I’ve chosen the Dreamcast version of this game as for me it is the definitive version. I have played it across 4 different platforms & this is the version that most sticks in my head. Beside the PC it is easily the best looking & with Shadowman that is very important. So much of its impact comes from its visuals…
Shadowman is loosely based off the comic book series & introduces Mike LeRoi, a student with heavy gambling debts. Unable to repay them his parents & younger brother are murdered. He meets Mama Nettie, a voodoo priestess & agrees to become her instrument of power. She implants the mask of shadows into his chest transforming him into Shadowman & allowing him to walk in both worlds, the land of the living, Liveside & the land of the dead, Deadside.
One night Nettie has a dream that a man called Legion is planning to use five serial killers (The Five) to harvest dark souls in Deadside to create an army of immortal warriors’ intent on bringing about the Apocalypse in Liveside. She tasks Mike to travel to Deadside & collect the souls before the Five do & stop Legion.
In the opening cut scene we see Legion recruit Jack the Ripper to build his cathedral of pain, the Asylum in Deadside. This tower is the source of everything bad that will happen…
I can’t fault the story, it is interesting & exciting. It feels suitably ‘end of the world’ & deals with very adult themes throughout. Take the Five for example, the 5 men who Legion has decided to use all come with interesting back-stories told through cut-scenes, meetings with Shadowman & written reports. You won’t need to have read the comics (I hadn’t at the time) to understand what happened to Mike or why Nettie has so much control over him as it is all pretty much explained by narration & conversations with Nettie & Jaunty.
Interactive conversations are few & far between, most things are trying to kill you but the ones that you do have are excellent. The standout stuff comes from Jaunty, a snake with a human skull for head. He wears a top hat, a monocle & speaks in an Irish accent. He also loves to wind up Shadowman….
On the flipside the conversations that you do have with the Five before it descends into boss battles are very apocalyptic. They are a terrifying bunch with no remorse for their crimes bearing in mind you meet 3 of them locked up in prison. Unsurprisingly they have over-run the prison & are involved in a siege. The other 2 members of the Five are still out there plying their trades…”this is the end, beautiful friend”. The over-arching villain, Legion is left vague & for good reasons. His character turns out to be effectively the devil & acts as a puppet master throughout. He controls the Five & he is using them to further his own plans.
Shadowman looks good…in Liveside the Louisiana Bayou feels…swampy & the harsh environments of Deadside look cold & unfriendly. The paths of shadows (as they are known) are ancient with pools of blood, the temples where Shadowman receives upgrades filled with traps while the Asylum is a hulking great machine with running engines & jets of steam erupting everywhere. Everywhere feels fresh & even though you will visit Asylum several times each visit reveals more disturbing rooms each time (such as the Playrooms).
The same variety is sadly lacking in the enemies though…the paths of shadow have the same basic enemies, in fact I think there are only 4 variations throughout. The same goes for the enemies found throughout the Asylum areas…they all look exactly the same except for their choice of weapons be it hooks, a rifle etc. It’s very disappointing & I don’t understand why the creators got so lazy. By time you come up against the Five properly you will have taken to running past most enemies rather than fight.
The Five do make for good boss battles though & their defeats feel well-earned. When you first meet them Mike is human as his powers won’t work during the day & there is no chance of the battle being won. So when you do get to cast the spell that brings night & get back to them you will take serious pleasure in dishing out punishment.
That’s if you can find them…
You see the biggest criticism I can direct at Shadowman is how easy it is to get lost. The game is non-linear & encourages a lot of back-tracking & revisiting areas later in the game. Mike has his basic Shadowman skills at the beginning but as you progress new abilities & skills can be unlocked & found. This sort of levelling up is done well & gives a great visual indication by tattooing Mike with red markings (by the end he should be covered). The upgrades range from allowing him to grip hot surfaces to being able to swim in lava. As well there are a number of weapons style items that also unlock doors & passages.
As you move through areas you will pass a lot of paths that are non-traversable until you find an item later in the game. There are so many that keeping track of them all can be quite difficult. Exploration is hugely important as dark souls, the items Mike needs to progress, are hidden all around. There are 120 dark souls to collect, not all are needed to finish the game but collecting all 120 will reward you with something pretty cool.
The controls are above average really…the DC controller is hardly the most comfortable but it works decently well with Shadowman. The inventory system is clear & easy to use & allowing Mike to hold a different item in each hand was a nice touch. Oh & I love the travelling system…
Unfortunately you may find yourself battling the camera as it sometimes takes on a life of its own & swings about wildly. This is worse when you are trying to swim through small areas but is mostly manageable.
Shadowman deals with themes that appeal to me, its dark story & adult game play was the reason I picked it up in the first place. I love the game hence the reason I strived to find the best version & it is a great game let down by a few minor issues. It’s hard to talk negatively about a game that encourages such exploration but the lack of any indication of where you should go, instead relying on your own memory, is harsh. A menu map would have a least helped. Also the poor variety in enemies becomes very noticeable very early on. However Shadowman has a gripping story with interesting characters that force you to see it through to the end.