Back in 1999, I played every game I could get my hands on. I didn’t have an Nintendo 64, PlayStation or a Dreamcast though—I played mostly PC games back then. I skipped over Shadow Man because it seemed like another console port at a time when such things on PC were more often “misses” than “hits.” That’s something I ended up regretting—as it seems to have a cult following on the internet, especially as a Nintendo 64 game. Developer Nightdive Studios has been pulling up nostalgic treasures from the depths of time, and with Shadow Man getting the remaster treatment I figured this would be the best time to check out this beloved cult classic.
Shadow Man Remastered is third person action adventure game in which you play as the lord of Deadside, walker between the worlds and immortal voodoo warrior Michael LeRoi AKA the Shadow Man. This character, originating in Valiant comics, has had a few incarnations. This particular version of the Shadow Man was gifted a powerful mask of shadows by a voodoo priestess named Nettie. I guess “gifted” may be too generous a term, as Michael didn’t really have a choice. But now that he possesses this power, he’s embraced his identity. A powerful being named Legion is trying to bring about the apocalypse, and with the help of a teddy bear, the Shadow Man must travel between the living world, and the nether world of Deadside—where lost souls reside—to put a stop to Legion’s plans, and stop the apocalypse.
If that sounds extremely grand, it is pretty high concept. Being a comic certainly helps with the world building, but Shadow Man has a complex brand of storytelling that was just becoming more normalized in video games in 1999, the year of Shadow Man’s original release. That makes Shadow Man an interesting piece of history. Nightdive’s efforts to remaster Shadow Man have done a bit to modernize the game, especially graphically. A lot of graphical bells and whistles have been added to the remastered version, including motion blur, anisotropic filtering, shadow mapping, HD textures, etc. But most of these do little to make Shadow Man look better, or more modern. Rather, it does the opposite: it shines a spotlight on its age. The soft, almost blurry game from the Nintendo 64 era has been sharpened, and in so doing, Shadow Man lost of bit of its graphical charm.
Graphics aren’t the only update that Shadow Man: Remastered enjoys. Content originally cut from Shadow Man has been re-added. I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what was re-added, but since I have no experience with the original, I can’t say for sure. Whatever it is, I imagine it will be a treat for those die hard Shadow Man fans out there. But even with these graphical updates and content additions, there’s not really much incentive to play Shadow Man beyond nostalgia.
Shadow Man did get some updates in regards to controls, but it is far from a modern feeling game. In fact, Shadow Man feels like a bit of a chore to play. It’s hard to remember exactly what struggles developers had during the infancy of 3D video games, but Shadow Man comes from that era, and Remastered does little to tighten the controls, or even make them more enjoyable to play. Movement feels floaty, jumping feels unresponsive, and the camera is a bit hard to manipulate. In a word: miserable.
The control issues really permeate throughout the rest of Shadow Man: Remastered. Everything from gunplay to the occasional platforming section is affected by the floaty controls. Shadow Man: Remastered doesn’t really hold your hand, either. It’s easy to get lost, or even just not even know what you’re supposed to be doing. Most of the story and even information about your goals are conveyed during lengthy cut scenes in which ridiculous dialogue is spoken in a type of earnestness only present in video games from the late 90s/early 2000s. It’s easy to get lost in both the plot and the levels.
I’m not sure I would recommend Shadow Man: Remastered to the uninitiated modern gamer. It’s not a ground-up remake, but instead a graphically dolled-up version of the original, with all of its age on full display. In my research for this review, I often found fans of the original Shadow Man praising the game for being genuinely scary, especially in its depiction of Deadside. I feel like a lot of its charm was lost in this graphical remaster, and instead of bringing Shadow Man to modern standards, it was merely brought to modern platforms.
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