Since their inception into the realm of gaming, Shadow Man's many incarnations have suffered from boatloads of gameplay-related and graphical issues that have kept the games from truly doing the designers' expansive ideas justice. Though the Dreamcast version hits much closer to the mythical mark, several annoying issues remain, most undoubtedly due to a bad case of port-sickness.
The Dreamcast's healthy innards made an easy task of handling the frame rates and resolutions, two of Shadow Man's previous incarnations' uglier issues. The Dreamcast version runs at a brisk, fluid rate, and every element in the game is notably clearer and superbly defined. The game's environments use small, tight color palettes that do very much to carry the game's mood and tone. Even considering the rather small amount of color used in any given area, it's not at all difficult to distinguish elements and objects from the environments, due to a superb job of lighting and shadow placement. My only complaint, as far as graphics go, is the actual level of detail that went into each model; while by no means an eyesore, their poly counts are rather small considering the platform. This results in some very funny-looking (and not to mention out-of-tone) characters when viewed up close. The in-game movies are almost laughable, given the blocky nature of the models and the spastic, marionette-like animation. The problem isn't so apparent when communing with nonbipedal creatures (Jaunty, the undead dwarf/snake, most notably), as their forms and motions don't really have any real-world analogues.
Shadow Man's soundtrack and effects, on the other hand, are artfully executed. The rich, synthesized soundtrack seems seamlessly interwoven with ambient moans and screams. As you approach enemies, they let out inhuman shrieks, then begin to eerily howl and cry as you disintegrate them. The only thing wrong, and the factor that prevents the title from earning a higher mark, is the fact that there is often a poor transition between audio tracks, which momentarily pauses the action while the new track begins. This is very annoying, especially during busy action sequences.Shadow Man's environments are the factors that most made me mourn the game's issues, as the environments are truly a joy to traverse and explore. In addition to the corporeal world, Mike LeRoi has to traverse Deadside as his otherworldly alter ego, Shadow Man (a la Soul Reaver), to halt the apocalypse. Deadside, the spirit world according to the game's mythos, is a stark and daunting place. The landscape is scorched and blighted, its denizens are soul-hungry and vicious, and its sheer size is aptly intimidating. Unlike most adventure games, most of the world is open to exploration from the get-go, with certain areas "locked" until Shadow Man is able to harness enough power to proceed. The world is insanely huge, and there are sights to see and secrets to be uncovered in nearly every corner. The nature of the game requires you to backtrack like mad, as many individual areas are only accessible after certain items are found or abilities and powers are gained.
Traversing Deadside means much jumping, shimmying, swimming, and plain old ass-hauling. A myriad of standard adventure elements are worked into the levels' designs, so you can expect to deal with the requisite amount of switch-hitting, level-pulling, and item-hounding to successfully proceed through your quest.
To effectively deal with threats from this world and the next world, Mike LeRoi, aka Shadow Man, is armed to the teeth. Aside from a sizable real-world arsenal to stave off earthly threats such as alligators and hound dogs, you have a host of voodoo-powered weapons at your disposal, including "asson," a flame-spewing wand, and "baton," a soul-piercing rod. Mike/Shadow Man is also ambidextrous, meaning weapons and items can be mapped to both his right and left hands. While this feature is somewhat useful in terms of variety of assault, it's seldom possible to shoot both weapons at once, often leaving you with the feeling that the feature is largely useless. The game also has a lock-on feature that lets you target the nearest enemy and circle around it as you blast away. This is accomplished with the use of a single button, basically making it the preferred mode of combat.
Overall, the controls aren't as responsive as you might like, given the game's platform elements - often, you'll find yourself stumbling onto a platform after a poorly timed and measured jump or vainly attempting to grab on to a ledge that you should be able to reach. But it must be noted that the responsiveness is much improved from the game's previous incarnations.
Shadow Man for the Dreamcast is truly the only console version of the game that isn't a chore to play. While many of the elements are subpar in terms of what the platform can easily dish out, Shadow Man does have its merits. If you're one to enjoy a tangible atmosphere replete with intelligent references and somewhat disturbing themes, then this is something you should definitely check out. Granted, of course, that you're OK with ignoring some rather annoying issues.