June 22, 2000
Review: You're not in Mushroom Kingdom anymore!
After many ambitious additions to the N64 library, Acclaim's latest masterpiece may be the most ambitious to date. ShadowMan, based off the comics by the same name, provides a truly amazing (and also mature) experience unlike any other on the system. Providing spectacular graphics and a deep storyline, this title will have gamers wanting more. But with 70+ hours of gameplay, you'll be frightened for weeks.
And thus we start Shadow Man. You are pitted in the role of Michael LeRoi, the man who can walk between two worlds: Liveside and Deadside. But once you travel to Deadside, you become ShadowMan, a being who has the power to take the souls of the living dead. Your job is stop the impending Deadside army from taking over Liveside. Sounds simple, huh?
The visuals look great. The 4MB Expansion Pak and Acclaim are practically synonymous, and it really shows how the company has mastered the power of the pak. Unlike previous games (hint, Turok 2, hint), the expansion pak delivers more than just pretty graphics and crappy framerates. Now it is fully utilized to bring you a hi-rez experience, as well as a smooth one. Slowdown is practically non-existent; only in huge open areas does the framerate ever slip, and, gasp!, there's no fog at all. None. Thanks to a totally new game engine, the view spans out for miles around you, which may be good or bad depending on how easily you scare. There are truly horrifying environments; including waterfalls of blood, craggy cliffs, and a sky that looks like it has been through Armageddon, and all are done in amazing detail that will make your hair stand on end. Picture standing behind a bloody waterfall and looking through it to see everything cast in an ominously red hue. Scary!
The cut scenes are also wonderfully done. Polygonal characters move as realistically as polygonal characters can move, and facial expressions are also easily distinguishable. In game, Shadow Man moves fluidly and realistically-to a certain extent. I don't think I've ever seen anyone jump backwards like he does, or swim like he does, for that matter. But who cares? It's Shadow Man and he can move however he damn well pleases. The enemies take on a horrifying reality (especially those pesky slasher guys, yikes!), with amazing detail and grossness. I think one of the new all-time classic moments in a video game will be when Shadow Man takes the soul of a baddie, and then, POP!, there it goes in a mess of blood. Mmmmm. Anyway, this game is not for the light stomached. There are also special effects galore, including real-time lighting and particle effects. For example: you walk towards a lantern, it gets brighter around you. You shoot down a cave, the flashlights up the walls. It's as simple as that.
The controls are a mixed bag. They're responsive enough, but jumping can be a major pain in the butt. But with that little gripe aside, you can really focus on the good stuff. I've been waiting for the day I could shoot two handed controllably, and by that I mean each hand can be assigned a different weapon and button. For example: the b-button is the right hand, and z-trigger is the left hand. Shoot accordingly. However, this does mean you can't climb or swing along a rope unless both hands are empty, so putting your only protection away can be very dangerous indeed. Luckily, with the click of the left-c button, you get your guns back. Every button is used, as well as every control style you can possible think off. Shadow Man offers a mind-boggling amount of control configurations, including New Yorker style (?), and many others. I'll just stick with the default, thank you very much. Somewhere in the game there is Zelda-esque Z-targeting, but I've yet to come across it. I probably should have read the manual. Oh well! Anyway, this game caters to all control style preferences.
The audio is the best part of the game. Okay, if I had to pick one thing about this game that would make me pee my pants, it would have to be the sound. I would not, I repeat would not recommend surround sound on this game-unless you didn't want to sleep at night. I don't think I could even fathom what true surround sound would be like on this game, but just the thought of it scares the bajeebees out of me. The first time a dead guy lumbers towards you making sickening noises, and every time after that, you know you're in for a frightening treat for whatever awaits you around the corner. Plus, this game offers everyone's favorite scary sound: a little kid calling you from somewhere. If you've seen "The Haunting", you know what I'm talking about.
On a lighter note, the main characters' voices are awesome, and even a little funny. Especially Jaunty-a snake that has an Irish accent. Classic! During the cut scenes, everything is spoken, as well as subtitled, but it can sometimes be hard to follow with all the different accents floating around. I just wish the subtitles were easier to read. The music sets the mood perfectly, leaning on the Turok 2 style, but with a Deadside twist. Now a problem I've come across with the music is that it sometimes cuts out, leaving you in a dead silence for short periods of time. I'm not quite sure if this was intentional to add atmosphere to the game, but it is sort of annoying. Even so, sound compression was taken to immeasurable heights with this game, spared no expenses.
Was I satisfied? Overall, ShadowMan is an immensely satisfying game. Even though it may bring out phobias you never knew you had, the rush you get from it can only be compared to that of Zelda 64. While it may start to collect dust once you've finished, the journey to get there is long and powerful. The game has been dubbed "The most mature game for the N64," and is rightfully.
I would replay Shadowman more than once. Its creepy story will draw you back into the game, even after you have beaten it for a first time. Although it won't be as fun as the first time you played the game, you'll still get the eerie feelings after you shut off the game. My advice is if you can handle it, play at night, the darker the better. You will be more scared than ever, well that if you want that to happen!