Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Retro Review: Shadow Warrior [1997]

Note: Shadow Warrior was released by 3DRealms in 1997 and is available as "Shadow Warrior Classic" today. This is the game reviewed here. Not to be confused with Devolver Digital's "Shadow Warrior Classic Redux" version from 2016 or the reboot title "Shadow Warrior" from 2013.

Shadow Warrior was a 'cousin' of sorts to Duke Nukem 3D in so far as it was another 3D Realms Build Engine powered FPS game with a wisecracking protagonist. Lo Wang was every bit the 80's/90's misogynistic action hero Duke was but never achieved the status Duke had. That said the Shadow Warrior franchise continues to this year when in March a second sequel of the rebooted franchise released while the Duke was put on ice after the legendarily delayed and phenomenally shit  Duke Nukem Forever released in 2011.

The setting of the original game in 1997 was near future Japan and Lo Wang was the ninja employed by the Zilla corporation to protect its interests. However after Zilla began to wrest power from organised crime and dabble in supernatural forces, honour-bound Lo Wang took it upon himself to single-handedly bring down the corporation with a hilariously mismatched arsenal of both silent and high-explosive weaponry. In honour of it's 25th Anniversary, I said before the year was out I'd crank up Shadow Warrior for a few hours and just give myself a little injection of nostalgia.

Shadow Warrior, Duke Nukem 3D, Blood and Redneck Rampage to name but a few shared one of the more ubiquitous game engines of the mid to late 1990's, the Build engine. It's considered more a 2.5D engine as geometry is two-dimensional with added height and renders the world in a way that only seems three-dimensional, unlike modern engines that create actual 3D environments. Enemies and pickups are 3D voxels and simply animated unlike 3D characters. By the time Shadow Warrior actually released, Id Software had a year earlier brought the first true 3D FPS engine to the market with Quake and Build was woefully outdated by comparison. However Quake was only one game, whereas it would take developers a few years to master the true 3D environment, Build developers released fun games like Shadow Warror to fill the gap. Unfortunately when you're in a Build engine game today after playing modern engines for the past 25 years, one notices that the perspective tricks that Build used to project a 3D environment sadly don't work visually and can be disconcerting.

The game itself, while obviously a DOS game, benefits from the likes of DOSBox or other modern implementations to get it working on today's systems, and the results were satisfactory. I initially loaded the GOG Shadow Warrior Classic version as it's free. Sadly it restricted me to a low resolution using half the monitor and with no ability to change the controls to WASD/Mouselook, the FPS control system of today. Thankfully however there is a simple solution to this, VoidSW a DukeNukem Sourceport also supports Shadow Warrior and with it enabled I soon had a DirectX version of Shadow Warrior running at native 21:9 resolution with rebind-able controls.

An average play-through of Shadow Warrior would take about 14 hours, time which I knew I couldn't spend but I played enough to remember the good old days where games like this took less time to develop and would run great new even older hardware. Shadow Warrior benefited from the developers comfortability with Build after Duke Nukem 3D and it showed though the superior level design taking it to the max. In the couple of hours I did play I only encountered some of the game's basic enemies and collected about half of the weapons in Lo Wang's arsenal. I forgot how ridiculous the level of gore was although it was comically rendered, it left little to the imagination and tremendously excited myself at the time.

Final Verdict: Shadow Warrior is a minor classic but very much a product of it's time. I think it's harder to play and look at today than DOOM is due to the way it forces the 3D perspective to create more realistically shaped environments. The action however is loud, fast and littered with the protagonist's wisecracks and one liners as enemies explode with blood.It was fun for a couple of hours but it's highly unlikely I'll be trying it out again, as with Duke Nukem 3D, I'm happy with the memories I have.

Technicals: 2 hours approx playtime using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. Windows HDR does not enhance.

Bugs: The standard version of Shadow Warrior does not have modern resolutions nor has options for adjusting keybinding. The VoidSW component of the Eduke32 sourceport however fixes both issues flawlessly..

Shadow Warrior Classic is available from GOG for FREE as in 2016 a Shadow Warrior Classic Redux version was made available for sale on both GOG and Steam.

Franchise Timeline: 

Shadow Warrior [1997]
- Shadow Warrior: Twin Dragon [1998]
- Shadow Warrior: Wanton Destruction [2005]
Shadow Warrior [2013]
Shadow Warrior 2 [2016]
- Shadow Warrior Classic Redux [2016]
Shadow Warrior 3 [2022]

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Retro Review: Quake II RTX [2019]

Note: Quake II was originally released in 1997. The base game was given a facelift by Lightspeed Studios working with Nvidia in 2019 to showcase the value of Nvidia's RTX ray-tracing technology. The latter version is reviewed here.

I honestly didn't ever expect to install Quake II again. It was, superior to Quake in technology as well as setting, fun in its day but is considerably aged looking by now. Yes it's obviously been modded by fans to run in HD with updated textures etc, but id Software have not remastered it as they did with the original. They may not need to now however; After a proof of concept from Christoph Schied and the team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, who added ray tracing to the game, Nvidia got behind a new modification that would serve to transform one of gaming's greatest tech-demos of the 1990's into one for the 2020's. I installed it earlier in the year just to test a new RTX GPU and was well impressed by the enhancements it brought to the game. This coupled with the fact that it is also 25 years old this year prompted me to take Quake II for an anniversary spin before the year was out.

What Nvidia RTX does is it enables real-time ray tracing. This used to be limited to CGI in visual effects for movies or photorealistic renderings for example, while games traditionally had to rely on direct lighting or precaluclated rays. RTX is able to instead, generate interactivity in images that react to lighting, shadows and reflections in real time. Now the GPU processing power required for this is expensive and reflected in the price of the current generation of GPUs but even then the effect is so demanding that it often can't be enabled together with Ultra-high quality graphics on modern games and still maintain a satisfactory frame-rate. Quake II however, is very far from modern and is a perfect showcase for the true power of the technology and what it means for gaming in general.

While playing Quake II RTX, despite the levels and some upscaled but dated textures and ancient modelling for enemies and pickups, I did often forget I was looking at a 25 year old game. The lighting and reflection effects were astounding. Your character is reflected as you look at reflective surfaces like computer screens or glass, overhead lighting and effects are reflected in all liquid and there was one sequence in total darkness that created a strobe light effect so realistic that I'm glad I don't have epilepsy. This all looked impressive on an SDR 4K monitor when I sampled it earlier but was even more amazing in HDR during my full play-through.

Quake II was an important step in the history of the FPS. It was one of the first examples of coloured lighting, a revolutionary feature for the time. Additionally the engine was written in such a way that it could be easily modified and marketed to others and it certainly was used for this purpose. Quake II powered classics such as SiN and Soldier of Fortune. Valve even used the Quake II engine to power the first version of Half-Life and although the final GoldSrc engine is more akin to the original Quake engine, GoldSrc still contained some Quake II code. It's fair to say that after John Romero left and beginning with Quake II, id software began producing games that were less about the story and gameplay and more about "tech-demos" showcasing the power of each iteration of their new engines preventing any of their games from reaching the hype Doom and Quake had in the mid 1990's until DOOM in 2016.

Quake II ditched the strange nailgun shooting Lovecraftian horror setting of the original and adopted something they were much more familiar with, shooting abominations with energy and explosive weapons as a Space Marine! Your enemy now was The Strogg, an alien race of cyborg-ish monstrosities that were invading earth, but your mission as a 1990's FPS game hero before AI coded team mates were a thing, is to attack their home world and kill their leader. As one would expect from a glorified tech demo, it was pretty short on narrative but that may be also be one of id's charms.

My initial time with Quake II RTX was brief so it was a thrill now to explore beyond the confines of the free version. The game is expansive was was the norm at the time and as I was more concerned with the visual aspect rather than playing the game I had godmode on half the time during some of the sequences that due to 25 years of advancements in level design and AI, are now too dumb to try to beat normally. It still took over 6 hours to navigate from start to finish and I would estimate a lot longer if going through carefully. In fact I recall one St. Partick's weekend in 1999 I played through the game in about 8 hours in co-op with my friend the late James Dutton. I think he'd approve of the enhancements made to the game today.

Final Verdict: The aged visuals, somewhat confusing level design by modern standards and the lack of compelling narrative even by FPS terms is not enough to play Quake II again. It's just not good enough or worth your time unless you need a hit of nostalgia. Quake II RTX however is certainly somthing that you should investigate if you have the hardware for it. It transforms the game and shugarcoats the aged visuals with some of the tastiest sugar you've ever had. Actually, it can't be sugar, it's cocaine... it's cocaine not sugar. But you must see for yourself.

Case 1: 1.4 hours playtime @ 3840 x 2160 (4K) / 60Hz with max settings and RTX ON. Avg FPS 35,  No HDR
Case 2: 6.1 hours playtime @ 3440x1440 UW / 175Hz with max settings and RTX ON.  Avg FPS 95, HDR settings implimented in game.  
Both cases through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti on Windows 11.

Bugs: Pressing F12 for a screenshot crashes the game. Rebinding F12 to another key and using that to screenshot also crashes the game. Not a bug but as Quake II used a CD as it's music soundtrack there is no music in the game. This was easily solved by using .ogg files of the music tracks from the original CD and placing them in a music folder in the game directory.

Quake II RTX is free to download from Steam or GOG and try out on your RTX ray tracing enabled system (it also apparently works with AMD RX series) but only has a few early levels. If you have the full version of the game (again on Steam or GOG) you get the benefit of being able to play through the entire game in the RTX implementation. Quake II is available from both Steam or GOG for €4.99. The Steam Quake II copy to unlock the full version of Quake II RTX for this review was purchased for €1.64 in July 2019.

Quake Series:

Quake [1996]
- Quake Mission Pack No. 1: Scourge of Armagon [1997]
- Quake Mission Pack No. 2: Dissolution of Eternity [1997]
Quake II [1997]
- Quake II Mission Pack: The Reckoning [1998]
- Quake II Mission Pack: Ground Zero [1998]
Quake III Arena [1999]
- Quake III: Team Arena [2000]
Quake 4 [2005]
- Enemy Territory: Quake Wars [2007]
- Quake Live [2010]
- Quake: Dimension of the Past [2016]
Quake Champions [2017]
- Quake II RTX [2019]
- Quake: Dimension of the Machine [2021]


Friday, December 09, 2022

Replay Review: Return to Castle Wolfenstein [2001]

While I enjoyed playing the 1993 version of DOOM a while back, I did so partly because it was one of my first PC video games. It wasn't until after DOOM II in 1994 that I played Wolfenstein for the first time and certainly for not as long. Compared to DOOM it was a bit inferior and I felt it was more interesting killing hell-spawn as opposed to just Nazis. However as the DOOM franchise was stagnant by the turn of the century, I welcomed a new version of Wolfenstein in 2001 as my new FPS for the year, even favouring purchasing it above Halo: Combat Evolved as by then killing Nazis was actually a more novel idea (Return to Castle Wolfenstein predated both the entire Medal of Honor and Call of Duty franchises).

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a reboot of the Wolfenstein franchise as far as the loose narrative is concerned but employs similar themes including Nazi experiments such as the creation of "Ubersoldats" similar to MechaHitler from Wolfenstein 3D and occult themes including the appearance of the undead as in Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is set in 1943 and once again follows the adventures of protagonist US Army Ranger William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he navigates through German castles, secret laboratories and ancient tombs on his quest to thwart the plans of Heinrich Himmler’s German SS Paranormal Division from producing a force that could win them the war. 

Built on the id Tech 3 engine, under producers Id Software, developers Grey Matter who would also later make the first Call of Duty expansion delivered a very well received reboot of Wolfenstein. Despite the horror/sci-fi elements of the franchise they created an experience that was 80% WW2 action movie (specifically Where Eagles Dare) with an action movie score delivered by Bill Brown (Rainbow Six) and with a series of very well crafted levels which, while much too linear by today's standards, were certainly among the most superior examples of level design at the time. The game's weapons were also modelled on WW2 weapons including the British Sten gun and the U.S. Thompson M1 although one is most likely to use German weapons such as the FG-42 rifle much more as you eliminate enemies on your one-man-army romp through the game.

I was all set to experience a blend of action and horror, wielding a combination of classic WW2 and fictional, sci-fi-inspired weapons against Nazis, the undead, and experimental mutant soldiers. Unfortunately the Steam implementation of RTCW is buggered and I was given an OGL error on startup. While there were a series for fixes suggested to get one up and running today, I was also directed to a "RealRTCW" a community made Steam mod that not only allows the 20+ year old game run on current state-of-the-art systems, but also in ultrawide resolutions and with a plethora of graphical upgrades. It does make changes to some in-game elements adding several era-appropriate weapons and some combat rebalancing which I felt were worthwhile additions and reduced some annoyances that are common with playing such an old game, but a more vanilla experience exists retaining only the graphical upgrades is available for those who need it. RealRTCW seemed like a no-brainer and its install and setup was as you'd expect from the main game. While a separate entity, the game requires RTCW registered to Steam to avail of it.


Final Verdict: A solid shooter with varied narrative objectives. Despite the sci-fi/horror elements, which are present but not oppressive, the vast majority of the game is a quasi-realistic depiction of "Hollywood Style" WW2 combat and strangely was the most accurate WW2 FPS experience in Multiplayer at time of release. It sits right in the middle of one of the oldest game franchises today which is still beloved and going strong, a testament to how the genre of "alternative" WW2 depictions have intrigued fans for decades.

Technicals: 11.2 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz (capped at 77FPS) with max settings on Windows 11. Windows HDR auto-activated and provided an expected amount of superior lighting.

Bugs: The standard version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein would not initialise after setting  a resolution other than 1024x768 citing an OpenGL error. full ultrawide support with no bugs was delivered through the RealRTCW mod.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is available from Steam for €4.99 or GOG for €6.19 when not in a sale. Steam recommended for the RealRTCW patch. Review copy purchased from Fanatical for €2.39 in March 2021.


  • Castle Wolfenstein [1981]
  • Beyond Castle Wolfenstein [1984]
  • Wolfenstein 3D [1992]
  • - Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny [1992]
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein [2001]
  • - Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory [2003]
  • Wolfenstein [2009]
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order [2014] 
  • - Wolfenstein: The Old Blood [2015]
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus [2017]
  • - Wolfenstein: Youngblood [2019]
  • Wolfenstein III [?]