★★★★ 4 Stars
Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
Platform: Nintendo 64, Playstation, PC
Publisher: Acclaim / Night Dive Studios
Published: 1999 / 2013 (Re-Release)
Summary – Shadow Man follows Michael LeRoi, a man who has been chosen as the next “Shadow Man”, a warrior and voodoo priest who protects the living from the chaos and violence of the restless dead. The prophetic dream of a priestess, Mama Nettie, warns Michael of a demon, manifesting itself through the reanimated corpses of serial killers, who plans to create an army from the dead that Michael has to stop before it can begin.
So, there are probably much better horror games I could’ve placed in this spot. I considered something like Yomawari or The Evil Within for this place, but Shadow Man is rather special to me. It’s terribly underrated and glossed over, and I have yet to meet another with the unique atmosphere of this game: a mashup of Western gothic, Faustian and Lovecraftian demonology. There’s a sinister, mythological vibe of black magic and irredeemable curses that’s kind of hard to describe, but Shadow Man doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Dark comedy abounds as well.
The characters and settings are by far the best part of this game. Believe it or not, Shadow Man was a partial inspiration for one of the shorts from my upcoming book, because I loved the over-the-top insanity of some of the villains. The settings use a lot of canyon scenery and abstract, otherworldly lighting, and the design in general reminds me heavily of Silent Hill. It looked pretty good for its time, anyway.
Shadow Man is based off of the series of graphic novels by the same name (not to be confused with the Cody McFadyen novel, Shadow Man), though the game has taken some liberties, mostly positive. To date, it’s one of the extremely few mainline horror video games I’ve seen with black protagonists. Michael LeRoi and Nettie are fun and badass characters, too.
The villains are very memorable and bizarre, and hit this weird area between hilarious and disturbing. The main antagonist is Jack the Ripper, of all people, or at least Jack the Ripper as possessed by the demon Legion, who revives a number of serial killers (some ridiculous, some legitimately creepy) to serve as his minions.
You may have noticed this as a trend with horror games, but the actual part that distinguishes it as a game, the interactivity, is kind of wonky. The physics are prone to glitches, even in the better versions, and there is a hell of a lot of backtracking. I don’t know about you, but backtracking always makes me feel like a mule. Overall, I do enjoy the mix of action and adventure. There’s a lot to explore. Just… don’t get the PlayStation version, if you decide to try this game. The port was a special sort of disaster, littered with bugs and technical issues, so go for the N64 or the PC. Shadow Man was recently re-released for PC and Steam.
The soundtrack is creepy as death and amazing. It’s actually kind of a jam, to be honest, and it’s rather sad not more people recognize this game for its music. There are some beautiful, ethereal pieces like “King’s Hymn” or a rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, but also some terrifying pieces, like one song that uses the sounds of music boxes and drills going through bone to create this horrible, nightmarish atmosphere.
Would it Make a Good Novel?
Shadow Man is based on a pretty good comic series, so yes, it’s not much of a stretch to think it would translate to a good novel. American Gods and its sequel Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman have some similar shades, if you’ve read those, as does The Gunslinger series by Stephen King.
Story and Characters – 4.5
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 3.5
Fear Factor – 4
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 4 out of 5
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