Shadow Man Remastered is another interesting remaster from Nightdive Studios who have made it their goal to update and re-release great lost classics. Sitting somewhere between HD port, remaster and remake, Shadow Man Remastered is a reimagining of what a remaster can be while retaining much of what people will remember from the original title.
Shadow Man was originally released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64, PlayStation 1, and PC. It would also eventually lead to a Dreamcast release a few months later. I have heard it brought up with a number of other titles from that time in a somewhat flippant tone, thought of as a throwaway B-tier game, yet those who did experience the title back on its original release really seem to love it.
Getting the chance to revisit the game, it’s clear to see that there’s more to this classic than initially meets the eye. While it’s aged a lot since its time, it still holds up in the areas that make it stand out.
The path to this remaster is an interesting one, as Shadow Man Remastered went through some work to bring it to modern audiences. Much of the original game’s development assets were lost, meaning that when Nightdive Studios came to work on the remaster, they had to rebuild the game from what they had available.
This remastered edition of the game is actually built from a combination of the PlayStation edition source code (the lowest quality release of the original title) and assets from a reversed engineered edition on the original PC version. Nightdive has gone through and created improved textures for the release while sticking to the feel and look of the original. What you get here is a very faithful recreation of the initial Shadow Man, but one that goes beyond just a basic port.
Along with improved textures and visuals, new lighting has been applied across the board, audio and music have been tweaked and improved and — most impressively — several previously cut areas have been reinserted into the game. I’ll get to these additional areas in a little while, but the way these have been integrated is impressively seamless.
As part of the reinsertion of this lost content, Nightdive has actually gone through and taken into account the flow and pacing of the entire game and altered the game while considering the addition of these new areas. Key items and collectibles have been moved to make these additions vital to progression, reinvigorating the experience for those who have played the original title extensively before.
Shadow Man‘s biggest strength is its atmospheric feel, poetic and even lyrical moments of storytelling.
Based on the valiant comic series, the title follows current Shadow Man, Michael LeRoi, as he is tasked with the prevention of the apocalypse by voodoo priestess Mama Nettie. She has forcibly bonded the mask of shadows to Mike’s chest, imbuing him with the powers of the Shadow Man. Mike is only the latest in a long line of Shadow Men — powerful warriors who walk between the realms of the living and the dead to combat threats to life from both sides. One of those threats is the demonic entity Legion. For we are many.
Legion has enlisted the aid of five horrendous serial killers — including Jack the Ripper — as lieutenants who will lead an army of immortal monsters to take over and eradicate the world of the living. To prevent this, Shadow Man has to traverse Deadside — the place where we all go when we die — and several locations in our reality to collect 120 dark souls… not those… powerful souls that will imbue those that hold them with great power.
The dark souls are scattered across the entirety of the Deadside realm. Collecting these dark souls gives Mike more power, allowing him to use stronger attacks and open up specially sealed gateways dotted around Deadside that lead deeper into the ever sprawling dimension.
It’s in this narrative backdrop that Shadow Man — along with titles such as those in the Legacy of Kain series — always felt like it was taking new and exciting steps into what games could do with storytelling and narration, outside of often lore heavy RPG games. The game is mature, but it doesn’t feel like it’s attempting to do something edgy with its maturity. There are undoubtably dark things being hinted at, and explicitly shown here, but it never feels exploitative. It takes a limited budget and does the utmost to build a world and story that is compelling, despite limitations.
Yet, those limitations are still there, and this is still a game showing it’s now over 20 years old. The team has done a great job tweaking controls to work with more modern sensibilities, but it still feels somewhat awkward and clunky at times — especially in closer quarters combat.
While not full tank controls as you might see in the early Tomb Raider titles, there is a clunkiness to movement and combat that can’t be ignored. It’s not something that makes things unplayable — and even those who do feel put off by it are likely to still be able to coast by on the games’ atmosphere — but It’s undoubtedly there.
Another interesting element is that the game is an early example of a 3D metroidvania. The game world is one vast interconnected web of locations that are blocked off by obstacles that require items and powers to allow future progression. In the original release, this worked well and prolonged gameplay. However, the game always had an issue with its more abstract and confusing layout in some places. It was and is very easy to become lost, go round in circles or not know where an item is. This can make the experience a chore in early areas, especially when you factor in combat against overly tough early enemy AI.
This is where the newly added areas detract from the experience somewhat. I found myself unable to progress for several hours due to a combination of hard to find now relocated items and somewhat confusing new area layouts. This could be due to my previous experience with the old games’ layout, but it was still very frustrating. These new areas also saw a handful of bugs and glitches popping up that I had not experienced in other areas. This might be a consequence of implementing areas not originally tested to the same extent as original final release game assets or just an unfortunate coincidence. For the most part, they didn’t affect my experience with the game or my ability to progress any more than the overall implementation of these additional spaces, but they did stand out.
Over time and with the addition of new abilities, much of the issues around combat and area traversal fall away and the pace picks up. But those early hours can easily be seen as a challenge that will put new players off.
The last two generations of consoles have been interesting, giving us remasters of older titles and games preservation. This remaster does some interesting things in that area — it’s a bold and important title that is worth a revisit from old fans and new players who have a passing interest in what this classic has in store. It is very close to the original experience, though, in a way that many may find detrimental.
Shadow Man Remastered
Shadow Man Remastered brings back the classic dark adventure in a way that improves on and adds to the original, while both retaining its feel for old fans and keeping it fresh for those who have seen everything before. It is a new benchmark for remastered games and for preserving what made them special.
- Retains feel while adding new content
- Great compelling narrative
- Interesting spralling world
- Brilliant soundtrack and voice acting
- Great improvements on the original title
- Clunky older game controls
- Often punishing early on
- Save points can leave you restarting whole areas