Despite being a pretty good shooter, Shadow Warrior was ultimately too late to market to have any success. Like the Build titles before it, a whole series of expansion packs were on the drawing board, or already in production; all dropped when SW’s unimpressive sales confirmed the 2.5-D era was over. The story goes that this expansion was later found on a disc when Sunstorm was rummaging through the corporate version of their attic. A few phone calls later, and it’s released as a free update to the original.
Since a full version of Shadow Warrior must be installed for the expansion, I’m going to take the fair assumption that only fans (or potential fans weighing the value before an Ebay purchase of the original) will apply. If you’re interested in 12 more levels in the chronicles of Lo Wang, this is certainly worth breaking the game back out again. These levels are some of the best the Build engine has to offer, and are frequently better than the ones in the first game. Simply put, this is a fine example of what an expansion pack should be.
The quality is apparent right from the start. The first level drops Lo Wang in the bathtub of a hotel room. The ol’ “shave and a haircut” knock comes from the door outside. You get up, peer through the peephole, and uh-oh – it’s the horny (and comically homely) old woman who made creepy sexual innuendos in a level from the original. Lo Wang makes an appropriately disgusted remark and you creep out the back window to begin your adventure.
First, points to them for finding a reference from Shadow Warrior that I had totally forgotten, but instantly remembered. Second, what a way to start a level! You’re telling a story – not through a cutscene, but within the game level itself, earning a few laughs for it, and setting up the tone for the rest of the game. It’s totally unnecessary, but absolutely goes the extra mile. Already you’re doing more than just cracking your knuckles and shooting bad guys.
Wanton’s destruction takes you from beautiful Eastern levels, like the Monastery and Restaurant, to more exotic ones, like a skyscraper under construction and an airplane in mid-flight (even requiring you to head out onto the wings to grab a key). Explosions are frequent, detail is high, and Build’s best features are paraded in style. There’s not much to say about the artwork and feel of the game, as the art matches Shadow Warrior (new textures are limited), and the feel is the same as any other Build title.
Still, the new levels don’t feel like retreads of the old, and the art is skillfully appropriated to convey the new concepts of these new levels – Skyscraper is particularly good at taking the same skybox and steel beam textures from the main game and making some vertigo-inducing moments. There’s even a few new engine tricks. One particular highlight comes when you pass through an archway to grab a key, and turn around to see the room behind you has seamlessly changed to a Hell-version of itself with a boss waiting. Very unexpected and very, very cool.
You get a good value for your time, as only a few levels feel a little bland. The Military Base seems better suited to a Duke3D level, with a sci-fi look and heavy use of red/blue lights. The Trolley Yard is also pretty forgettable, feeling much like any of SW’s factory levels, were it not for the namesake trolleys (as this pack is supposed to take place in San Francisco). The secret levels are also brief, unfinished disappointments best left hidden. Otherwise, a great collection with amazing design. I love the way Build renders cityscapes, so this set was right up my alley.
Still, not everything originally promised made it, so I’m not sure how “complete” this release actually is. The promo box art talks about two new chapters, but there’s only one. The electronics shop, cable car, and Golden Gate Bridge levels mentioned aren’t present – and given the quality of the levels that are, I’d really liked to have seen that Golden Gate level. There’s no new “Wang speak,” just clips recycled from the original. There are no new weapons, which is uncommon for expansions, but not a serious flaw.
There are new enemies, but in appearance only. The demon ninjas from the original now resemble Yakuza hitmen, and the fire-spewing ogre now looks like a wizard. The changes are strictly cosmetic, and their AI behaviors are unchanged. You even get the differently-armed soldiers with differently-colored highlights on their suits. It’s really an unimportant alteration, but the new art is at least quality, and seamlessly integrates with the rest of the game.
My only complaint with the new enemies is the new voice sample. All the Yakuza speak in a fake Asian-sounding ramble, high pitched and incessantly, all saying the same gibberish over and over again. It’s extremely annoying. The clip plays whenever they’re around, and for each individual bad guy, so they “talk” over each other. It’s bad enough that this sounds like a vintage racist parody of the Japanese language, but to hear it repeated all throughout every level is just painful.
Aside from that, it’s Shadow Warrior. If you want more levels, these are some of the best, at the best possible asking price. Not worth picking up the original exclusively to play this, but absolutely worth grabbing alongside it. Big thumbs up to Sunstorm and 3DRealms for releasing this for free, and supporting their old titles and their old fans. They just as easily could have thrown the disc in the trash, and you’d be missing out on one of Build’s finest hours.
Great time for SW fans. A few dull levels, but some truly spectacular ones as well.
Not much happening besides the new levels. No true new enemies (just new art), no new weapons, no new quips.