Few games, in spirit, actually live up to the famed ESRB 'mature' rating. In attempts to capture a more adult mainstream market, developers often dump in extreme violence, profane language, and sexually risqu content in order to achieve that 'mature' status. This kind of mentality has resulted in games that range from being dangerously exploitative (i.e. Kingpin) to dumbfoundly laughable (i.e. Duke Nukem: Zero Hour), but all the while not the least bit 'mature' nor 'adult'. Fortunately, Shadow Man offers a hopeful sign that better things are to come because this game doesn't fall under the same guises and actually lives up to that oh-so controversial rating.
Through its splendid graphics, ominous audio, and its well-scripted and well-acted dialogue, Shadow Man delivers a package that's respectable to the over 18 age group (but not by much). There's still plenty of bloodletting and overt cussing, but the majority of it is done within the creative context of the game and doesn't feel overly abused or cheaply implemented. Don't get me wrong though, in spite of the tight aesthetic control, this game is as dark and nihilistic as anything I've played in recent years (all the doom and gloom started to bother even me in that David Fincher kind of way). It's just that all the savagery and profanity effectively permeates through every aspect, including the most important one: the gameplay.
However, even with the successful integration of controversial elements into the gameplay, Shadow Man still comes up short in the very same topic. Like Dale already mentioned, the game lacks vitality when actually playing it. And that's not a slight on the controls, because I didn't share the same difficulties as Dale did, but rather on the primary objectives. The bulk of the game involves exploring through huge sprawling landscapes in search of artifacts, which is not the problem in itself. The problem is that there isn't a sense of ingenuity in locating these objects. After extensive days of hunting with little reward to show for it besides the opening of more expansive areas so I can repeat the whole process again, tedium, frustration, and boredom start to rear their ugly heads. Of course it doesn't help that what the instruction manual describes as an open-ended adventure really meant that I would never know where I needed to go or what artifacts I needed in order to get there.
Even with those major complaints, Shadow Man is still a very competent and solid game that delivers in almost every other aspect (especially visually). I can imagine those looking for this type of an action game or fans of the comic book will find, more or less, what they are looking for and I wouldn't be the one to discourage them. For me, however, Shadow Man remains a tease. Its opens up some possibilities for games that truly should be considered mature, but falters slightly by not making the gameplay every bit as innovative as the content.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Nintendo 64 version of the game.
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