Disclaimer: We were lucky enough to receive a copy for review purposes.
It has been a good few years for reboots and a good year in and of itself. The first chapter in the new Shadow Warrior series reviewed well but I honestly haven’t had the time to play it myself. Within minutes of starting the sequel I could tell I was going to have a good time with this new installment. There are throwbacks, upgrades and addons that you can probably expect to see in shooters these days and some you might not. But let’s not fuck around, we’ve got a lot of Wang to cover.
You’re greeted with a remix of The Touch by Stan Bush that’s playing over Lo Wang’s car radio during the opening cinematic. I’m honestly surprised this wasn’t done for the recent Transformers title but I’m also glad that a smaller studio was able to convince Stan to make a whole EP just for this game. With empowering tune in stride, you crash your car in only the most stylish way possible after being jumped by demons and stick a great landing immediately after.
The first thing I noticed once the cinematic ends is the player movement. It’s fantastic and responsive, centering around the dash mechanic. First and foremost it should be used to dodge but the lack of cooldown means you can make great time zipping through the levels on your way to the next objective. I can see this being a great tool for speedrunners should the game get picked up by that crowd. On top of the dash you’ve got a reasonable double jump as well. You can combine the two and cut out a lot of travel time if you’re in a hurry. Jump, dash mid air and jump again and you’ll find yourself on the other side of an area all of a sudden. The momentum carries over from the dash into the second jump which I love. I’ve seen some games where you’re reset to a default speed when you hit your second jump and it just bothers the shit out of me. It’s so good moving around that I would have actually enjoyed seeing some platforming in a first person shooter which is something I never thought I’d say. So many titles have tried and failed but these mechanics want me to see another attempt. I can understand why it wasn’t added in though as this game is pretty feature heavy already but it still seems like a wasted opportunity. Another downside is that it seems like most of the enemies don’t have anything to catch up to you with unless you’re just playing badly and/or don’t time your movements right. Even the stealthy ninjas don’t seem to move especially fast like I would have thought and their predator like invisibility doesn’t save them from a shotgun blast. There are a few types that actively teleport to your location when you’ve been backing away for too long however and they do make you think about how you need to engage each fight when the enemy pack has the right variety to it.
Most of the enemies have pretty basic attack patterns outside of the few bosses. What makes them dangerous is their elemental alignment which compounds the fact that their sheer numbers can be overwhelming as well. There are the usual suspects, fire, ice, lightning and poison but on top of dealing that type of damage, the enemies usually resist it as well. You’ll need to have a weapon of each element type later on in the game to avoid the situation where you just can’t kill something without wasting a huge amount of ammo on it and it’s likely that different enemies in the same pack will have different elemental weaknesses and resistances. SW2 allows you to deal different damage types by equipping the weapons you gather with upgrades that can change the element but also change the behaviour of the gun. For example a charge shot upgrade can be applied to a rocket launcher as well as a pistol. The time it takes to charge to full depends on the reload time of the weapon which is actually a clever way of balancing it. I did use the rocket charge add on for a little while but found myself getting anxious as it got close to the end of the charge. This usually meant I would get caught out by something jumping in too close and getting turned to paste thanks to the massive splash damage delivered by the pent up rocket.
The weapons are actually quite varied even before you’ve started to modify them. There’s meant to be 70 or so to find and they drop from chests or elite monsters as well as being purchasable from the 2 vendors in the central hub, their catalogue expanding as you progress. I only bought one or two in my playthrough and found the rest while still feeling spoilt for choice without collecting even 30. I would like to see one change made to the modification system though, some of the guns found later have implicit properties that make them very powerful with specific upgrades like extra chance to critically hit or built in elemental modifiers and these are really cool. I’d like to see a lot of the chaff cut out from the random upgrade drops and more of a focus on changing the way the weapon works once it’s modified instead of the focus on damage types and fiddling around with a shitload of tiny upgrades whilst waiting for a rarer, more powerful one.
I can see the idea behind the modification system, being to encourage you to have a weapon of each element to take care of the special enemies and there are some that are “physical immune” which basically means that if you’ve only applied damage upgrades to all your weapons without having damage conversion to an element or extra damage as an element, you aren’t going to be able to kill it. The good news is you can go straight into the inventory and make changes on the spot, the game will pause when you’re in single player. The bad news is the user interface for that menu is a bit lacklustre and sorting doesn’t seem to work the way I thought it would. You also get buried under upgrades on the second hardest difficulty which means the highest difficulty is probably a little worse again. I routinely sold all the upgrades that were common/white as they were typically single digit percentage changes. Ain’t nobody got time to screw around with those when you have the next rarity level coming just as frequently. Having said that I still did try to spend time min maxing my weapons and every now and then I’d stumble upon something really satisfying like the charge up rocket I mentioned before. The triple barrel shotgun that fires all barrels at once with the right modifiers is another good example.
Now melee weapons deserve their own little section, because holy shit these are fun. I cleared the first 2 or 3 story missions only using the starter sword and upgraded to a higher dps melee weapon as soon as I could because they’re just so satisfying. To their credit, the devs even made a chainsaw that puts DOOM (2016)’s version to absolute shame. It has a counter on it that displays how much you can use it but that number fills back up pretty quickly. On top of this you can hold down the secondary fire button and just hold it out while you run around. If you wiggle the mouse from side to side it angles the blade of the chainsaw in the direction you’re turning as well which cuts up what you’re attacking at the angle you hit them. The destruction physics are actually a lot of fun and the chainsaw and other melee weapons put them on display with the fantastic gibs that are let loose with each swing. My only gripe is that the small blades and swords don’t actually differ at all aside from their implicit properties and attack rates, it would have been nice for them to have different animations and special moves I think.
I played through on the “hard” difficulty but didn’t actually have too much trouble unless I was in an area that was just not movement friendly on top of being pinned down by too many beasties. The level design didn’t really cause this to happen too often but in general is a bit odd. The first level gave me the impression that the rest of the game would be quite linear, but this is definitely not the case. Basically this is a hub and spoke style game world. Between missions you’ll go back to the safe house and sell off the junk upgrades you’ve found and modify your new guns to take on what you will face next. There are quest/mission givers here who offer a variety of side distractions which net you new weapons, moves and passive upgrades so it’s a good idea to get as many done as you can but not necessary to finish the game at all. Where the missions take place after the opening one is, from what I can tell in 3 large themed maps.
There was something off about the maps that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at first. After a bit of reading I realised that they’re changed each time you jump in as well as the enemies and their placements. They seem to work like a level in Binding of Isaac. There are large pieces of the maps that are unchanged but they’re connected differently each time you load in for a mission. To be honest this feels like padding at times. There’s no reason given as to why this was done or even a thematic one in the story so I can’t really think of any other way to explain it. It does enhance replayabillity though so it’s not a totally negative thing. I can imagine the side missions would lose their lustre if you were to be going back to the same places that you had already cleared and it would be far easier to clear those areas on the second run through because you’d know what enemies are there and what damage types they’re weak to.
The bigger chunks of the levels that get randomised are actually quite pretty as well as the hub having some great details and effects throughout. I’ve got a 3 or 4 year old PC and it still runs the game without any frame drops but while it looks great a lot of the time your view will be obscured by fuck huge gun models and that’s with the field of view turned up to 90. It’s honestly surprising that there weren’t any slowdowns when there are so many objects floating around using the physics engine in game at the end of fights. A lot of things like tables and chairs in the city environment persist when they’re damaged as well as the various pieces of goon that have been cleaved or blown off which is a testament to the optimisation done for this game. The NPC models aren’t as consistently good as the environments however. I’m not sure why but it seems that humans get a pretty raw deal in this game. They have consistently less detail on the textures of their models in my opinion.
The soundtrack and sound in general is another great facet of this game. As mentioned earlier, Stan Bush lending his talents really drives home the cheesey action hero concept when it is needed most. There are other great pieces throughout the game as well, the songs that centre around a more traditional Japanese theme really hit the mark. There’s one in particular that reminds me so much of the intro to Ghost in the Shell from 1995, using similar Japanese choral work. I enjoyed the voice acting for the most part as well but some of the extras do sound a bit rushed and perhaps under practiced, for example the drug dealer you pressure information out of could have been played by any 20 year old guy off the street. A little bit of effort wouldn’t have killed him, surely. The weapons all sound quite good, with subtle extra effects added depending on the element of the weapon. The sub machine guns unfortunately are lacklustre all over so it’s best just to leave them be.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by a lot I found in this game. The mechanics are tight and rewarding, the ideas are fresh and the results are fun as hell. Not everything has the same level of polish but damn it, they tried really hard to make it all work and it shows. This game has heart and I’d like to see much bigger companies try half as hard as Flying Wild Hog.
The Good: Great theme, great mechanics, great music and great guns.
The Bad: A little too much garbage loot in what feels like an untested system, weird textures on humans and samey environments even with the randomisation.
Final Verdict: With tongue firmly planted in cheek, you are encouraged by everything you’re given to plant your sword in your enemy. Go forth and slay.