Shadow Man Review

If you're dead set on experiencing this title, you'd be better off going with the N64 version, or maybe even wait for the Dreamcast release.

In an apparent attempt to start a new franchise, Acclaim has brought Shadow Man to the PlayStation. Based on its comic series of the same name, Shadow Man puts you in the shoes of Mike LeRoi, human male turned zombie avenger. The 3D adventure, which is heading to the Dreamcast, suffers from some severe gameplay and graphical issues not found in the N64 version. Despite its deep, engrossing plot, innovative narrative devices, and rich, tangible mood, the game is largely unplayable.

Shadow Man lays the voodoo imagery on pretty thick. Mike LeRoi is possessed by the spirit of an ancient African warrior whose eternal duty is to protect his tribe from otherworldly assaults. This power was bestowed on him by Mama Nettie, an immortal voodoo priestess, who has total control over his destiny. Consequently, he must act as her lap dog and enter Deadside, the spirit world, to run her supernatural errands.

The actual story is presented in a series of FMVs of marginal quality. In brief, Mike/Shadow Man must prevent Legion, an ancient evil being bent on bringing on apocalypse, from realizing his goal. To do so, you must traverse the corporeal (Liveside) and spiritual (Deadside) worlds, collecting items, solving puzzles, and defeating bosses. It's very much in the spirit of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, thematically.

The actual game occurs in the third person, with all the requisite features somewhat intact: a free camera, a multitude of items assignable to mappable buttons, and interactive environments. The most glaring issue, and the factor that most largely contributes to Shadow Man's sizable set of problems, are the unresponsive controls. Shadow Man's onscreen representation is hugely temperamental; the slightest nudge in any direction might well lead him to dash, when a small step would have been more appropriate and advantageous. These occurrences are totally impossible to predict and, in turn, are responsible for many a fiery death. Jumps are similarly difficult to gauge - depending on where Shadow Man is standing, the jumps will vary. When he's next to any tall object (wall, cliff face, pillar), his jumps will be abruptly cut off, as if he has hit an invisible ceiling. Similar problems occur when he's jumping off of a platform: if the jump is executed too close to a ledge, Shadow Man will appear to stumble and freeze abruptly before falling off. Insanely frustrating, considering the number of platform-like elements in the game.

Another huge problem is the camera, which, unfortunately, affects almost every aspect of gameplay. The camera can only be shifted to fixed angles relative to the character, which means you can't use it to look up or down. When the camera is shifted to any angle other than the standard over-the-shoulder view, the controls are remapped with it, relative to the angle, making the character many mites more difficult to control. This means certain doom if it's done mistakenly. The only way to achieve something resembling a free camera is by using the game's myopic sniper mode, which zooms in on the surroundings, making it impossible to view objects relatively close to you and often exposing the ugly, grainy textures. But that's another story.

In theory, Shadow Man boasts a great graphical vision: The environments appear stark, scorched, and razed; the character designs are right out of Giger's Necronomicon; and the occult motif does a whole lot to make you feel as if you're the only living body in a sea of lost souls. But, in practice, the package falls painfully short of its vision. When viewed up close, all the graphical elements and environments are horribly grainy and pixilated. The game shifts seamlessly into FMVs, but, sadly, they are composed of the same grainy, fuzzy elements. When set into motion, the elements seem to shift statically around the environments. This subpar frame rate gives the game the appearance of poor stop-motion animation. Totally disappointing, given the cool tone that was shot for.

What we have in Shadow Man is, apparently, a rushed attempt by Acclaim to permeate the market with its new franchise. The N64 version does more to realize the neat vision Acclaim had in mind, but this fiasco on the PlayStation will surely turn many gamers off to the franchise. It totally did so for me. If you're dead set on experiencing this title, you'd be better off going with the N64 version, or maybe even wait for the Dreamcast release. Otherwise, there are many PlayStation titles (Soul Reaver immediately comes to mind) that do this concept a much greater deal of justice.

The Good

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The Bad

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