An atmospheric gem let down by its controls
If ever a game was deserving of a remaster, it’s Shadow Man. Originally released way back in 1999 on the PS1, N64, Dreamcast, and Windows, it was a good game (although the Playstation port was a little shoddy), but it seemed to fly under the radar of most gamers.
At the time, I remember talking to friends about the game but they were far more interested in Donkey Kong 64, Driver, Final Fantasy VIII and the other big titles of that year. It was their loss though, as the game was great and certainly better than a lot of the other mid-tier releases that came out that year.
When I learned of the recent Shadow Man remaster, which is out now on PC and all major consoles, I was a little surprised. Yes, I was excited to get the opportunity to play an old favourite again, but as it wasn’t a high profile title in the late 90s, I didn’t expect a remaster to ever happen. Still, I am glad it did and having played through most of this updated release, I am happy to say that the game still plays well, despite some dated elements.
For those of you not familiar with the game, let me give you a little info. It details the exploits of Michael LeRoi (the Shadow Man), a voodoo warrior who is tasked with protecting the world. His mission in this game is to head to the Deadside (the land of the dead), in a bid to stop an impending apocalypse.
There, he must hunt down the various undead serial killers that pose a threat to the land of the living, using voodoo powers that have been bestowed upon him by a voodoo priestess known as Mama Nettie.
The game is based on the Shadowman comic book series and it was followed by an improved sequel in 2002. There hasn’t been any news of a remaster of the follow-on game but as I have fond memories of that one too, I hope that it happens one day.
Of course, with so many games to play these days, it might be that you’re questioning whether to play the remastered Shadow Man or not. If you have taken a look at gameplay trailers, it might be that you’re thinking not, as the graphics have hardly improved since the original release.
They look a little nicer due to the improved textures and higher resolution but they haven’t been given the graphical overhaul that the recent Resident Evil remakes had.
If you’re on the fence, I would suggest you still give the game a go. It might look a bit rubbish when compared to modern gaming standards, but the level design is good and the story is interesting, so you may get sucked into the world of Deadside, despite the naff graphics.
The sound design is also worth mentioning as it is genuinely creepy, with ominous music notes playing in the background and the chilling sounds of people screaming and crying. The game isn’t particularly scary (partly due to its dated look and feel) but due to the setting and soundtrack, it is still worth a look for horror fans.
In terms of gameplay, you’ve got a mix of action-adventure and platformer here, with the latter requiring precision jumping as you traverse around each level.
The platforming sections can be frustrating as the wonky controls don’t help, but when you get the hang of how the Shadow Man moves, you should have less trouble getting around. The game is also something of a collectathon, as you need to collect a certain number of Dark Souls to progress through the doors that lead to the next levels.
Certain items will increase your health too, so a good portion of your time will be spent exploring the maze-like environments in search of them.
Exploring isn’t made easy as there are various foes in the way, such as zombies and demons. Getting past them takes some doing as the combat is a bit unwieldy and the weapon you are given at the beginning of the game isn’t particularly powerful. Thankfully, you get better weapons as you progress, such as one that fires balls of flame, so while the controls are still a bit dodgy, you will have less trouble getting past Deadside’s monstrous creations.
If you have already played the game in the past, it might be that you can overlook some of the game’s flaws. And the fact that the remaster includes several levels that were cut from the original release, such as a summer camp and a salvage yard, gives it some replay value. There are new weapon variations too, as well as a few gameplay improvements, such as auto-targeting and faster frame rates.
I had a blast venturing into Deadside again but this was more down to feelings of nostalgia than anything else. I wish the game had been given a full-on remake, with the graphical sheen that is given to game releases today. I’m also disappointed that the controls are still as wonky as ever, despite the slight improvements. And despite the low price, I wish the second game had also been included. In that regard, I hope developer Nightdive Studios, who also gave us remasters of System Shock and Turok, will consider remastering the sequel.
But despite my gripes, it is nostalgia that brought me back to the game and it has been a pleasure to play it again. A lot of modern gamers will probably reject it due to the dated graphics and combat but that would be a shame, as it’s an atmospheric gem with a wonderfully dark story.
If you’ve played it before, you will already know if you want to play it again or not. But if you’re new to Shadow Man, give it a go, as a visit to Deadside is one worth taking.
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Verdict - 7.5/10