In writing the Second Opinion for Oni, Brad discussed what he saw as the main pet peeve he had to deal with as a game critic. According to him, nothing is worse than being stuck reviewing what clearly appears to be a bad game. Such titles will force you to spend hours playing them, only to leave you in the end feeling robbed of time that would have been better spent doing just about anything else. The reason why I'm mentioning this is that I've come across a title that made me feel the very same way. While Brads arguments were targeted at Oni, my experience concerns Acclaims Shadow Man 2: 2econd Coming. The various Louisiana settings and the thought of playing a game similar in its morbid ways to Silent Hill 2, or so I thought, are what initially drew me to this title. Unfortunately, as soon as I turned on the PlayStation 2, I realized that, contrary to most other titles, it was much easier to put the controller down than it was to keep playing.
Many titles hope to send chills down the spine of players by using imagery such as monsters coming out of the ground in a graveyard and bodies being savagely mutilated or by continuously using macabre vocabulary in the various dialogues. I must admit Shadow Man 2 offered me my share of frights but not for the reasons everyone expected. I did not fear for my characters life and even less for my own. Instead my worries were targeted at my Playstation 2, which sounded about ready to choke on the disc even before the game started. Shadow Man 2 gives new meaning to the word "loading". Not only is there loading in every conceivable instance imaginable, but these moments of unwanted pause appear to last an eternity. To add to this already annoying aspect, this game is the only one I have played so far that will make the Playstation 2 sound like it is giving its disc drive a heavy work out.
As is the case with many games, Shadow Man 2 presents what seems to be an interesting story on paper, however it fails miserably when attempting to keep up the appearances in the actual game. Basically, this is the story of Mike Leroi, a man who died long ago and now, as a result of a voodoo spell, roams between the world of the living and that of the dead. Leroi possesses an alter ego, Shadow Man, a demon that basically looks like a half-decomposed corpse wearing jeans and suspenders. Shadow Man acts as a guardian whose duty it is to protect our realm from the Grigori, a group of demons bent on freeing their evil leader, Asmodeus, which would then bring about Armageddon.
If any of what I have just mentioned happens to sound interesting, playing the game will surely convince many otherwise. The story isnt involving at all and getting through this adventure feels more like a chore than anything else. The adventure is separated into various missions Mike must accomplish to advance in his quest. The problem is the game does not make any effort to involve the player. One of the early missions consists of finding ten bird skulls in order to save a dying friend who has been cursed with an evil spell. Yet, Shadow Man 2 does not put any pressure on the player, such as a countdown which would let Mike know how much time is left for him to complete the mission before it is too late. Instead, Leroi is free to take all the time he needs, which hurts what little credibility this title has. Even worse, I was not given a single clue as to where I had to search and if I was looking for some kind of artifact, an actual skull or if I had to shoot down birds. Keeping gamers in the dark in such manner is a great way of insuring that anyone who plays Shadow Man 2 will get bored fairly quickly and that the game will spend more time gathering dust than being used.
In my book, Shadow Man 2 is a serious contender for the "Worst Button Layout" award, thanks to its incredibly awkward controls. The directional pad controls the poorly designed camera system all the while adjusting the perspective view. Firing a weapon consists of pressing either the L2 or R2 buttons, which allows for Mike to store a weapon in each hand. While originality was probably the goal aimed for when programming the firing buttons, the result simply doesn't work well. Without a doubt, the best example of these "unfriendly" controls can be seen when attempting to use a sniper gun. Both joysticks are required in order to move the gun which makes it harder to hit even immobile targets. Frustration and impatience will surely be loyal companions to anyone who wishes to try this gun out, let alone the rest of the game.
Shadow Man 2 shows off its low quality best in its graphics. Settings such as a small Louisiana town look like they have come straight out of a Nintendo 64 game. Most areas are deprived of any attention to detail and look blend at best. Lets not forget when nighttime comes. Seeing or locating anything becomes nearly impossible and the camera angles only help to disadvantage the player.
The only area of Shadow Man 2 that isn't as terrible as the rest is its sound. The game appears to catch the atmosphere of Mikes surrounding in its music, whether it be in some sort of swamp where the appropriate sounds would be heard or in the French Quarter (A part of New Orleans) where ambient music appropriate to the area accompanies the gaming experience. Unfortunately, this aspect of Shadow Man 2 can in no way save this game, for playing it feels more like enforced homework than anything else.
If anything can be learned from playing this game, its that while certain titles can be described as boring, there are others that succeed in going beyond that term, becoming actual drags for anyone who wishes to try them out. Shadow Man 2 belongs to the latter group, for it offers no satisfaction nor is it fun to play. It will only leave players feeling as if they had just been wasting their time or they had been cheated out of money.