Shadow Man might be a third person action adventure game, but this is no Tomb Raider.
You play the Shadow Man, Mike LeRoi, an immortal voodoo warrior who has to fight his way through both the land of the living and the land of the dead to save the world from oblivion.
From the moment the game begins, with a cutscene featuring the demonic Legion recruiting Victorian serial killer Jack The Ripper to build a giant adventure playground for the criminally insane called "Asylum", you know this is going to be a bizarre and downright disturbing experience...
Magic People, Voodoo People
Shadow Man is an incredibly atmospheric game, especially in Deadside where blood flows in rivers, wood and stretched skin are the main building materials, and tortured souls and zombie-like creatures wander around spitting green goop at you.
The sound effects and music suck you into the game and send a chill up your spine. The dialogue is pretty cheesy at times, but it all adds to the game's charm.
The graphics engine is hardly cutting edge either, but it does a competent job. In places the world is rather sparse with far too many featureless rectangular corridors and big empty rooms, but generally the level design is very good.
The models are the only real let down - they look blocky, and are animated in an awkward, disjointed way that makes them look like puppets being jerked around by invisible strings.
Re-Record, Not Fade Away...
Unfortunately atmosphere isn't everything though, and the gameplay can rapidly get frustrating and repetitive.
To win the game you will need to find and absorb the "dark souls" which are scattered throughout the game. These increase your voodoo powers, allowing you to open more of the sealed gateways in Darkside, giving you access to new levels. There are also many weapons, items and powerups which often give you access to parts of a map that you couldn't reach before.
This means that you'll be constantly going back to levels you've already visited to try and find areas you couldn't get to before. The levels themselves are massive and labyrinthine, making it easy to get lost, and every time you revisit a level it is restocked with monsters and items.
As your voodoo powers increase, the number of enemies you must fight increases as well. By the end of the game you'll be struggling through hordes of creatures every time you revisit a map, running round and round in circles trying to find the one area you haven't reached yet.
Controls are another big problem, made worse by the game's reliance on pixel perfect jumps and close quarters combat.
Swimming is a total nightmare. You use the jump key to move forwards while underwater, and the backwards and forwards keys angle your body up and down. This can be very disorientating, especially as the controls are different when you reach the surface.
Shadow Man also has something called "lock on strafing". When your gun locks on to a target, strafing will cause you to circle around them instead of moving from side to side. Because targetting is erratic at best, in practice this just makes controlling your character even more difficult.
Worst of all, whenever the game's frame rate drops off you get control lag. When this happens there's a noticeable delay between pressing a key and your character reacting to it.
Despite having a 300Mhz Pentium II with a RivaTNT graphics card, way above the minimum spec for the game, because of control lag I've had to play at the lowest colour depth and resolution to make the game playable. Which is annoying.
Mouse support is also terrible. Even on "high" sensitivity you have to move your mouse all the way across your mousepad two or three times just to get your character to turn around.
And although you can spin the camera around your character and zoom in and out, you can't look up and down without going into sniper mode, at which point you can't move. Sometimes you can't even see where your feet are without switching camera views, which obviously makes judging jumps rather difficult...
On the bright side, the camera does do a great job of keeping clear of the walls and avoiding the kind of clipping problems that plague many other third person games.
Shadow Man could have been a great game, but the awkward controls and constant backtracking makes it very frustrating at times. It's also a little disappointing that the game looks virtually identical to the Nintendo 64 version.
On the bright side the game is massive, very atmospheric, and strangely addictive. It should keep you busy for a week or two at least, and if you've got the patience it's well worth a dabble. Release Date - available now
Download The Demo
Don't just take my word for it, check out the Shadow Man demo for yourself! It weighs in at a hefty 70Mb, but if you have the bandwidth to handle it you should definitely check it out before buying the game.
All the screenshots in this review are taken from Acclaim's website. This is because Shadow Man has no screenshot facility, and whenever I tried to do a screen capture with HyperSnap (every gaming journalist's best friend) the game crashed and dumped me back to Windows.
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