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Shadow Man Remastered Review

Shadow Man Remastered review

Shadow Man Remastered is an example of one of the earliest 3D “metroidvanias”, now in HD and with other improvements. In the mid to late 90s, most 3D games were level based and relied on a hub area to tie the stages together. Other times, areas were connected as a series of rooms like Ocarina of Time.

Assembling 3D worlds during this time was not easy, let alone something like Shadow Man which not only has its world seamlessly connect, but also has a parallel world mechanic. When this initially came out in the spring of 1999, Shadow Man not only was a technological marvel, it was an impressive artistic achievement too.

It wasn’t enough to be a meticulously constructed world with engrossing gameplay. The dark and surprisingly mature narrative ensured this to be one of the few Nintendo 64 games to be M-rated. Has Nightdive Studios have worked their voodoo magic once again? Read on in Shadow Man Remastered review for the Xbox One!

Shadow Man Remastered
Developer: Nightdive Studios
Publisher: Nightdive Studios
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac OS X, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (reviewed)
Release Date: January 17, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $19.99 USD 

The devil is seeking to begin the apocalypse. Before he can go revelations on Earth, he needs five “dark souls”, to build his army. The dark souls are souls of damned mortals; heinously evil individuals like a deranged scientist, a murderous redneck, and even Jack the Ripper of all people.

The devil or “Legion’s” power over these men further corrupts them and transform them into full-on demons. They earn positions of terrible power in Deadside, but they have one problem; Michael LeRoi is quite happy living in Liveside, in the bayou.

After a voodoo priestess has a deadly premonition of the coming end of days, she guides LeRoi to seek out the dark souls and to vanquish the coming doom. Despite the unreliable odds, LeRoi has the upper hand since he is a Shadow Man; a lord of the dead who walks in the land of the dead and living. If anyone can thwart the demons, it’s Shadow Man.

Unlife as a Shadow Man means never being able to truly die. Kind of like a soul reaver, if LeRoi dies in the material plane aka Liveside; he goes straight to Deadside. In Deadside, he is endowed with supernatural abilities and is decked out with otherworldly gear; spiritual composites of his earthly weapons.

Since Shadow Man is acquainted with death, he can never truly die. Running out of HP in Deadside merely transports him to a checkpoint. Its still basically “dying”, but the narrative works it into the scenario. Even dying in Liveside has little consequence since LeRoi can easily transport himself back.

Despite playing as an immortal voodoo warrior of death, this is a challenging game. During my Shadow Man Remastered review, there were many trips back to Deadside and even more trekking back and around the same areas where LeRoi enjoyed some dirt naps.

Shadow Man Remastered is based on a game from a time where developers were not afraid of gating progress behind obscure paths forward. Compounded with a sprawling and complex, labyrinthine world that is dense with similar looking winding passages – it can be easy to get completely lost in Deadside.

Thankfully, enemies won’t respawn unless LeRoi leaves either dimension. This does help make backtracking smoother and doing runs back to a nasty big boy for a rematch easier. The retracing of steps does highlight the issue of very distant checkpoints.

Expect to have to run through large platforming gauntlets and evade obstacles multiple times if a boss that LeRoi might not be ready to fight yet keeps breaking him in half. This is a side effect of the large and nonlinear world design of Shadow Man.

It is highly enjoyable to be free to explore and discover. The drawback is that there are several areas that players will be hopelessly unprepared for, especially early on. Shadow Man Remastered won’t give any hints if LeRoi is not ready for some of these challenges and it is up to the player to figure it out by experimenting and exploring.

While navigating Deadside and Liveside, expect to get into battle with the undead, demons, and alligators. Combat in Shadow Man Remastered is simple and is a product of the era it originally came out. LeRoi is primarily a ranged fighter and will be circle-strafing around most of his foes, dodge rolling and using all the powers of hell at his command.

LeRoi has a soft auto-aim and will land his shots so long as his targets are within his sights and at a reasonable range. Most encounters revolve around evasion, while the guidance of the auto-aim handling most of the offense. Battles are still challenging despite their simplicity and its due to the unusual enemy types and their aggression.

As tough as scraps can get, they nowhere near as as tough as the environment. Deadside and even some of Liveside are the biggest threats and feel like they are actively trying to kill the player as you explore. There are tons of traps and deadly lava rivers that wait for a clumsy misstep.

It all feels appropriate given the extremely dark and bleak atmosphere. Deadside would be a hopelessly hostile place where stepping outside of the obvious path would result in a brutally, bloody re-death. Most of the denizens are monsters or demonic souls of killers.

The artistry of Deadside is what makes it such a compelling setting. The ambiance is otherworldly and darkly surreal. Bizarre structures that defy human understanding reach the scorched and lurid skies. It is all enhanced visually thanks to Nightdive Studios’ thoughtful remastering.

Shadow Man Remastered review

For my Shadow Man Remastered review, analysis was done on the Xbox One version running on a Xbox Series S. As expected, Nightdive Studios locks the frame rate at 60fps, with no slow down or drops at all. Resolution is set to 4K and with almost no dips.

What makes Shadow Man Remastered extra special is the unbelievable extras and enhanced features that the boys at Nightdive Studios included. Options that allow players to tweak the settings to an unparalleled ranged and allow manipulation of the most minute of visual flourishes.

Motion blur, ambient occlusion, anisotropic filtering, texture quality, new lighting effects and even shadows can either be adjusted or turned off or on. When testing for this Shadow Man Remastered review, all features were turned on and it came with no compromises at all.

Shadow Man Remastered can look really cool with all these modern graphical effects on. This is a really old and low-poly game and it takes on a new aesthetic with things like ambient occlusion and real-time shadow maps. It somehow makes the world feel more unsettling when combined with such limited character models.

The character models may be a point of contention for some players. They barely resemble humans and barely have any natural anatomy. LeRoi himself often looks like a gaunt, shriveled zombie instead of a tight and fit black man. It’s as if he is made of beef jerky or something absurd.

All character hands in cutscenes look like flippers or gnarled loaves of bread. It is too bad that Nightdive Studios could not include enhanced character models as an option like they did with their Quake remaster. Gamers who grew up with games like this may be more accepting, but it is easy to imagine players who weren’t even born yet being turned off by these character models.

Nightdive Studios’ efforts have proven fruitful for a nearly perfect remastering of a pretty good game. The original Shadow Man was not exactly perfect, but the remastering does go a long way at addressing some of its shortcomings. Control options have been expanded to include a modernized third-person control scheme, adjusted AI, and even a weapon wheel.

The team took the effort to restore some cut content, like some weapons and enemies. This also includes features that were exclusive to the specific platforms like the Dreamcast version’s hidden areas and some entirely new levels that were axed.

Most remasters merely improve image quality and give a frame rate boost. When Nightdive Studios remasters a game, they have a proven trend of truly enhancing the experience. Fans of the original really should not pass this one up, especially since it is packed with surprises inside – like a bloody and juicy cadbury egg from hell.

There are not too many titles out there like Shadow Man. It is like a nightmarish mixture of old Tomb Raider, Soul Reaver and surprisingly some Dark Souls. It has really hot and heavy noir style dialogue from a deep and smooth sounding protagonist; where it is enjoyable to listen to.

This was originally based on a comic book, but while time has ravaged on; the world forgot about the comic from Valiant. All is left is a game from the late 90s. Some gamers who grew up around that time remember Shadow Man fondly and for good reason.

Shadow Man Remastered today is a bit of an acquired taste. Some may not be able to make their way through such an intensely convoluted world with terrible threats. Others may relish this cryptic descent into the underworld. Regardless, Shadow Man Remastered is undeniably a very impressive remastering, no matter how one feels about the game.

Shadow Man Remastered was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Night Dive Studios. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Shadow Man Remastered  is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Excellent noir-like narration and extensive occult themes are well researched
  • Sprawling and nightmarishly winding, non-linear world design
  • Night Dive's visual enhancements and polish make for a righteous remaster
  • Challenging gameplay that focuses on expansive exploration and brutal shootouts with demons
  • A lengthy adventure clocking in around the 20 hours range and stuffed with optional objectives

The Bad

  • Stiff controls and sluggish animations in parts
  • Some players may be put off by the intensely low-poly character models
  • Distant checkpoints

About

A youth destined for damnation.