There's no question that gaming's past should be preserved. If a game is great, then it should be available for future generations to play and appreciate. Less well-loved games can easily turn into cult classics or can serve as lessons to help developers avoid mistakes when making their own games. Handily, this is a philosophy shared by Washington-based studio Nightdive, which describes its mission as "bringing lost and forgotten gaming treasures back from the depths". Now, Nightdive has used spooky ancient voodoo to resurrect 1999 action-adventure cult classic Shadow Man in the form of Shadow Man Remastered.
The story is thus. Michael LeRoi is the current Shadow Man, a voodoo warrior tasked with protecting the living world from the horrors of the underworld. Voodoo priestess Nettie has an apocalyptic vision and tasks Mike with journeying to the underworld - also known as Deadside - to prevent the vision from coming to pass. What follows is a classic hard-to-categorize adventure. It's got elements of shooters, puzzlers, exploration platformers, and RPGs, plus plenty of other things thrown into the gumbo pot. Will Shadow Man Remastered find a place for itself in this new world, or is it better off buried with other relics of the past?
Nightdive's Work On Shadow Man Remastered Is Great
The first thing to say is that Nightdive has done an excellent job with this remaster. Shadow Man Remastered retains the off-kilter charm of the original title but cleans away some of the cobwebs. Targeting, movement, and combat feel nicer than they did back in 1999, and the environments look significantly prettier, although this is still very much a late-period PS1-era title. There's also a whole bunch of cut content that's been restored in this version, bringing it closer to the developers' original vision. If you prefer your remasters to surround the original with a gilded frame rather than repainting the whole thing, that's very much what Shadow Man Remastered is going for.
Nightdive has done an excellent job with this remaster.
Full disclosure: I didn't play the original Shadow Man, and I'm not familiar with the comic series on which it's based. However, I do have a healthy surplus of PS1-era nostalgia. I grew up playing hard-to-classify "action-adventure" games like Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, so I'm very much in Shadow Man Remastered's wheelhouse. The good news is that if you played Shadow Man, or if you've got the same kind of love for the halcyon days of the fifth console generation as I have, then Shadow Man Remastered will definitely appeal to you. However, you're going to need to overlook some serious issues if you don't have that longing for the past.
Combat In Shadow Man Remastered Feels Clunky
Gameplay-wise, Shadow Man Remastered is very difficult to pin down. It's got platforming in the style of old-school Tomb Raider games. You'll find some light puzzle-solving here akin to a sort of watered-down version of The Legend of Zelda, and there's shooting reminiscent of third-person affairs like MDK or C-12: Final Resistance, too. To top it all off, there's a heavy focus on exploration and backtracking that put me strongly in mind of Soul Reaver or even Super Metroid. It's always risky blending genres like this, and unfortunately, Shadow Man Remastered struggles to pull it off convincingly.
In essence, you're doing two things during most of Shadow Man: fighting enemies or exploring Deadside (or, occasionally, the living world). To battle enemies, you're given an array of weaponry, but your main source of damage is the Shadowgun, which you'll need in order to take down most bosses and enemies in Deadside. Unfortunately, the Shadowgun just feels horrible. It's a pea-shooter with little impact, and even as you upgrade it with Dark Souls (yes, really) to increase its charge time and shot power, it just never feels like it's having any kind of significant effect on your enemies whatsoever.
You have access to a number of other weapons that you'll unlock throughout Shadow Man Remastered's running time, too, and they're a little more powerful. Sadly, they share the same problem as the Shadowgun. There's no sense of force or power behind any of the weapons; they simply do more damage without feeling like they have a different effect. As such, you likely won't get much cathartic joy out of the combat here. There are a number of boss encounters that liven things up a little, but for the most part, combat in Shadow Man is rote and boring.
Shadow Man Remastered's Levels Are Fun, But Far Too Confusing
Thankfully, the level design in Shadow Man Remastered is more fun to engage with than the combat. There are a surprising number of different stages to explore, and while the geography never quite rises above "murky fortress", you'll find plenty of puzzles, devious traps, and platforming sequences to enjoy. This is a long game, but it never feels like it's repeating itself. Certain traps or ideas are re-used, but it's usually in a new context that changes how you approach them. When you're on track, Shadow Man Remastered's world is great fun to explore.
Unfortunately, "when you're on track" isn't very often at all. To put it simply, the world of Shadow Man Remastered is labyrinthine to a fault. I found myself lost and turned around on numerous occasions, and there is absolutely no help available from the game itself to get you back on track. Near the beginning of the game, you meet Michael's fun, jaunty Irish snake friend, whose name is...uh...Jaunty. He felt like he should be providing support and hints to help you, but every time I revisited him, he regurgitated the exact same dialogue from near the beginning of the story, which felt like a huge missed opportunity.
When you're on track, Shadow Man Remastered's world is great fun to explore.
There's an issue with upgrade balancing, too. Upgrades necessitate careful exploration of the world, which is fine, but some are far more useful than others. One upgrade that allows you to traverse a certain kind of lava eluded me for hours, but once I got it, the game world opened up hugely, allowing me to explore areas I'd missed for secrets and story progression. Another upgrade allows you to bang drums to unlock goodies, and I don't think I used it once across my entire 25-hour playthrough. Too often, rewards elicited an "oh..." rather than an "oh!".
Shadow Man Remastered's Flaws Make It Charming
Even though the combat is weak and the levels are confusing, there's a certain charm to Shadow Man Remastered that's hard to deny. Maybe it's in the way it tries its hand at every genre at once, or maybe it's the simple generosity of the overall experience. Shadow Man Remastered is a very long game, and its levels keep on revealing new pathways and enemies when you think they've exhausted all they have to offer. The environments become more varied later on, and there are some fun surprises in the form of Liveside environments that I don't want to spoil.
There's also a certain endearing clumsiness to the overall tone and atmosphere of Shadow Man Remastered. At times, this is a genuinely horrifying game, full of late-90s extreme gore and shocking ritualistic murder. At other times, likeably edgy protagonist Michael LeRoi will fire off a silly quip or quote that simply doesn't feel like it fits with Shadow Man's overall aesthetic. Somehow, though, this never feels jarring. The story and tone feel like a teenager's first attempt at fiction, by turns a totally ridiculous power fantasy and a surprisingly dark evocation of ritual murder and sinister cult worship.
Even Shadow Man's controls, which are initially incredibly finicky and awkward, give it an unpolished appeal. It's got a similar feel to the pre-reboot Tomb Raider games, all tanky turning and directional platforming. A game created nowadays might use contextual ledge grabs and practically pre-animated climbing sequences. Here, the fact that you can miss jumps and even die instantly if you fail to grab a ledge in some areas makes Shadow Man feel appealingly organic. You'll hate it if you want a smooth, clean experience, but you'll love it if you like to work for your platforming.
Shadow Man Remastered | Final Thoughts
I enjoyed my time with Shadow Man Remastered overall, but it wore me down towards the end. Its endlessly confusing level design, samey and weak combat, and repetitive enemy design made it a hard sell across 25 hours. However, if you can forgive these faults, it's a unique, intriguing prospect that blends genres to sometimes rewarding effect. Often, Shadow Man Remastered is infuriating, but occasionally, it'll give you that feeling of organic accomplishment that many modern games fail to offer. Nightdive's remaster work has made Shadow Man Remastered the best game it can possibly be, but it's still very far from perfect.
TechRaptor reviewed Shadow Man Remastered on PC via Steam using a code provided by the publisher.
- Rewarding Exploration
- Good Visuals
- Organic Platforming Focus
- Confusing, Labyrinthine Level Design
- Terrible Combat
- Poorly Balanced Upgrades