The first big barrier to enjoyment of Shadow Warrior is that you not be offended by the 80s-90s-style casual Asian stereotyping. The devs call it a parody romp through martial arts movie cliches (a la Duke Nukem's romp through action movie cliches) and I'm inclined to take them at their word, but I'm sure some people out there were genuinely offended by it.

If you can parse out the borderline racist stuff, main character Lo Wang is actually pretty entertaining in a juvenile schoolyard sort of way. He's your standard grumpy/horny old kung fu master with an impressive collection of digital quips for every situation, and that's half the charm of the game.

The other half of the charm is the game being the most technically impressive of the Build Engine iterations, with drivable vehicles in some levels and smarter-than-usual enemies who strafe, duck, and even crawl behind cover. Their movements are still a little arbitrary and frequently not all that bright, but they definitely are harder to kill than your standard '90s FPS mooks.

So why the 2/5? Well, for one thing, you're not properly equipped to handle the tougher enemies. Lo Wang is forced to play considerable level stretches sometimes with just his katana and a handful of borderline useless shurikens, and these segments are awful. Build wasn't made for melee combat to begin with, and when you add enemies who are always equipped with health-eating Uzis and can strafe away from your attacks and insta-blast you, it certainly doesn't get any better. The game plays better when you finally build a stockpile of guns, but is insufferable when you're low on ammo.

It's also subject to your standard '90s pitfalls of keycard-hunting and generally kinda obnoxious level design that relies on constant ambushes and obscured enemies pecking away at you from some cubbyhole that's hard to see. There's also a sense that a few different map designers were working on it without any coordination with each other and the whole package was just kinda tossed together, hoping the peepee jokes and advanced Build tricks would carry the day by themselves.

Well, maybe in 1997, but certainly not in 2015, where the engine is just too clunky and unweildy to go back to. And as the remake shows, they wouldn't even try to get away with all that stereotypical humor in today's witch-hunt-happy social media culture.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
* Ah good ol' casual '90s racism