Titan Souls – Review

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We covered the mechanics of Titan Souls and the history of its conception in our preview back in March. At that point, we were able to play the introductory levels and get a feel for the art style in the game, the simplicity in its controls and also a great sense of the inspirations behind it. This was also the demo that was released to play so you have all probably played it by now.

A brief reminder, Titan Souls is an independent game by new studio Acidnerve, a collection of three programmers who rose to the challenge Ludum Dare game jam with the theme “You Only Get One.” As such both you, and the bosses have only one hit. You must attack and kill a series of different bosses across the world using your one and only weapon – A bow and arrow. Keeping with the theme, you only get one arrow, which can be magically recalled back to you or you can pick it up. One you’ve tackled a Titan, you earn his soul through some awesome floating spirit absorption.

tsr2Now I’ve played the whole thing, I’ve accrued over 200 deaths in the mission to collect all of the Titan Souls and there are things I love and things that frustrate me. But firstly, a few disclaimers:

Whilst I possess a working knowledge of games like Shadow of the Colossus, I haven’t actually played the game. The game will of course feel like Shadow of the Colossus at times because it’s inspired by it, but I cannot make those connections like other reviews have. I was also playing this on a Mac with a PS4 controller. There were also things that irritated me that I couldn’t put my finger on until I saw a YouTuber play it and nail exactly what I was thinking so credit will be due.

We’ve covered the control method quite extensively in that there are three controls that all work very well and are suitably challenging to the boss battles. I have to say that the PS4 controller feels pretty natural but I also kept using different buttons for my arrow because I could. I’d have quite like a singular trigger button for the arrow so I always knew where it was. But that’s probably more due to my calamitous fingers failing to hold the PS4 pad between multiple deaths.

Death is something that obviously occurs often and as such, re-spawning also occurs often but rather frustratingly distant from the battle you just had. This is something that YouTuber PyroPuncher pointed out in his playthrough and I completely agree. The sizes of the areas are pretty huge and it can take a while to get back to the boss. I mean, yes it’s only about 10-20 seconds but when you are in the zone and building up a rhythm of playing and fighting, even that gap can remove you from it.

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The size of the world is something that I’m a tiny bit critical of. I love it for reasons that I will come on to but sometimes it can be quite empty and long especially if you’ve already explored and want to have a change of pace between areas. It can take a long time and sometimes the world feels like it could have done with a little more refinement. There are some gorgeous chasms and excellent abandoned ruins littered across the lands but sometimes you do get to bits with repetitive rock textures and you just wonder what else would have looked really cool there. With that you then get the issue of the lack of direction. Nothing is telling you what to do or where to go. This is, for me, an excellent thing for such a small game because you end up discovering things as if you were discovering them in reality. But I know that some people would have loved a map, or a little arrow pointing you in a general area and that so much unfettered freedom can irk gamers that just want to get on with it.

On the flip side, the massive world does two things: 1) It looks absolutely beautiful. Titan Souls have five areas or biomes if you will. You have your beginning ancient civilization ruin, you then get a fantastically expansive plaza of that civilization, with a few buildings still standing for Titan’s but everywhere else succumbed to entropy and overgrowth. You have a firey chasm, an underworld of lava and volcanic rock, which also seems to have been conquered by the previous occupants. You have a mystical forest that is bent on confusing your sense of direction and you have my favourite, the magnificent snow biome with glaciers, big snow boulders, bridges over gaping chasms and the occasional torch flame that burns longer than the life that used it. All of this is beautifully realised in the 16-bit art style and, save using photorealism and AAA RPG graphics, it is the prefect style for the game and for the atheistic it conveys. We’ve mentioned the links to Pokemon, Zelda and others in our preview and it does take inspiration from all the best parts of those franchise’s world designs.

2) It is chillingly empty. Games like this are exquisitely designed in a conservative way. It’s not minimalist or lazy but it is purposefully and effectively constructed to evoke the sense of lonliness. It is stark to the point of melancholy, reflecting those that have died before you in their attempt to take the souls and that have left nothing. There are points that, as I’ve said, could be refined to make the gameplay a little bit more of a smoother experience but overall it projects the immortality that guards the world exactly for what it is… A curse.

One thing that really helps this lonliness is the music, which is quite simply wonderful. It is strict in its usage, hyping up for battles with added distorted guitar and rhythmic beats. But for the rest of the map it can be very stark but evocative when it hits. A gust of wind blows and a sad flute melody plays. It reminds me a lot of some of the more solitary moments of The Wind Waker, but it is gorgeous with its Asian inspired sounds and instruments. I highly recommend that you check out Devolver Digital’s SoundCloud page anyway but you’ll find some of Titan Souls music there.

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Then there are the Titans themselves. Some range from the incredibly to the absolutely crazy. They all have proper names, unlike the “Heart-Glob” I dubbed previously, but they also have a very unique personality. Everything from the Treasure Chest that is “Avarice – The Manifestation of Greed” to the rolling ball of lava that is “Rol-Qayin – The Forged Creation of Gol-Qayin” is beautifully realised and enjoyably independent of other Titans in looks and strategy. Yes you’ll get annoyed with many deaths but that does not dampen the enjoyment.

However, you get the feeling that something isn’t right with what you are doing. It isn’t anywhere near what Shadow of the Colossus does in the destruction of beauty but there is something that feels like a trap. Like theses were all once adventurers like yourself and you’re killing something ancient and beautiful. There is one particular Titan that I didn’t want to kill. It is not often that games do this but this certain part of the game made me very sad. Not to the level of sad that I got when Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons began to reach its climax but it made me question everything I was doing in the game and why.

This to me is the greatest achievement of Titan Souls because it has absolutely no right to make you feel that way. There’s no story laid on for you to discover. You only get the indecipherable text for each Titan. You don’t know the reason why your character is doing it. But you don’t really care because its an independent game without the big budget, it looks quaint and it doesn’t cost a lot so it’ll be a challenging little thing to play. Then the game hits you like that and you realise that whilst this was originally a game made overnight by three incredibly talented individuals, it definitely transcends its origin story to become a very personal game to you.

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Titan Souls is an amazing product of a few things that make gaming great. It has that wonderful element of fantasy and interactive quality that no other medium can give in making you feel alone in a big dangerous world. It showcases what talent this country has in programming and what people can do in such a small amount of time. But mostly, it is an enjoyable game with simple controls and an interesting challenge to players and people like me who overthink about things.

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– Wonderful bosses with excellent unique designs/personalities

– Gripping musical cues and brilliant atmosphere

– The art and world design is expertly crafted to be evocative

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– Distances between bosses and repsawning points can be a bit long

– World is sometimes too big, especially if you’re exploring.

– Lack of direction may frustrate some.

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I rate any game that can cut through my steely hardened shell of emotion that 31 years of being alive, being a gamer and being a creative person who is unafraid to share his work, has built up. The game is a beautifully solitary experience that provides enough of a challenge despite its simple premise and controls, its music is perfect for the art style and the loneliness the game brings to your character and there is a point that it cut through me right to the little bit of phantom sad muscle just above your diaphragm. It may be a bit hard for some but its so easily accessible and endearing, so stick with it.

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Hotline Miami 2 Wrong Number – Review

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Hotline Miami 2 follows on from the enormously successful indie game Hotline Miami. For those of you that have probably seen but not played it before, allow me to enlighten you as to the status quo. Hotline Miami is a 2D top down shooter that is played at a frenetic and unforgiving pace. The style, which takes an eclectic look at the 80s through the eyes of an unnamed man (known by the community as Jacket and is inspired by the movie Drive), is a colourful and vibrant psychedelic mind explosion that is beautifully married with extremely prejudicial violence and an amazing electronica-fused soundtrack.

[Where everybody knows your name... Or mask, rather.]

[Where everybody knows your name… Or mask, rather.]

It was quite simply marvellous and extremely difficult and frustrating all at the same time. Hotline Miami 2 sets itself to conclude the story of the first game, a story that was a strange mix of imaginary and forced coercion into violent acts by the mob, and delivered by a narrator that was so unreliable, he’d probably get a job as Middle-East peace envoy. In a series of flashbacks and fast-forwards, which are beautifully realised by some excellent old VHS tape and tracking effects, Hotline Miami 2 gives you the before and the after of the first game, putting in to perspective the events that caused the extreme violence that’s tricky but enjoyable.

Whilst this is an excellent mechanic of course and the story actually tells you very little of what is actually going on (which might frustrate those of you looking for closure), it’s the constant jarring between different times and characters that will sit most uncomfortably for those used to a more linear experience. It possibly could have done well to have these flashbacks in their own chapters with the book-writing journalist bridging the narrative gaps. But as a criticism of the method in the game, it can lose you, especially if you spend a while on a tricky level and suddenly get thrown into unexplained mid-80s Hawaii with a covert military unit taking out rebels.

In fact at times in these levels the game becomes quite nostalgic for the older gamer. It’s less “Honolulu Strangler” and more “Operation Wolf.” Remember that arcade game? That big heavy plastic gun controller with moving parts that was always five times the size of your hands, whatever age you were? The comparisons don’t stop there. Where the first game echoed the inspiration of Drive, Hotline Miami 2 throws in the crime and decadence of Scarface, echoes of Platoon and Apocalypse Now in military thrillers, and a very unique look at societies fascination for physical and sexual violence in film and how it can blur reality. You are still left with questions and guesses to the real reasons of what’s going on, despite the political power plays happening in the background and the shared psychosis of the chicken mask. If this is the last one then the story is open ended enough to leave you wanting more.

[Shopping on Black Friday always ended badly.]

[Shopping on Black Friday always ended badly.]

The gameplay however isn’t as good as everything else going on around it. Playing on a controller is difficult but once you get in to it, it’s easy to use. Thankfully that responsive challenging control method and crazy pace hasn’t changed at all, but everything around it is a bit trickier than before. Which would be great if it feels like an intention of the game, but it feels a bit annoying, like the game has just copied the AI across form the first game without improving on it. Most annoying is when there are many enemies off-screen that kill you very readily.

The controls to scan around the area are also fairly short in their stretch and there are several instances where the pathing of the enemies, especially dogs, gets caught up on something and starts spinning around. The new enemies that involve a bit more of a challenge are great but almost impossible when surrounded by more than one person with a gun. Sometimes the enemies feel a bit too awkward in their positions and dogs can be especially tricky if your timing is even a beat of a millionth of a second off when hitting the button.

Although your new characters can do cool things like stretching their arms to shoot horizontally in both directions, control a chainsaw and a gun at the same time, and barrel roll out of the way of fire, it’s the lack of the weapons and masks from the first game that sadly take away some of the replayability of the game. The level designs are good but ultimately don’t feel any different from the first. I personally would have loved more interactive things around the areas and the houses in the level introductions. They are there as newspaper cuttings, but a few more and maybe some more humorous spots could have bumped this further than being sequel that doesn’t change it up too much.

[For the stars of DuckTales, early fame led to a bad crowd.]

[For the stars of DuckTales, early fame led to a bad crowd.]

With that being said, for the negative aspects of how the game hasn’t grown or changed, it has a butt load of things that it’s absolutely excelled at. If you follow any games writer, PR person or general gaming related avatar on Twitter, you’ll know the Hotline Miami soundtrack is required Friday listening. Well, we’re adding another playlist to the Friday sounds. Hotline Miami 2’s soundtrack is not only longer, but also better and amazingly posited to the levels they are on. It’s actually a bit of an artistic masterwork when you see how seamless it is and how much the music keeps you in the game during the frustrating constant respawns.

The retro look at the 80s is also fantastic from video tracking and VCR sub menus when you pause the game, to the excellent use of Video Nasty cassette tapes as the level selections and the video rewinding effects to instigate flashbacks. It’s not style over substance by any means but the style is a key part of what makes Hotline Miami 2 a great game and as great as first one.

Hotline Miami 2 is once again an incredible ode-to-violence that will divide players between those who see it as a challenge, those who see it as masochistic, those who just love the look and sound of it and those who don’t have a damn clue what’s going on. There are some criticisms of the violence it portrays and that the sexual violence in the beginning is gratuitous and unnecessary. Which it is and the fact you can turn it off is an admission of that. The game hasn’t leapt on from the first and in some cases has taken stuff away that we would have loved. But what the game does best is put an incredible pop-culture visual over challenging levels that will dictate your Spotify playlists for many years. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I can hear my phone going off.

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Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has fulfilled everything we expected and asked for in a sequel, which was “more of the same, please”. More music, more 80s style, more challenging shooty fun. But we probably didn’t realise that we’d have liked a bit more refinement, maybe a bit of cohesion between flashback sequences and bit more of an improvement in the AI. But you don’t get what you don’t ask for, right?

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  • Super awesome soundtrack
  • The conclusion and background to an intriguing story
  • More of the same from the first game

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  • Hasn’t changed enough, and removed some masked fun
  • Regular death from enemies outside of all vision
  • Narrative can be jarring in flashbacks

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[tab title=”Why an 8?”]

There’s a great game here, and a game that when you look past the amazing soundtrack that we love, the visual style that we applaud and the unreliable narrative we all discuss, could have been better. Little things like the enemy AI, being shot from off screen too often and a lack of improvement in that area of the game holds it back a bit. But it is still a great game and terrific value.

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This review was based on the PS4 version of the game.

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Not a Hero – Hands On Preview

NOAFT

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Not a Hero will have a lot of attention coming its way. Developer Roll7 won a BAFTA for their skateboard game OlliOlli and their platform shooter is equally as addictive.

The game may hark back to the days of classic platformer design, things you’d likely see from a Spectrum, Commodore and occasionally 16-Bit consoles. But the look is very much of the 80s vibe. From the days when gaming’s limited colour palette meant bright and fun level designs.

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[Bunnylord is not afraid to get his paws dirty.]

The premise is intriguing and continuously funny (I’ll explain that statement later). The idea is that the not-so-evil visionary, Bunnylord, has decided to go back in time to become Mayor. Mostly because the world got in to such a state in the future that only he could change it by going back to the past. When he is there, he hires a group of mercenaries to eliminate those opposing his leadership. You are those mercenaries.

You’re not technically the bad guys though because Bunnylord is right and although his methods might be one you’d attribute to an evil megalomaniac, you are in fact cleaning up the town. And if you’ve played OlliOlli or any other Roll7 game, you’ll know that it’s something you’ll be doing at a frenetic pace that requires precision timing. Not a Hero does this perfectly with gameplay that’s reminiscent of the best shooting platformers of the 8-bit and 16-Bit age like Robocop Vs Terminator or that decent Batman game. You have very simple options but it’s the timing that makes it work. You can shoot, which is the easiest thing, get in to cover and shoot, fly through a door and tackle enemies or execute them.

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[Someone took the Blue Pill, we see.]

Instead of the awkward, or should we say challenging, control methods of other violent games like Hotline Miami, Not a Hero is incredibly easy because it operates with only one or two buttons, and very rarely are they operated at the same time. Like OlliOlli, the time that you hit the button and the moments you choose to pop out of cover, or jump out of a building is more important than the shooting itself. Scenes of buildings with a slightly isometric front on view give a great indication of what’s around you as well as an interesting city landscape dominated by “Bunnylord for Mayor” signs. He’s not evil, he’s cute…

Until he starts speak to one of your nine characters that is. This is where the game is continuously funny and incredibly sweary. A lot of people have put a big importance on procedural generation within games, however that’s been limited to the gameplay and the levels. Just check Steam Early Access or Kickstarter and you’ll see that procedural generation is now massively prevalent. Not a Hero has put some procedural generation in the speech rather than the levels, or at least you could say some randomisation. What happens is certain key words are replaced and changed when Bunnylord is talking to you and given you orders, leading to often hilarious and new passages of dialogue every time you play. It gives a new lease of life around the game repeatedly, especially when the levels are so gosh darn replayable.

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[It’s important to utilise cover against the gangs you’re cleaning up. You know, so you don’t die?]

We are introduced to the world when Steve, a former assassin, gets involved with “mayoral candidate from the future” Bunnylord, and becomes his campaign manager. Then begins the slanted 2D, or 2 and one quarter ISO-Slant technology as Roll7 call it, craziness of the cover-shooter… Which actually isn’t limited to shooting. Samuari swords, kick ass Tarantino-esque moments, jumping out of 5 story windows directly in to a van (which was a very enjoyable part of the demo we played) and a various cacophony of comedic 8-bit violence. The missions themselves are normally a fixed objective but you do get, much like in OlliOlli, a list of secondary things that you can accomplish in the level. Things like 3 executions slide tackle 5 enemies, that kind of thing. And these are occasionally randomised as well so that brings another new level of challenges to the game.

In our play through with Cletus, our shotgun gave us some great range. Being able to shoot through doors and enter a room straight in to cover like a violent pixilated ballet gave us great hope for the rest of the game. The characters all have their own weapons and unique personalities and I’m not sure there’s a better, non-evil, humanitarian potential candidate for government than Bunnylord in all of existence. I kind of hope he hijacks our actual national election and given the pictures on the official website I don’t think he’s beyond that, especially as the release date on Steam (PC) is May 7th… Election day. Coincidence? I think not. Whoever becomes mayor, the PS4 and PS Vita will see a release later in the year.

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Titan Souls – Hands On Preview

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Titan Souls is a very interesting game by three man team Acid Nerve and is being published by Devolver Digital. What started originally as a game jam project between friends has grown up somewhat and will make its debut on PC, PS Vita and PS4 in April. The premise is simple. Boss battles. The game is a series of boss battles against you, your spritey little adventurer. There’s the added bonus that you don’t have to do much either as all of the bosses have one hit point/health point. So one shot and they are dead! Excellent.

["No Salesmen Please"... Phew!]

[“No Salesmen Please”… Phew!]

The problem with this is that you only have one hit point too. So one shot and you’re dead, although you respawn outside the boss battle room to try again. It’s made slightly harder by the fact you only have one weapon, an arrow. You can charge up your shot to fire from distance and POW! Except you only have the one arrow so you have to go and get it back or press the recall button to magically pull it back to you.

The art of boss battles is one thing that hasn’t been lost in gaming. By that I mean that, unless you play everything on such an easy level you could accidentally sneeze and hit the shoot button in something’s face, you have to study, learn and adapt to beat a boss within a game. It’s one of the things that stories are made of, how you defeated the boss, how you did it differently, how quick you did it. Boss battles are a narrative part of the gaming experience.

Titan Souls is no different. Each boss is unique and you have to adapt your approach for each one. For example, a boss with a heart in a load of slime globules will divide into more globules and that makes for a tricky area to move around in. Some bosses need to have a bit of puzzle solving applied before you strike. It’s these little nuances in boss battles that makes Titan Souls quite enjoyable.

["Follow me, I'll take you back to your FarCry 4 DLC!"]

[“Follow me, I’ll take you back to your FarCry 4 DLC!”]

One hit point and one shot may sound masochistic but the sense of achievement for beating a boss in that way is a very rewarding feeling. It’s made even better when you’ve worked out a plan and pulled it off. Or even if you surprise yourself, like I did, by accidentally killing a boss with the arrow as it was being recalled and the boss was in the line of sight. And from this you’ll absorb that bosses soul, much in the way video game characters have absorbed spinning etherial particles and exploded ever since the movie Highlander’s Connor MacLeod said “There can be only one!”*

*Disclaimer: Sean may or may not have said this rather loudly while playing.

Titan Souls is also very well put together visually. The 16-bit inspired RPG look is pretty but also uncluttered. It doesn’t detract at all from the game, the battles or anything, yet it’s atheistically pleasing. You might feel it’s more of a Pokemon style look rather than an old top down RPG one, but the actual surroundings feel more like a Lara Croft-eqsue forgotten temple to these behemoth bosses. Vines and waterfalls over stone and tribal architecture, along with murals and ‘open sesame’ doors.

The bosses as well are all incredibly individual and look great, really putting the imagination to work in the artistic approach of the game. I faced the aforementioned Heart-Glob (if it doesn’t have a name yet then I’m coining that one), a laser cube that’s adorned like the Hellraiser puzzle box and a frozen pink thing stuck in a seemingly impenetrable ice cube. There’s 18 in all and you don’t need to kill all of them to complete the game so you can approach it however you want. The best thing is that you can’t even predict the bosses when you first play. They are all so different in look, style and attack that there’s a certain excitement at what you’re going to find next.

[The Return of Audrey II]

[The Return of Audrey II]

It’s a game that has a simple premise and a simple look (which is actually very hard to pull off). The gameplay itself is challenging and something that makes you think about how you approach a situation or a battle. Not just in the tactical sense but also how you react to your plan going south, as all plans normally do. It will certainly be one of those games where you have to beat everything just to feel like you’ve accomplished something, especially as it’s a game that’s happy to kill you repeatedly for your troubles.

The PS4 and PS Vita is getting this game along with PC but it has to be said that it really does suit the controller with its simple aim, shoot and dodge mechanics. It puts itself very nicely in to your hands. It may not keep you busy for a long time, but it has a lovely look, and an interesting charm to the idea of boss battles. It kind of makes you a little nostalgic to the way boss battles used to be in platform games, and how rewarding they were before a singular omnipresent antagonist. Enjoy it when it comes as it’s a nice example of a gaming staple being given a new and interesting life.

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Shadow Warrior – Review

shadowwrft

Shadow Warrior is of a different time and a different age. Yet it comes to us with the sheen and veneer of a new game. But it’s not just the license that makes this game ancient. Released last year on PC and given the next-generation port treatment, the now barely acceptable racial tropes of the mid 90s 3D Realms shooter/slasher got a modernization and is all the better for it.

Unlike the last attempt for a 3D Realms reboot, the ill received Duke Nukem Forever, Devolver Digital and Flying Wild Hog games have struck a fairly good chord, one that ultimately suits Devolver quite well given their back catalogue. The efforts that have been made to separate this game from the more unsavoury parts of its past are excellent, but somehow its past has still dictated how the game works in some areas and sadly spoils at times an incredible effort.

The story of this game wouldn’t be out of place in the plays of Sophocles and Euripides. It’s a Greek tragedy in so much that whilst the playing end revolves around you, the mortal in flesh but immortal in ego Lo Wang, and your demon compatriot Hoji, the story behind it – the Shadow Realm’s immortals specifically –  has all the hallmarks of a family encountering tragedy through lust and power with a resolution that can only be revenge. It’s story telling is so ancient that it cannot help but be entertaining and gripping as it goes on. Not that it’s anywhere near original or that the parts of the story that unfold while you are playing are anywhere near as entertaining. But the back story and the animations that accompany them are excellently produced and let on enough of the truth behind Hoji’s words and the memories that the Whisperers are tied to. It does this at the right times and drop feeds you enough to make sure you get the right amount of emotional connection at the correct point in the story. It’s very cleverly done.

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The voice acting isn’t too shabby either, especially with the potential of Kung-Fu lampooning that is at every turn. Where Wolfenstein: The New Order (which came out after Shadow Warrior’s original release) didn’t shy from its roots and managed to provide occasionally humorous turns in its dialogue and sound bytes, Shadow Warrior does the same, although it cannot escape its puerile past at times. Wang’s ego is so astonishingly adolescent at points that it kind of gets old quite quickly. Thankfully the game realizes this and tones him down as it goes on. But you can still find the mid 90s humour you’re looking for in the fortune cookies scattered around the levels, if you’re that way inclined. My personal favourite being the “404: Fortune not found”, but there are some of them which keep reverting the game back to its roots and sadly, its out-of-date humour. The sound design is also slightly weak at times, occasionally dropping out dialogue and having too many weapons and explosion noises going on at once to make sense of the cacophony you’re presented with. The music is great but after several hours playing the same three tracks it gets a bit old (although kudos on the death bunny heavy metal music). At one point I was going up a bamboo scaffolding with heavy cloth underfoot and I was getting the sound of walking on metal.

For everything this game does excellently, there’s a hangover to the original game that keeps it firmly locked in the past. The game looks beautiful. At times the scenery is stunning. We said in the preview that the bright colours and high resolution make for an excellent experience and they certainly do. This is definitely a visual treat at times, especially as you head towards the lighting and the scenery in the end of the game, although incredibly graphic in battle. This has been at the cost of performance though as the more enemies approach and the more effects/explosions/gore happens, the bigger the frame rate drop is. In fact at times it feels incredibly last generation due to the lag you get in the game from the loss of frames and as the difficulty goes up, so does your frustration. It’s the only thing that really makes you realise you’re playing a port of the game rather than something designed for the next generation console. The enemies themselves are quite well designed and have some interesting dynamics to them but the game again holds too close to its roots in its design. As the game goes on, instead of upping the difficulty or the challenge, the game makes progression more difficult by throwing more and more enemies at you at once, in more and more extremes. The levels themselves and the game becomes slightly too long because the enemy gameplay becomes a bit repetitive due to this and the sense that you are trapped in an endless cycle of the same corridors and doors can lead to very aggravating déjà vu. I’ve been to Japan and I’m pretty sure that everywhere I went wasn’t decked out in the Ikea-esque black painted wood cabinets that seem to be everywhere in Shadow Warrior, whether you’re at the docks, underground, in a oil tanker or traversing through a cemetery. Another hangover from the older styles of level design maybe?

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I did sometimes wonder whether this was just laziness on the part of the games development as the guns in the game and the leveling system is excellent. You unlock more guns as you go and the money you find on the way will help you upgrade them into quite the potent and enjoyable arsenal, much like Wolfenstein does. The ammo is readily found and the many options that you can use to take on a battle does give you some more freedom than most shooters would in how tackle a situation. The level design in that regard is very good as it gives you, for the most part, spaces to hide, things to blow up, and many secrets to be found that will aid your upgrading of skills. There are two skill upgrades, one that requires a Ki crystal which most levels have one or two, and karma which upgrades your usable skills like healing, special katana moves and protection buffs. This is all accessed via the controller and yet again the game handles this transition to console very well. The controls are for the most part intuitive and where you’d expect them to be with easy weapon selection and easy combos in order to access the more magic based skills like healing. Annoying though, this is at the cost of the more traditional “L2 aim R2 shoot” button layout, and as your upgrades demand more of the controller, using the skill combos becomes harder. Which is another pain when your faced with an enormous amount of enemies in a frame rate dropping space and the controller thinks that you’re wanting to dual wield Uzi’s instead of healing.

For every thing the game does right there’s something that, compared to Wolfenstein’s success, holds it firmly in the past. Whether or not it’s the level designs, black Ikea-esque cabinets and the throw-all-the-enemies-at-you style of difficulty increments or occasionally borderline racist humour, the game suffers from it. Which is a shame because the ease of the gunplay the nice graphics (despite the frame rates at times) and story behind the game is actually very enjoyable and if we’re honest, is what perks this game up. Along with its lower retail price it’s probably a good game to fall on if your looking for something nostalgic and with a change of pace to the heavy hitters that are coming out this Christmas. It has no multiplayer but does include a survival mode and a New Game+ option that will allow you to unlock everything and get all the secrets. If that’s enough for you then fair enough. I was pleased enough with the story that I enjoyed the game, despite its faults, and for a quick pick up and play shooter with big game style graphics, this is a pretty good option.

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Shadow Warrior does its best to bring a tired, old and slightly politically incorrect game out of retirement without falling to the errors of former sister title Duke Nukem Forever. But the hangovers from 3D Realms inspired level design and the “throw everything at you” difficulty make the game a bit too long and repetitive, although the story does rescue it. Definitely fun to play though with excellent visuals, great guns and ease of upgrades and use.

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[tab title=Good Points”]

– Visually great and engaging environment

– Quite a cool Greek Tragedy storyline

– Guns are awesome and easy to use/upgrade

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– Suffers from frame rate drops in busier levels

– Gets a bit too long and repetitive in levels

– Humour still a bit politically incorrect at times

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[tab title=”Why a 7?”]

Actually, I’ve agonised about this. I went from a 7, to a 6, to a 6.5 and back to a 7. Because even though the game has its faults, I’m still drawn back to the enjoyable story and fun, easy gameplay that made me want to give it the 7 score in the first place. There are issues, yes and it’s a game you’ll probably only play through once but it’s fun, it’s something you can switch your brain off from and play and just be entertained. Which is something that’s quite hard to pull off successfully.

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This review was based on the PS4 version of the game.

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