Flying Wild Hog gave us its gloriously violent reinterpretation of '90s classic Shadow Warrior almost exactly three years ago, and now they're back with a sequel that proves the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
We again find ourselves controlling Lo Wang, part magic-wielding super ninja, part dick-obsessed dudebro. Just as with the first game, the central story does only the bare minimum to keep you moving through the various carnage-filled levels, but thankfully the it is far more interesting this time round.
The world was fundamentally changed in the aftermath of Wang's mostly-bungled attempt to destroy the demonic corruption in the first game. Wang is more or less in hiding, taking on jobs as a mercenary to pay the bills. It is during one of these missions he rescues Kamiko, a young woman possessed by some sort of demon.
In an attempt to cleanse her possessed body, her soul is temporarily transferred to Wang. Kamiko's refined personality and wry observation provides the perfect foil for Wang's incessant crudeness. Their banter is always entertaining and often hilarious, and also helps to take the edge off Wang's personality. It's a gambit that many players will likely welcome.
While many may remember Shadow Warrior for its near-endless dick jokes, it was the combat and frenetic action that elevated it above many of today's more mainstream-friendly shooters. The same holds true for the sequel, however, the formula has been injected with a few new ideas. Double jumps and dashes have added even more speed and urgency to the combat, while the melee and dismemberment systems from the first game have also been updated to be far more tactical and reactive.
Groups of enemies and even larger single units are able to be handled more efficiently with said tactical limb removal. This has allowed the game to be equally fun with either melee or ranged weapons – something the first game did not always manage. The gore system has seen a nice upgrade too, with blood and viscera being strewn about in an almost beautiful cascade of crimson and chunky bits.
Taking a few pages from the Diablo playbook, Shadow Warrior 2 replaces the linear character progression from the first game with a more RPG-like upgrade system. Players now have the ability to assign points to various skills and abilities to build a better Wang, and you can choose to focus on melee, gunplay, or a combination of the two.
There is a lot of freedom to tailor how Wang performs, and players wanting to focus on a particular playstyle can certainly do so. There is also an upgrade system for the dozens of weapons in the game. It doesn't come close to the character-defining mechanics of the action RPG systems it borrows from, but does provide some meaningful improvements and progression as you move through the campaign, and on the whole is serviceable.
Going hand-in-hand with these progression systems is a slightly more open story progression. The central story is still very linear, but side missions can be taken on, providing an opportunity to upgrade Wang and his gear alongside more opportunities to shoot and slice waves of gruesome enemies. Once again, the system is not as refined as its inspiration, but does help to make the adventure feel more organic.
There is even a very polished four player co-op mode that adds in a fair amount of procedural generation for those looking to band together to wreak some havoc on the demonic hordes. My only real criticism there is that – as is the case in Diablo III – each additional player tends to make the enemies more and more bullet spongey. It's seldom a major concern, but can occasionally detract from the satisfaction of killing creeps.
Taken as a whole, Shadow Warrior 2 is pretty great. Obviously Wang is not to everyone's taste, but if you can deal with the utter idiocy of his attempted witticisms and embrace the violence he wreaks, you'll have a hell of a time!