Flying Wild Hog
Reviewed on Playstation 5
released for Playstation 4
Many credit the resurgence of the speed based, hyperaggressive style of first person shooter to 2016’s Doom reboot. In truth, the revival dates back a little further to another reboot: That of the obnoxiously stereotypical and gratuitously violent Shadow Warrior, in 2013. A blistering, punishing blend of chunky gunplay and katana slice ‘n dice, the remake the demanding pace of the ‘Boomer Shooter’ into the modern age. Unapologetic in both it’s gory excess and Asian typecasting (though thankfully not to the original’s extent), it introduced a level of ferocity not seen in the genre for quite some time, if ever.
That intensity has now been refined to a lethal purity in this third installment of the modern canon. The pacing is breakneck, both in gameplay and the superfluous story, and the demand on mental and manual flexibility is high. To stand still is usually to court death quickly, be it in combat, or the traversal set pieces inbetween. It’s a dizzying dance of death aimed at hardcore shooter vets and genre devotees – novice players will likely be chewed up and spat out fast.
Protagonist Lo Wang is an acquired taste – a boisterous, sarcastic pastiche of 80’s action movie tropes, 90’s dick jokes and 2000’s Asian stereotyping. He veers between guilty pleasure and obnoxious twat, totally self-aware and utterly indifferent in his lack of filter. His supporting cast are mostly familiar faces – series staples Hoji and Zilla return, but it’s hardly a character driven affair. The plot is merely a means to an end, an excuse to double jump and air dash from one killing floor to another, and admire some rather spectacular scenery along the way. Usually for about a second, until something explodes.
I must stress how exceptional the combat here is – arguably best in class, in terms of the combination of movement and firepower. It’s a small rotation in terms of weapons, with only six guns and the trusty katana available, but each weapon has heft, meaning, and an enemy or two it specializes in wasting. SW2 was a bloated affair, with it’s loot shooter structure and a million forgettable firearms, but SW3 is lean and mean, and is a much richer experience for it. Weapon juggling is the secret to success here, along with constant movement and knowing when to use the finisher moves and when to save them. There is no looting whatsoever, and levels are very much on the rails, so even in relation to the 2013 iteration, it’s a very streamlined adventure.
Comparisons to Doom are inevitable – the two series have clearly influenced each other, upping the ante and lifting mechanics from one another with each new entry. As such, a grappling hook is now introduced, but unlike Doom it’s not designated to one weapon, and is also far more fluid and powerful.There are other influences too: Bulletstorm was a clear inspiration, as the spiky wall traps, colourful art style and an abundance of scripted sliding sequences indicate. Wallrunning is a new, key feature, and feels almost effortless; Both platforming and combat rely heavily on it.
Gone from the previous entry are procedurally generated levels and hub-and-spoke game world, replaced by a tight, linear rollercoaster of a campaign. It’s a brief affair, easily beaten in a couple evenings (save for a taxing boss fight near the halfway point). Environments are colourful, cleverly designed and full of atmosphere, not to mention an assortment of environmental hazards. Meat grinder traps, spinning saw blade rails and various other mechanisms can be triggered for some ridiculously gruesome results. At times it’s straight up cartoon gore porn, and it revels in an almost unparalleled level of excess.
One environmental hazard I must criticize, however, is an excess of battle arenas with holes to fall into. It made sense in the context of certain environments, but far too many others featured small gaps to unwittingly slip into that didn’t need to be there, and broke up the otherwise excellent flow of combat. It’s not a deal breaker, but an immersion breaker in intense firefights – did that barely visible two meter hole in the ground on the edge of that crowded area really need to be there?
The major enemies are among the more interesting opponents I’ve seen in a modern shooter: There’s clown foes with the bodies of slinkies leaving hovering sawblade traps, a pair of flying drill monsters who tunnel underground before leaping into the air to rain projectiles, and the hilarious screaming suicide bombers, who attack en masse like a demented choir of the damned. Each are fun in their own way, and similar to Doom, they can be shot for health, or killed by katana for ammo. Finisher moves are a new mechanic; Although slow, they restore health and allow you to steal bigger enemies’ weapons briefly, and the resulting carnage is usually glorious.
Fodder demons also regenerate until the big baddies are disposed of, at which point the fodder disappears. It’s a good thing too, as checkpointing is unforgiving, forcing you to win full fights in one go rather than saving between phases of a long battle. It’s a game that demands old school mastery, and rewards it with deep satisfaction. This is a shooter purist’s delight, laden with densely packed and cleverly designed environs to showcase the skillsets of hardened veterans.
The traversal sequences are breezy and fun, perhaps a little contrived at times but rarely frustrating, and even when the prompts fail, mechanics usually work. These set pieces know their place: They are meant to be a graphical showcase, and a swashbuckling breather between the gunfights. My beloved Doom Eternal was guilty of bad pacing with some of the environmental puzzles, but SW3 has clearly learned from that mistake, and the less violent sections move the action along rapidly, in reasonably entertaining fashion.
The leap in production values from SW2 is considerable, and other than occasional texture pop-ins and minor frame rate drops, it looks phenomenal. While there is much less diversity between levels this time given the truncated plotline, but the distinctive visual style and constant structural changes to your surroundings keep things fresh and engaging.
From the bouncy caricature of a soundtrack, to the outlandish art direction and sheer bloody ultra-violence, SW3 is a game that revels in excess. Unapologetic in every way possible, it knows it’s niche and carves it out perfectly, with a deft swipe of the katana. It’s overkill yes, but that’s the point, one made all the more effectively with fewer guns, and less granular statistical overlay. Above all it’s tremendous fun, looking and feeling as good as any shooter on the market today, and not overstaying it’s welcome with a brisk, thrilling campaign that embraces the notion of power fantasy to the most vulgar extent possible.
On the flipside, it’s a sequel that does away with much of the extras that bogged down it’s fun but repetitive predecessor. The simplified approach shows an understanding of what is really necessary to Shadow Warrior as a whole, amplifying the absurd premises and over-the-top action in pursuit of being the most fun shooter on the market. There are harder ones, but there is a fairness to SW3’s difficultly that separates it from the pack.
It’s not for everyone, but this is a title that knows it’s audience and caters to that market with one of the most pure, fluid FPS offerings money can buy. It looks amazing, handles even better, and sounds like pure murderous joy all the while. The contrast between such juvenile immaturity and a very adult level of violence is jarring at times, but that’s the forumla of the series, and this is it’s finest example to date. Sure the clichéd cultural indulgences and juvenile adolescent humour are questionable, but this is an IP that specializes in making bad taste ingredients into a delicious recipe. One probably laced with psychedelic drugs and imported whiskey.