DEVELOPER: Acclaim Teeside (original)/Nightdive Studios (remaster)
PUBLISHER: Acclaim (original)/Nightdive Studios (remaster)
REVIEWED ON: PlayStation 5 from a copy purchased by the author.
For our thoughts on the 1999 original, click HERE.
Despite having their name stamped on arcade conversions of hits like Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, the now defunct publisher Acclaim was mostly known for cashing in on established licenses, whether that was the big-ticket movies of the era or comic book properties. Although they would continue to work with companies like Marvel and DC during the 5th console generation, Acclaim also decided to cut out the middle man somewhat by purchasing a stable of franchises and characters by acquiring Valiant Comics. This not only gave the company a new revenue stream through publishing comics, they also leveraged intellectual properties like Turok into an over million selling series on the Nintendo 64.
While Turok with its sequels and spin-offs became Acclaim’s bread-and-butter for a period, another well regarded title spawned from their temporary stewardship of Valiant Comics was Shadow Man. Arriving in 1999 at the time when both the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation were in their twilight years, Shadow Man never saw a Turok level of success and only received one sequel, however it did enjoy critical praise and became a cult-favorite for those who gave it a chance.
In recent years, Nightdive Studios has been giving Acclaim’s back catalog a second life through enhanced remasters of games like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. Now, it’s Shadow Man’s time in the spotlight, and after many months being exclusive to PC, Shadow Man Remastered, a game’s whose title says it all, is finally available on all of the modern consoles. Admittedly, it’s been a painful wait for this title to break free of the PC ecosystem, but the wait has ultimately been worth it as Shadow Man Remastered is a loving recreation of the 1999 original and is easily the best way to experience this underappreciated gem.
Set against the backdrop of voodoo culture, in Shadow Man you play as Michael LeRoi, the latest in a long line of immortal warriors who use the relic known as the Shadowmask to travel between the world of the living and the dead. When an ancient prophecy foretells of an ancient evil known as Legion who plans to bring about the apocalypse by using the power of relics known as Dark Souls, Michael must delve into the depths of the place known as Deadside to gather these dangerous sources of power before they fall into the wrong hands.
While it foregoes any flashy full-motion videos, Shadow Man has an impressive amount of voice work for a game that was once squeezed into a cartridge. Most of this is from Redd Pepper, the voice of the main character, whose smooth tone helps to set the mood for each region of Deadside you venture into through the reciting of haunting poetry. You spend more time playing Shadow Man than watching movies, but what little lines the title character has sells his tragic backstory that led him to being cursed with his newfound mantle.
Coming from the world of comics, there’s a high degree of world building to be found in Shadow Man, but it’s not exactly delivered elegantly. Your quest to stop Legion puts you toe-to-toe with five serial killers, one of which is Jack the Ripper, each of who are powered with a Dark Soul. At the start of the adventure, you’re given a file that has information on all of them, however it’s not exactly lite reading as the entries are much, much larger than what you would pick up in the first generation of Resident Evil titles. For those who want to dig into it, it’s there, but for most they’ll skim through the material at best to get back to playing. Be forewarned though, as ignoring the files altogether can leave you stumped on certain puzzles later on.
Shadow Man can best be described as gothic Rare mixed with Nintendo’s Metroid. Scattered about Deadside, and some smaller areas in our world where the serial killers dwell, are 120 Dark Souls. As you gather them, you’ll be able to break locks and open up areas you couldn’t before. Think the doors in Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie that are blocked off to you unless you have so many stars or musical notes. These are mixed with a number of other collectibles that you have to keep track of from keys that unlock portals to areas around the globe, parts of a weapon to use your Shadow Man ability in Liveside – the game’s term for our world – along with traversal upgrades and other tools. So while this deserves its mature rating, it’s not that far removed from many of the collect-a-thons that made up much of the Nintendo 64’s library.
Like in Metroid, Dark Souls remain just out of reach until you gather power-ups that allow you to walk in fire, swim in lava, or blow up certain obstacles with a bomb. Combat is somewhat clumsy in Shadow Man, as you’re mostly circle-strafing around enemies or bosses, but you have an impressive arsenal at your disposal from your basic Shadow Gun pistol to shotguns and magical relics that allow you to shoot fire. Mike can dual wield, so a player can mix-and-match until they find their favorite combination.
One of many welcome additions to this remaster is the ability to also bind your controls however you see fit and adjust the camera with the right analog stick. Another beneficial enhancement is the implementation of a handy weapon wheel so you don’t have to keep going back and forth to a pause menu to swap things in and out of your hands. This is particularly welcome in the asylum where you need a key item to open locks and activate machinery. While these changes are welcome, enemies still mostly serve as a nuisance that are in your way of seeing what’s beyond that ledge just over yonder.
The world of Deadside is a chilling, haunting place, where it’s tough to see without a torch and eerie sounds like crying children and torture devices can be heard in the towering asylum that you spend hours exploring. In Shadow Man Remastered, this dark world has never looked better as every texture is painstakingly upscaled for Shadow Man to briskly move about it even when you slightly tilt the analog stick thanks to a boost in framerate. It’s impressive to just fire a bullet here and see the light it makes reflect off of surfaces, or run around corners with the Flambeau weapon just to see what type of shadows you can cast. As always, Nightdive proves they’re among the best in the business when it comes to modernizing classic games with Shadow Man Remastered being another feather in what must be a pretty heavy cap at this point.
For those who know the world of Shadow Man back to front, this update will be or particular interest to them as Nightdive, using assets for unfinished areas, went back and added locations once left on the cutting room floor. If you’re wondering why a gamefaq you’re following doesn’t have the solution you’re looking for, there’s a reason for that.
Shadow Man is a massive game with dozens of interconnected areas linked by gates, portals, or other wise blocked off until you get the correct ability. Tunnels feed into Legend of Zelda style dungeons ripe with puzzles and backdoors into parts of the asylum. For those coming at this game for the first time, it can be overwhelming as there’s no map to speak of, so until you get the your bearings, prepare to wander around the oppressive corners of Deadside, fumbling about until you discover that one button that allows you to access an area you couldn’t before. Even with all of its enhancements, it’s still easy to miss things in Shadow Man Remastered, like a small stream of water you can climb once you get that ability because it’s simply too dark and blends into the background.
Counting all the traversing back and forth between Live and Deadside, prepare to spend upwards of 20 hours or more with Shadow Man. Thankfully there are a plethora of warp points, so once you get the hang of things, it’s easy to move to exactly where you want to without having to cut through labyrinths of corridors and similar looking geometry. It’s great to see Nightdive retain Shadow Man’s purity, but conversely, it would’ve been nice to at least get some help. When they reissued Turok 2: Seeds of Evil for example, there were helpful markers placed on important objectives and items which would certainly be of help to players experiencing this game for the first time. Especially the Dark Souls as you need many to get into the final areas of the game, and if can often torpedo your momentum as you back track looking for them to simply open a door.
Even though getting lost can become frustrating, there’s just something about Shadow Man, especially as it opens up, that makes it impossible to put down. There’s really no singular objective, and once you get over the opening hurdle, there’s really no one critical path to go on either. You can go straight for the five lords of Legion, or choose to go back to that lava pool that once killed you instantly to see what treasures you can find. Anyone looking for objective markers are out of luck here, and the player simply gets out of Shadow Man what they put into it. Luckily, its addictive nature keeps you engaged because if you put it down, there’s a chance you may not get your bearings again.
Shadow Man is by no mean a flawless game, but in an era where titles are almost too highly polished, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. For those who stick with it, Shadow Man is a highly rewarding adventure, especially for players who love to explore, and it’s easy to lose hours just seeing where you can go to next as you bust down gates or return to previous areas with new found abilities. Thanks to Nightdive’s efforts, Shadow Man is the best it has ever been, and it’s easy to recommend to those who loved it over 20 years ago and anyone who are about to discover it for the first time.
Shadow Man Remastered is available now on the PlayStation and Xbox family of consoles, Nintendo Swith and PC.