. It emphasized this back and forth so much that it restricted your ammo so that you would always be in need of a refill, and therefore have to engage with these mechanics. Shadow Warrior 3 has almost this exact same rhythm, though slightly less punishing for one specific reason. Your glory kill equivalent, known here as finishers, not only isn’t dependent on staggering enemies but is also attached to a meter that can only be refiled from pickups in the arena or dropped by enemies. By the end of the game, you’ll have 3 finisher charges, but each enemy type takes a different number of charges. This makes it so you can’t just take all the mini-bosses off the field without consequence but also keeps you from using too many of the more powerful power-up weapons. Oh, and that’s the other thing that’s different from Doom. Finishers not only refill health but your graphic disembowelments of each enemy type will often leave you with some special weapon or ability to use on others as well. So, if you finish a normal fodder enemy, you get your health refill and get overhealed for about 90% of your original health bar. But finish any of the special enemies, you can get anything from a disco ball-like a grenade that wipes out anything caught in its radius to a massive drill that you can use to grind through a few enemies before running out of fuel.

Like Doom, you still have a weapon wheel with your expected arsenal of about a half dozen power weapons, bullet hoses, and headshot machines, including an excellent shotgun. You still get ammo and health pickups as well as creatively destructive hazards placed around arenas to collect and trigger. You still get your double jump, dash, and even a grappling hook to rapidly send you to the other side of an arena while catching your breath a bit. Plus, unlike the instant kill sword of Doom Ethernal, the katana of Shadow Warrior 3 is more like Doom’s chainsaw, as it is a reliable way to regain ammo for your projectile weapons when the pickups in the arena run dry. But the changes to finishers make combat less demanding and also give more opportunities to keep you in a position of overwhelming power. It doesn’t quite give you that feeling of being on the razor’s edge of death like Doom Eternal, but it does better contribute to the lighter tone and vibe of Shadow Warrior 3. You can even change the difficulty at any time consequence free, and even the incredibly easy trophy list is free of difficulty specific trophies.

Oh yea, this game is VIOLENT btw.

But when you’re not in the middle of a combat arena, you’re probably running to the next one. This is where the Titanfall 2 influence creeps in as the grappling hook, double jump, and dash I mentioned earlier are also accompanied by wall-running. You’ll be using these mechanics to sprint through often spectacular setpieces where the world will crumble and explode around you while you are bouncing between platforms and walls. These mechanics don’t have the same responsiveness as Titnafall, as attaching yourself to a wall or grapple point kinda locks you in place in a way that feels a bit stiff. But since you’re often sliding and flying through the air in such visually spectacular moments, you don’t really think about it too much. Plus, the traversal mechanics are never so stiff or clunky that they become frustrating, with a slight exception to one river rapid ride with a grapple hook point that is just a bit too far out of reach.

The last aspect of the game part of this video game is the progression systems, which are incredibly light. The game is aggressively linear, but every now and then, you can take a short alternate path for a character or weapon upgrade point. You can also collect these points through in-game challenges that track kills with certain weapons, health earned from finishers, and several more aspects. Each point can add upgrades to your weapons and Lo Wang himself, from ammo capacity upgrades and elemental damage like ice and electricity to permanent increases to maximum health and more effective explosive barrels. 

All of these upgrades are satisfying to use, especially when you upgrade the katana enough to give it elemental abilities. But this progression system leads to one of my biggest criticisms of this game: the narrowed scope. I am a massive fan of Shadow Warrior 2. I played the first title in this rebooted franchise and enjoyed it fine, but Shadow Warrior 2 is one of my favorite games of all time and I still consider it the best looter shooter of all time. But this new game is not a looter shooter at all, and that hurts a bit. It’s not quite a devastating change, however. This threequel is way more in line with the original reboot, so it’s not quite a betrayal of the series’ origins, but a return to them. This game is so short that having an in-depth loot system wouldn’t make much sense since the combat is way more straightforward, and the length and linearity also explain the lack of four-player coop from the last game as well. But that loot system in the second game was a truly unique aspect of the shooter and was a big reason I finally became a fan of the series. Swapping out those gems and seeing how they changed my base set of weapons made long-term progression more engaging because it wasn’t as linear as this new system. This new system always existed in some way, even in the first title, but the addition of the loot gave me a reason to keep playing that was stronger than even the narrative. But no matter how much I morn the death of that loot system, it’s not coming back, not in this game at least, and I honestly think it’s for the better. This game is designed around its linearity, and that’s clear from the increased production value this game has over its predecessors.

Grappling hooks always make a game better.

I played the entire game on my PS5 via the PS4 version of the game that launched, day & date, on PlayStation Now. And, despite my fears that the game would run at a lower framerate on the console, the game looks incredible. It maintained a full 60FPS the entire time, and it truly is a visual feast, and I’m not even playing it on PC with RTX features. Enemy designs are creatively grotesque and environments range from destroyed Japanese ruins to the literal entrails and organs of a giant dragon. And the art is as vibrant as it is loud. Even when it’s nighttime, your eyes are assaulted with a flurry of bright colors. The game would be beautiful by any metric, but as a shooter, the vibrancy can sometimes be an issue as the game is just so busy at a glance. There are often so many enemies on screen, and when the world your running through is just as vibrant as the enemies you shoot, it can sometimes be tough to identify what enemy is in front of you in a split second. This usually doesn’t detract from the experience, but I have hit the brink of death once or twice while my eyes were busy adjusting to the technicolor battlefield. I think the trade-off is worth it, as I would never ask for duller environments in exchange for slightly easier target acquisition. But what I would change are some of the aspects of the presentation.

I mentioned earlier that this game has higher production values than its’ predecessors and that is true. The original reboot rarely had humans on-screen to animate and had a simple art style,  yet it still had the shiny and kinda grey aesthetic of an early PS3 game despite being a PS4 launch title. The sequel looked way more impressive in comparison, and a bit more colorful, but its stiff character models and plainly directed cutscenes still gave the game a cheapness that the gameplay and deep progression systems did their best to mask. Shadow Warrior 3 is the closest this series has come to matching the fidelity of contemporary shooters like Rage 2 and Metro Exodus. During gameplay, bugs and graphical glitches are so rare that I can only recall the grappling hook issue I mentioned earlier. But Shadow Warrior 3’s cutscenes are bursting with personality this time around. Direction is so much more lively, and the camera follows Lo Wang and the rest of the cast through some really fun scenarios. In fact, while it’s not quite on the same level, the direction of its cutscenes has an energy similar to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. But the one flaw with the cutscenes is a near-fatal one, very awkward lipsyncing. Most cutscenes move so fast that you never really notice how characters’ mouths move, but in pure dialogue scenes, you can clearly see moments when their mouths don’t match up to what they’re saying. The aforementioned Metro series sufferers from this a bit as well, which makes sense as both are made by developers in non-English speaking countries. But even though Flying Wild Hog is located in Poland, the fact that lipsyncing is off is still something that keeps the game from rising to its AAA aspirations and keeps it firmly in the AA realm.

Look how gorgeous that landscape is!

But, what are those lips saying? Well, like that segway, the story and dialogue are potentially a bit cringe-worthy. This game is utterly ridiculous, and it knows it, so it makes no attempt to be grounded or anything but silly at all times. The plot itself, which has Lo Wang and friends trying to take down a massive dragon that brought upon the apocalypse at the end of the last game, is preposterous, but simple. There isn’t a range of emotions that you’ll feel outside of excitement during the action and delight when a joke hits. And while there are some twists, none of them are all that surprising nor make the core plot linger in your head at all. The lack of complexity in the story makes the humor stand front and center. And that humor is potentially what could make the game most divisive.

The previous games in the franchise had some aspects of its humor based on racial stereotypes, primarily with the heavily broken English that Lo Wang used to speak with. It was a lazy stereotype to portray and it would be especially distasteful to bring forward to modern times. Lo Wang still does have an accent (despite the new voice actor), and his name is still a dick joke, but the story and characters never once seem to point either of those aspects out nor use them as the butt of a joke. Take this with a grain of salt, because I’m just a black dude writing about a culture I know little about firsthand, but the humor here seems to come more from the goofy personalities of the cast than anything about their ethnic backgrounds. However this time, Wang isn’t characterized as a selfish, yet goofy, asshole, but as a nieve, yet goofy, dumbass. Like that anonymous childhood acquaintance I used as a metaphor earlier, Lo Wang is the catalyst for the rapid-fire feeling of this game’s humor. There are some legitimately great jokes sprinkled throughout Lo Wang’s near-constant commentary during gameplay, but that’s a low success rate due to the number of them he makes. While platforming sections between combat arenas are home to radio-style conversations with side characters, combat itself is filled with random one-liners from Wang that seem to come out every 30 seconds or so. Now, I fully understand if that’s too much for anyone, even if the game is only about six hours long. But for me, enough of the jokes hit and the ones that didn’t easily fell into the background while I was focusing on the intense combat. I mean hell, despite characterizing Wang as an annoying child full of memes and movie quotes, he and I do both have similar types of humor. I, too, often make puns and pop culture references, with a handful of actual, structured jokes sprinkled in from time to time. The main difference between us is that I know how to shut up, despite the length of this review proving otherwise. Nonetheless, Wang’s willingness to be absolutely corny is a trait that I not only admire but share.

Wait, this isn’t from the game…OH WAIT

I’ve aired pretty much all of my grievances for Shadow Warrior 3, but at the end of the day, I do still feel like the game is more than solid. Despite being more enamored with its earlier iteration, I can recognize that this game is the most fully realized version of Shadow Warrior’s core tone and gameplay structures to date. By trimming the fat of its open levels and loot system from the last game, this one refines its combat rhythms, expands on its traversal mechanics, and focuses on polish and style to more effectively give the game a stronger identity. The folks at Flying Wild Hog took advantage of that more narrow scope to make all of those improvements and, while it still certainly isn’t for everyone, this does feel like an important refocusing of the franchise for a brauder audence. It’s a bit of a risk, but I think it’s worth it and clearly didn’t result in a bad game. So, if you miss the gameplay rhythms of Doom Eternal, but would like slightly less of a challenge, give this a shot. If you want a brief thrill ride between the epics of Horizon: Forbidden West and Elden Ring, give this a shot. And especially if you have PlayStation Now, check this game out. I’d say you won’t regret it, but it’s so brief, that any minor regrets you might have had will melt away or be overwhelmed by the fun you’re having.

Final Score:

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