Way back in the mists of time, I played the original Shadow Man on the original PlayStation. And when I say way back, I mean way back, with the game releasing in 1999. 23 years ago, and back then your faithful reviewer was a fresh faced 25-year old. Well, as is customary in the video game world, games come around again and so it is with Shadow Man, which has had the Remastered treatment from Nightdive Studios. So, the big question is this: should this game have stayed in my memories, or can it still cut it today? Well, let’s pop over to Deadside…
Now, the story of Shadow Man is great, as good today as it was back in the day. Jack the Ripper (bear with me here) was – according to this game, anyways – killing women in order to find some secret of power that apparently resides in their souls. As he is lamenting his lack of success, Legion (for he is many) appears and tells him that in order to use the power he seeks, he has to go to Deadside, the place where all the dead souls go, and build an Engine. Fast forward to today, and Michael LeRoi is the current protector of Liveside from threats that emanate from Deadside. He has an artifact called the Mask of Shadows embedded in his chest, which allows him to pop over to Deadside whenever he fancies it. He also has a “relationship” with Nettie, a Voodoo priestess who was the one who put the Mask in him. Nettie has a dream that the Dark Souls are going to bring about the end of the world using the power of the Engine that Jack the Ripper has built. That means old Mike has to become Shadow Man and sort the issues out. And yes, it is exactly as bonkers and complicated as it sounds.
Before we go too deep, we just have to talk about the presentation of the game. In 1999, Shadow Man was cutting edge and looked the knees of the bees, and so with Nightdive Studios bringing in new techniques like anti-aliasing and 4K resolution, you’d hope that the graphics would still be relevant, right? Well, there’s no nice way to say this, but they aren’t. They look shocking, in fact, and not in a jaw dropping, OMG kind of way. Well, not in a good, jaw dropping, OMG kind of way, anyway.
The graphics are stilted, Shadow Man walks like Nettie has inserted a stick into his person along with the Mask, the animation is ropy, the backdrops are muddy and dull, and so on. The sound is okay (thankfully), with suitably overblown and doom laden voice overs and gunfire, growling monsters and roaring flames and the like. However, the kindest thing that can be said of the presentation of the whole Remastered game is that it is very much of the time that it was made.
So, it looks awful, and we have to hope that the news gets better when it comes to the actual gameplay. Sadly, it doesn’t, very much. Running and jumping is an exercise in frustration, with the most imprecise jumping mechanic I have played with in about, oooh, 23 years. Jumping to ledges, shimmying along it, and trying to jump off is frankly rubbish. You know how Lara Croft, when she is going to jump off a ledge, will lean the way she is going to jump and signal her intentions? Shadow Man doesn’t do that. If he jumps off a ledge, he jumps backwards, not able to see where he is going to land. It’s a bit rubbish, to be honest. Trying to jump onto small platforms is a lot harder than it needs to be also. All in all, the traversal is nothing more than okay, with a little adjustment. Another glaring omission is the lack of a map, as this one thing alone makes finding your way around a lot harder than it needs to be. One brown bit of Deadside looks much like another…
Combat is another area where Shadow Man Remastered struggles, to be blunt. The lock-on to enemies is woeful, and you are left swinging the camera around wildly in order to try and get the bullets to go anywhere near their targets. Shadow Man also seems to have difficulty aiming higher or lower than himself, and again, in the ‘90s this would have been perfectly acceptable. Nowadays though, it falls very far short of the mark we all expect.
And yet… there is something about Shadow Man Remastered that is capable of drawing you in; a little something that keeps you trying to play despite the way it looks and despite the jumping controls that kill you more often than any enemy. In fact – and I’ll whisper this – there is something undeniably fun about the experience. I put it down at first to my rose tinted glasses that were happily harking me back to the first time around, and there is quite obviously an aspect of that. However, even taking that into account, the rest of the draw is born out of seeing Shadow Man get stronger, discovering the new items he finds, and taking in the story as it draws to a climax.
Yes, Shadow Man Remastered looks bad, plays poorly and all the rest, but it still has that much needed X factor; that hook that keeps you trying again and again. Bearing in mind the negatives that this comes with, the overwhelming impression I am left with is that I just want to keep playing Shadow Man Remastered.
Shadow Man Remastered is available to download from the Xbox Store