Shadow Man Remastered Review: Comb the Depths of Deadside

Nightdive Studios put a lot of work into Shadow Man Remastered. It's time for Mike LeRoi to brave the depths of Deadside once more to save the world of the living. This time around, he'll explore three large new levels that were unfortunately cut from the original game. Luckily, Nightdive Studios even went so far as to rebuild some of them from scratch to make this remaster be what the original developers intended.

Shadow Man Remastered: Comb the Depths of Deadside cover

Shadow Man Remastered is the latest retro game revived by Nightdive Studios. You may know them as the same folks that are behind the upcoming remake of the original System Shock that’s launching later this summer. Shadow Man was a third-person, Metroidvania-style action-adventure game by Acclaim Studios Teesside, which released for PC, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and PlayStation on August 31st, 1999. The game is based on the Shadow Man comics. For this great remaster, Nightdive Studios restored a bunch of cut content, redid all of the textures and improved the quality of the controls and soundtrack. They even went so far as to rebuild some of the cut content levels from scratch when they had to.

If like me you grew up with and loved platformers, metroidvanias, and collect-a-thons, then this is an adventure worth checking out. I missed out on this one growing up, but I am glad I gave the original Steam version a chance, as I was not disappointed. This remaster is a huge improvement to that version, and the game is more than worth playing again.

Shadow Man Remastered launched on April 15th, 2021 on PC, and is available for purchase on Steam, GOG, and Epic Games store.

Shadow Man Remastered Launch Trailer - Nightdive Studios

Story – An Unlikely Hero Returns

While the story in Shadow Man Remastered is not the deepest you’ll find, it’s still much deeper than some other titles of the era, like Super Mario 64. I think it’s immersive, interesting, and surprisingly deep. The hero, Mike LeRoi, starts as a very flawed human who finds himself on a path of redemption. This makes for a better story with a more relatable hero. Since the game is based on a comic series, we’ll start with some interesting and deep background that is not provided in-game, but rather a synopsis of the much more detailed write-up in the official guide for the original game (it came with the game on Steam).

Mike LeRoi is a 32-year-old man originally from New Orleans. As an English literature student, he failed his courses and then burned what was left of his college funding on drinking and gambling. He never told his family about this and became a Chicago cab driver instead. Unfortunately, everything suddenly changed when one of Mike’s passengers was executed!

As a result, $20k was left in the back of his taxi, so he took it and went back home to his family. His little brother, Luke, needed an important operation, so Mike used the money to pay for it. Some of the rest was used to lavish his family with gifts. Unfortunately for Mike, the gang responsible for his passenger’s death was catching up to him.

This is part of a book you find early on containing information on the ancient prophecy.

This is part of a book you find early on containing information on the ancient prophecy.

Out of pure desperation, Mike sought the help of a Voodoo priest to get protection. Unfortunately, the plan backfired. The gang took out his parents and little brother in a drive-by shooting while they were in their family car. Mike himself ended up in a coma with serious injuries but survived. Having lost his memories only helped the Voodoo priest take advantage of him. The secret price for the protection he provided was that Mike was now a sort of slave. He became a hitman known as Zero, working for the priest.

His life would take another drastic twist when one night, a dying Voodoo priestess named Mama Nettie burst into the priest’s bar. She grabbed Mike and lead him to a back room, where she used what remained of her powers to implant the Mask of Shadows in his chest. This put him under her control, and also made him the next Shadow Man in a long line of shadow men. Nettie would also regain her own powers by taking the priest’s soul, and Mike became the new owner of the bar as a result.

Nettie tells Mike about the ancient prophecy that is beginning to come true.

Nettie tells Mike about the ancient prophecy that is beginning to come true.

With that background synopsis out of the way, Shadow Man Remastered begins right about there, as Nettie senses an ancient prophecy beginning to come true. The time has indeed come for Mike LeRoi to stand against the dark forces gathering in Deadside, the world of the deceased.

Shadow Man needs to get himself into the Asylum, the stronghold of the growing evil in the land of the dead. It is a massive, dark citadel of the damned. Inside, grotesque experiments are being undertaken to try to use the power of dark souls to create an army of abominations. If Mike LeRoi fails, this army will overrun the realm of the living, and evil will prevail!

Shadow Man arrives at the front of the Asylum, but how will he get inside?

Shadow Man arrives at the front of the Asylum, but how will he get inside?

Gameplay – An Old School Platformer in a Much Darker, Interconnected World

Shadow Man Remastered is an old-school-style action-platformer in a Metroidvania style. Having grown up with these genres, I have a soft spot for them. My first time playing the original game was well into adulthood, as I didn’t have this one growing up. I was not disappointed, and this remaster is a big improvement. As an old-school metroidvania, there is very little hand-holding. This may be an issue for some, but I still greatly enjoy the game anyway. However, don’t take that to mean it’s a difficult game, because overall it certainly isn’t one. Challenge is just like anything else in that you can have too much of a good thing.

At its core, it is a collect-a-thon like many other games of its era. In Super Mario 64, your objective was to collect the 120 power stars, or at least the minimum number needed to defeat Bowser and save Princess Peach. So now imagine you take Super Mario 64, make it a Metroidvania, and replace power stars with dark souls.

As per the genre, its world is interconnected rather than the small, separate levels that made up Super Mario 64. The winding tunnels and passages of Deadside can be confusing, especially to newcomers, but it is still an adventure worth playing. If you enjoy this type of playstyle, Shadow Man Remastered is definitely a blast from the past worth checking out.

Dark energy swirls around a dark soul.

Dark energy swirls around a dark soul.

Shadow Man’s general abilities are fairly simplistic as you’d expect from that era of gaming. He can run, jump, and climb along ledges. He can also strafe, side jump, and do roll dodges to dodge incoming fire. As he collects more dark souls, he will improve his shadow level. As his shadow level increases, so does his maximum shadow power (used by the magic weapons found in the realm of the dead), and he can open higher level coffin gates. This gives him access to new sections of Deadside for exploration, but you still won’t be able to fully explore them on your first visit in most cases. Many of the dark souls are sealed within Govi, like the ones on the left and right in the church image below the next paragraph.

As with other games like Metroid or Zelda, you have the option to increase your maximum health. You’ll need another very important collectible in Shadow Man Remastered –  the many Cadeaux sprinkled all over both worlds. You can see one on the altar in the image below, and it’s bright red. Collect 100 of them, and you can take them to a special place at the Temple of Life to increase your maximum health.

There are more of these than in the original game, thanks to the three cut content levels that were restored and added into the remaster. However, you cannot upgrade your maximum health more times than in the original game. So there are just extra ones now. The original game had 512, but the remaster has 666 of them. There is also an achievement for finding every single one if you dare.

At the church in Liveside, here sit two Govi and a red Cadeaux in the center.

At the church in Liveside, here sit two Govi and a red Cadeaux in the center.

There are also a number of interesting items resting throughout the world to find, many of which are based on real items from the craft of Voodoo. This is an area that shows a lot of thought and effort went into crafting the game world. Some of these items can be used as both tools and weapons.

For much of your adventure, your shadow weapons can only be used in Deadside, but eventually, Shadow Man will need to be able to use them in Liveside if he is to defeat Legion’s henchmen. He starts out having only a pistol when in the light world and reverts to his normal human form while there, making his shadow weapons unavailable. These are generally magic Voodoo weapons found in the dark world, like the Asson pictured in the next screenshot below.

Many of your weapons use shadow energy, which is refilled by collecting orange skull items in the world (found by breaking barrels and such). These weapons are all useless in the world of the living until he gains the ability to use his shadow power there. The light world also has its own hidden arsenal, as Shadow Man will find a few types of guns there, like the shotgun.

Shadow Man discovers the Asson, the sacred rattle of the Voodoo priestess, which shoots flaming skulls.

Shadow Man discovers the Asson, the sacred rattle of the Voodoo priestess, which shoots flaming skulls.

As Shadow Man explores the barren paths throughout Deadside (known as the Paths of Shadow) and the areas of Liveside, he will encounter many types of enemies. They range from the regular zombie-like spirits to flying enemies, gun-toting baddies, and the much larger soldiers of Legion’s army that include a few bosses. You might expect that they are fairly simple and not the smartest since this is an old game, and you’d be right.

I don’t think this takes away too much from the experience, though. They will still challenge you, especially in rooms where a number of them attack you at once. Enemies will respawn, but only once you leave the level and come back. This makes dying far less annoying than it would otherwise be, because you often have to run back through a number of rooms to return to where you died and continue your adventure. Having enemies respawn regularly might’ve made for a good hard mode, though.

The winding Paths of Shadow are one of the game’s minor flaws, as navigating the world can be confusing, especially for new players. However, the official world map that came with the original game can be found online and still applies for the most part, aside from a couple of significant gameplay changes. I’ll discuss those in another section of this review below. The official map is just an overview of the entire game world, and there are still no in-game maps, but this isn’t much of an issue most of the time. While it can occasionally be annoying, I think at the same time it also adds to the mystery of the dark world. The winding paths also add to the twisted feel of the dark world.

Shadow Man has gained resistance to one of the three forms of flame in the game, lava.

Shadow Man has gained resistance to one of the three forms of flame in the game, lava.

There are several temples waiting in the desolate wasteland that is the home of the dead. They are fun to explore, but are of course home to stronger enemies than most of the world. Environmental hazards like lava, fireball shooting faces on the walls, and swinging blades make them more dangerous as well.

Three special temples cause Gads (Voodoo tattoos) to appear on Shadow Man’s body when he passes the trials of the Gad temple he’s in. Each of these allows him to become invulnerable to one of the three forms of flame that appear in the world, as you can see in the previous screenshot. The Gads give the player a much more visceral and satisfying sense of growing in power than increasing your shadow level does. The latter doesn’t change his appearance, but it does make his basic shadow gun stronger.

Shadow Man needs to collect enough dark souls to reach shadow level 6 to get the Gad being used in the previous screenshot. As you might expect, they let you reach previously inaccessible areas to find more goodies and secrets.

Shadow Man can also get around the world relatively quickly using a very special item you start the game with, a teddy bear that once belonged to his deceased little brother Luke. This item is a godsend for players, and one of the most frequently used tools at your disposal. It lets you warp to any area you’ve discovered in both worlds. Without it, the game would have a lot more tedious running around, and the experience would suffer for it. This is a metroidvania after all, so you will certainly be doing some backtracking at times. In some areas, there are also special plinths that you can warp between by using the Baton, which is a short spear that can also fire lances of shadow energy at pesky enemies.

When you use it, Luke's teddy bear opens this area selection screen.

When you use it, Luke’s teddy bear opens this area selection screen.

Audio and Graphics – A Big Step Up From the Original

In the visuals department, Nightdive Studios redid all of the textures in Shadow Man Remastered. This makes the game’s dark, gritty world look just a bit more modern, as does the fact that it can run in much higher resolutions than its predecessor. I’ve been enjoying the extra image clarity and sharpness of playing it at 2K/QHD resolution (2560x1440), which is the best my monitor can do.

The GUI has also been overhauled, and it looks very nice. They even added a Cadeaux counter on the sub-screens, which is a very welcome new feature. This is also great since there are a bunch of new Cadeaux in the remaster’s cut content levels that were restored and added into the game. On the pause screen, you can see the Cadeaux collected in the current map and the total collected overall, just like you can for dark souls. This way, you can now see how many you’re missing on any map.

Shadow Man discovers one of the dark soul experiments Legion's minions have been working on!

Shadow Man discovers one of the dark soul experiments Legion’s minions have been working on!

On the sound side of things, the soundtrack has been remastered (not remixed) to improve the sound quality. I really like the game’s moody soundtrack, and the main menu theme just makes me want to dive into the shadows of Deadside and continue my adventure. The music ranges from foreboding in many places to odd and creepy in some areas like the Play Rooms section of the asylum. There are also a couple of new music tracks in the restored levels that got cut from the original game. Furthermore, some of the cut content they restored in Shadow Man Remastered also includes voice dialog as well.

Major Gameplay Changes in Shadow Man Remastered

Some significant gameplay modifications have been made in a few cases, and generally all of Nightdive Studios’ changes are for the better. One of the changes in Shadow Man Remastered is that the controls have been improved. They still feel somewhat clunky at times but are certainly an improvement over the original game. The developers have also improved lighting/shadows and added a number of new post-processing effects and other options.

Another nice change in Shadow Man Remastered is that the first tram you encounter has two levers inside now, rather than one. This allows you to choose to go to the Cathedral of Pain or the new Experimentation Rooms level. Going in reverse, it lets you choose to return to where you came from or go to whichever other station you’re not already at. So if you’re at the Experimentation Rooms station, the other lever will send you to the Cathedral of Pain.

One of many blood-stained areas in the asylum hinting at the horrors that exist within these cold, stone walls.

One of many blood-stained areas in the asylum hinting at the horrors that exist within these cold, stone walls.

There have also been some other significant gameplay changes in Shadow Man Remastered compared to the original. There are still 120 dark souls in the remaster, and as a result, some of them have been moved into the cut content levels that were restored for this remaster.

Another nice gameplay change is that there are now five retractors to find instead of three. These are strange metal things that look a bit like rib cages and act as keys that open the schisms inside the Cathedral of Pain (part of the asylum). This is because two of the three restored cut content levels are light world areas that belong to two of Legion’s henchmen. In the original, these two henchmen were on the same maps as some of the others, and their schisms were open from the start. As a result, none of the schisms are open in the remaster. You have to find retractors to unlock all five of them now in order to gain access to each of the lairs of the five henchmen in Liveside.

Shadow Man Remastered was reviewed on Steam with a key generously provided by UberStrategist.

Summary
Shadow Man Remastered is a great improvement to the game. Nightdive Studios crammed in a bunch of cut content from the original. This includes three huge new levels, enemies, some voice dialog and more. The soundtrack is remastered for better sound quality, and all textures were redone in higher definition. You can also play using the original low-res textures if you want. Nightdive Studios is listening to the community as it fix things for the first major update, including a few things that weren't ready for launch day, like the Seraph Queen boss. Overall, this is a great remaster for a cheap price.
Good
  • Lots of cut content from the original (including three huge levels) are restored
  • Controls are improved
  • Graphics and sound quality are much improved
  • Tons of exploration and collectibles
Bad
  • Controls may feel a bit clunky on occasion
  • The game world can be confusing (easy to get lost) at times
7.5
Good

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