Being Acclaim in the late 90’s must not have been easy. On one hand, Turok 1 and 2 had propelled them to new heights. On the other hand, their hits were stuck on a console with a very limited audience. Perhaps they really believed in technological progress, after all Turok 2 was among the first N64 games to feature a high-resolution mode. But that eventually resulted in Shadow Man having one of the worst PS1 ports around. It is fortunate, then, that the N64 and DC version are just great, not to mention the PC version obviously.
There have been many ways to describe Shadow Man. It is an action adventure! Sure. It’s also a platformer! Yes, there are elements of it. Tomb Raider clone! I guess you can see some similarities. Strangely, few have ever called it a 3D Metroidvania, because that’s probably the closest way to describe it. Actually it would be more like a mix between Lara Croft’s epocal adventure and a Metroidvania. It’s hard to imagine such a mix working (even the newest Tomb Raider game by Squenix is very light on the exploration and backtracking elements), but it does work here, and wonderfully so.
Mike moves around with a lot more grace than Lara, and comes with a special move of his own: the ability to hold a different item in each hand. Not only you can dual-wield, but you can also choose to hold one weapon only, and thus have a hand available for hanging on ledges and pull yourself up – although using zip lines and traversing edges will still require both hands. No fret, because there are two different holster buttons, so you can organize it effectively anyway you want. It’s a very elegant system, which is perhaps less immediate than a modern game but a bit more realistic, and not as limiting as Tomb Raider’s “you are either shooting stuff or doing acrobatics”.
Good thing that the controls are so good, because you’ll be using them for a long time. Shadow Man is massive, requiring at least 25 hours for a new player. And that’s if you don’t wanna go around for all the collectibles. There are 120 souls to find (not all required, but you do get some nifty stuff for finding all of them), and roughly 500 smaller collectibles which can be used to increase your maximum health for each 100 you find. The immediate ones are maybe 250. The other 250 or so will require you to think a bit. There’s a lot of meat here.
The graphics are pretty good for a game that was developed with the Nintendo 64 in mind, but most importantly, the atmosphere will suck you in. The design ranges from scary, to creepy, to deranged, to sick. Your main objective is to hunt 5 serial killers. Couldn’t expect unicorns and butterflies. The soundtrack also does its part, with wonderfully disturbing themes for some of the creepiest levels of the game. While there are certain faults that could have been addressed, such as the tiring combat, few games offer a package as complete and well-designed as Shadow Man.
Playing today: the game was released on PC, PS1, N64 and Dreamcast. You should avoid the PS1 version, because it’s both glitchy and jerky. Clearly the PS1 couldn’t quite cope with that level of graphics and worlds size. The N64 and DC version are both good, though I haven’t tried the latter. The N64 models and textures are quite simple in comparison, and the framerate doesn’t hold very well in certain areas, but there’s a high-res mode and overall it’s perfectly playable.
Again, if PC gaming doesn’t scare you, that is the version to choose: 60fps, native screen resolution (including widescreen, which does cut the top and bottom of the image, but you can adjust the camera anyway). GOG and Steam have released the game again with enhancements to make it run better on modern systems. The original disc version also doesn’t have too many problems, so it’s a possibility to consider. Whichever way you choose, one suggestion: you can modify the regular gunshot by replacing the sgfire.wav file in the folder data > audio > sfx > weapons > shadgun. Make it more subdued. Your ears will thank me later.