Who among us remembers Shadow Man, released on Windows, PS1 and N64 back in 1999? This chimera lovechild conceived under a dark moon was part Tomb Raider, part 1990’s Rare collect-a-thon a la Banjo-Kazooie, and had somewhat of a cult following. So can the Shadow Man rise from the ashes of the turn of the century, or has two decades in the ground made this voodoo child lose its relevance.
In the remaster we again take the role of the smooth baritone ‘immortal voodoo warrior’ Michael LeRoi, who is quested with tracking down the Dark Souls that are lying around in Deadside (a kind of purgatory). These Dark Souls are superpowered batteries that you must collect before five evil killers from Liveside (our world) collect them to power up and bring about a reign of terror on Earth. Once crossing over to the Darkside, you must endure a heavy dose of old-school 3D platforming and third-person shooting in order to obtain the Dark Souls which boost Shadow Man’s initially weak Shadowgun and open new areas.
When I heard that this game was on the way, I struggled to recall anything more than the rather adult and frightening Tomb Raider-looking game I was probably a few years too young to be playing. Then I remembered this was a comic book adaptation and followed my curiosity to discover that this game was based on the Shadow Man run that was penned by the darkly comic Garth Ennis (The Boys, Preacher). Sold!
Me playing this game on 4/20
What is different and noticeable in the remaster? Not a whole lot. This is a new way to play a noticeably aged game, with a few necessary quality of life tweaks to ensure this game is somewhat tolerable. Nightdive has corralled this shambling corpse out of Acclaim’s old mausoleum and brought it under the dynamic lighting of the modern world with a shower and some lipstick. Please, just please don’t stare at it or ask it to talk.
Combat has received a few subtle tweaks that absolutely improve the controls. In fact, all gameplay changes appear to be improvements. Camera and weapon targeting is now mapped to a different analogue stick to the movement. Without this I doubt I would have had the perseverance to make the five hours mark. Weapon fire now softly locks onto enemies from afar without interrupting the camera or locking movement to a targeted enemy. PC players have the pick of the litter, as they will be able to greatly abuse the quicksave/load function – a respite for anybody attempting the game’s frequent and excruciating platforming.
If you don’t know what you’re getting into here, just know that a painful amount of stamina and patience is required for this very lengthy classic. After the first three hours of this game, I was barely given any direction on how to proceed. I was just tossed into the wilderness of Deadside and its many branching wilds. The two NPCs I can interact with repeat the same cutscene interaction each, which is supposed to serve as my sole guidance for the next six hours. There are no maps, objective reminders, compasses, or markers. I need to emphasise – this is a labyrinthine and large game set primarily in a world with very few landmarks with which to orientate yourself.
Collecting my emotional support gimp
Every time you unlock a major new ability, you better be ready to then begin running through all previous zones, attempting to find new hidden areas required to progress. If I did not use a guide for most of this review, I feel confident in saying I could have easily tripled my time spent – and it would have been aimless, unrewarding plodding about. Attempting this game without a guide on a first playthrough, I estimate, could easily soar as far as the 30-hour mark. There is less than 10 hours of critical content here and finding the near 100% of collectibles is virtually non-negotiable. This creates a suffocating layer of padding. You need to memorise this world like the back of your hand before you can reach the credits, and that level of heavy lifting will either annihilate or endear players.
The restored levels are a mixed bag. I absolutely abhorred the heavy emphasis on jumping puzzles in the additional Asylum area. Almost any slip sends you into a pool of lava and back to a checkpoint. This situation repeats often during the game’s first 10 hours, but none so frequently as this zone. Liveside, host to the game’s real-world locations, fares a bit better. The restored Florida: Summer Camp level allows the third-person shooting to feel a lot more natural, with a more forward-moving linear level design that places enemies in front of you and allows the strafe shooting to make its best impression. It is a shame that you will not be spending much time here or in the game’s other best levels hidden in late-game Liveside, as these areas constitute around 20% of the game. It is the only percentage I can say I enjoyed.
The sound and graphics have gotten a bit of attention here, with mixed results throughout. Graphics benefit from some nice new lighting that adds needed colour and contrast to what are extremely dark environments. The nicest way I can describe the textures is to have you picture yourself playing a third-person adventure game in Dusk. But strip away the fast-paced action and booming metal music, we’re just going to mosey through these dilapidated grime-stained wastelands with a glowing pea shooter; prepare for an abundance of drains, sewers, and industrial hellscapes.
Really let himself go in Big Fur Day
The varied soundtrack holds up, with its charming synth arrangements and industrial distortion betraying its age. I will say that the updated mix sounds great on headphones, with some neat stereo fading, but the various environmental sound effects that overlay the soundtrack cause a significant problem for immersion and enjoyment of this mixing. Going back to Asylum for a further example, there is an area where a squeaky toy plays out of rhythm over the track – a gently twinkling lullaby tune. It just goes on for minutes, and then adds people screaming bloody murder while power tools operate. This is a nauseating cacophony that clashes with the bland gimp-filled hallways to create what I can only describe as a simulated bad trip. It was perhaps novel for the first two minutes. It was soul-rending after 20.
Did Nightdive overreach when dusting off Shadow Man for their next IP refreshment treatment? I found slipping back into their Turok efforts to be fairly painless, both with regards to controls and quality of life. With Nightdive’s efforts seemingly being to preserve and revitalise classic 90s titles, Shadow Man Remastered sucks more life out of the uninitiated player rather than energise IP enthusiasm.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Nightdive Studios / Acclaim Studios Teeside
- Nightdive Studios
- PS4 / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch / PC
- April 15, 2021