The ’90s Are Back, Baby!
HIGH Going back to that comforting oldschool level design…
LOW …Until I found myself lost every five minutes.
WTF Cutscenes and enemies disappearing, for that full ’90s experience.
As part of a ’90s movement to adapt comic books into movies — a movement that came too soon, as we now know — Shadow Man was apparently one of the properties being considered, and it was said that Ice Cube was meant to be the star. That film never materialized, but a videogame did. The voodoo-themed book from Valiant Comics was optioned and developed by Acclaim in 1999, and it turned out to be a competent third-person action-adventure met with mostly favorable reviews. Now, 22 years later, Shadow Man is being remastered with 4K graphics, improved effects like anti-aliasing, shadow mapping and HDR rendering, and restored content that was previously cut.
In Shadow Man, Michael LeRoi is someone who can switch between the worlds of the living and the dead at will. His abilities change depending on which dimension he’s in, and his goal is to retrieve the souls of five serial killers (some of them will have to be defeated) before ultimately confronting a demon named Legion. Overall, it’s the usual save-the-world-from-evil plot, with brief cutscenes that do little to enrich the narrative.
In the adventure, LeRoi will explore several levels while having to solve environmental puzzles — pushing switches, opening up doors — and, above all, fighting hordes of enemies. Everything in the design tends to be a bit on the cryptic side, at times making the player guess where they need to go in order to proceed, but it’s all a bit obtuse and thorough exploration is required avoid hours of backtracking. As far as combat, in the dark world our hero is more powerful and capable of handling special voodoo-enhanced weapons, along with being able to withstand more hits. In the real world, he’s weaker and can only fire a gun.
Unfortunately, Shadow Man fails to offer the expected ‘dual world’ level design where a player might have to switch back and forth between worlds to solve puzzles and such. No, this ability to change dimensions is only used to offer different environments to explore but doesn’t offer much in the way of varied gameplay mechanics.
I played Shadow Man when it was originally released, and coming to it again after all this time later evokes certain mixed feelings. On one hand, it feels slightly comforting to revisit simpler levels where the small-scale flow of each room is easily predictable. On the other, everything does tend to feel kind of samey and losing my way in a larger sense ended up being a too-common occurrence. Adding a map or hint system would have been a welcome addition for newcomers who don’t have a soft spot for the period Shadow Man is from, but Nightdive Studios goes the conservative route with this remaster — great graphical improvements, bunch of new levels and weapons, but not much else. Also unfortunate is that the newly-restored voiceovers only feature the original dubbing. In the other language versions, they default to English when translated lines are missing.
Of course, even with all the improvements there’s no mistaking Acclaim’s title for anything made recently thanks to polygonal models that remain simple and straightforward. Still, Shadow Man looks good enough to be played in widescreen and I would assume that anyone coming to the game would be prepared with the proper ‘retro appreciation’ frame of mind.
Shadow Man: Remastered is an interesting choice for today’s market, because it’s not afraid to show the passage of time — it proudly displays the trappings of its era with untouched (and cryptic) level design, clunky combat and alight narrative. It will provide a particular sort of nostalgia for those who remember the period it’s from, but players coming to it for the first time should scale back any expectations.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Nightdive Studios. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it contains moderate violence and mild horror with enemies like vampires and spiders. Even though I wouldn’t consider it more violent or scarier than an average RPG, I still would recommend it to a teen audience.
Colorblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Several of the enemies feature attacks that are telegraphed only by sound. As such, this game is not easily playable to those who can’t hear the cues. The text cannot be altered or resized. In my view, the game is not accessible.
Remappable Controls: There is no control diagram. The game is controlled via the mouse to rotate the camera and perform attacks, along with keyboard to control the Shadow Man. It is also possible to use a gamepad, but — weirdly enough — it didn’t feel as precise as with the keyboard and mouse.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).
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