The premise behind Shadow Man is a fairly... well, bleak one really. If Acclaim are to be believed, there is no Heaven and there is no Hell (imagine all the people...) and when a person dies they go to a place called Deadside, which is probably what most people would consider Hell anyway. That means it doesn''t matter whether you''re naughty or nice, you are going to end up in the same place - not really the best message for encouraging goodwill to all men, etc, but there you go.
Since the beginning of time Deadside and the living world have existed together, but now something has gone wrong. A group of evil creatures from Deadside has travelled across to the real world. This group, known as ''The Five'' (not to be confused with the popular beat combo Five, because this band of deceased deadbeats isn''t slam-dunking any funk and if they ''make you get down'' you probably won''t be getting up again - ever) is causing havoc and something has to be done. Enter the Shadow Man.
Shadow Man is one of a select few who can travel between Deadside and the Real World, thanks to a strange mask which is bonded to his chest and a rather dilapidated teddy bear... yes, that''s right, a teddy bear. In future no action hero will be complete without one!
The game itself is a third-person 3-D arcade adventure which bears more than a passing resemblance to Tomb Raider. Unlike Lara Croft though, Shadow Man actually evolves as the game progresses. When you begin he can run, jump, roll, side-step, pull himself up, move along ledges and go hand over hand along ropes, but he has the potential to do so much more.
You begin the game in the real world and Shadow Man''s initial task is to find Nettie the voodoo priestess. The first thing you''ll notice is that this title is aimed at a rather higher age group than the usual Nintendo products. Swearing, suggestive language and non-too subtle innuendos are all there in abundance so this is definitely not a game for the little ones - parents take note!
Vulgarity aside, the gore-factor is pretty hefty too. As he''s got all sorts of undead monstrosities to deal with, Shadow Man carries a big gun - several of them, in fact. Each creature is despatched with a squeal of pain and a generous spattering of fleshy chunks and goo - you even get a mist of blood left floating in the air.
Gameplay-wise Shadow Man is unlike any other N64 game in that it''s totally non-linear. With Turok 2 Acclaim attempted this by making you go back to levels you''d already done, but this didn''t really work because the levels were so huge that going over them again got very boring. With Shadow Man the same idea has been used, but this time it''s been implemented far more successfully.
Basically, the game is divided up into different areas. As you go through the game, more areas open up and once you''ve been somewhere once you can return there at any time by way of Shadow Man''s teddy bear. The reason for this is that there are loads of different things in each area of the game which come into play as you get further on.
The first things are the gates. These Stargate-style affairs can be opened by Shadow Man when he has absorbed a specific amount of ''dark souls'', which he finds hidden in various hard-to-reach locations.
As well as the gates there are obstacles which can only be overcome once Shadow Man has evolved. Ledges with flames burning on them can''t be grasped without special magical tattoos which grant our hero fireproof hands. Waterfalls of blood frequent the world of Deadside and with some rather nifty wrist tattoos our hero is able to climb them. More tattoos allow Shadow Man to walk on burning coals and a device called the flambeau is useful for burning away the cloth coverings of certain tunnels.
Compared to most other N64 games, Shadow Man is very, very complex. While a lot of the puzzles in the game are fairly straightforward and easy to work out, many of them are far more obscure. As with Tomb Raider, when you complete a task, a brief cut-scene often shows you something opening or activating somewhere else. The problem with Shadow Man is that this isn''t always enough. Clues can be obtained from Nettie and also a bizarre snake-like being called Jaunty, but on the whole they''re not a lot of use because the information they give is too general. Various books and scrolls offer more clues, but much of the time it''s still just a case of guesswork.
Don''t get the wrong idea, Shadow Man is an extremely good game. It''s just that some people may find that it''s a sight more tricky to play than previous N64 titles. You really need to focus on what you''re doing. Remembering where all the different gates, doorways, blocks and other important items you''ve found were is essential, and yet pretty difficult, because there''s just so much around in each area. If ever there was a game just crying out for a fully-mapped solution, then Shadow Man is it!
The other good thing about the game is that as the main character gets more powerful the game actually gets harder. Go back to somewhere you''ve already been and you suddenly find newer, more powerful monsters waiting to take you on. No wandering down endless deserted corridors in this game, oh no!
The only real criticism of Shadow Man would be with the interest curve. The first few areas of the game are fairly similar and not too exciting to look at, and before you get any of Shadow Man''s powers this makes the gameplay fairly dull. It''s basically a case of running around killing things trying to get somewhere interesting. As soon as you start getting special items and abilities the game takes on a whole new dimension, and from then on it''s a joy to play. Each new area presents different challenges and surprises and if you get stuck in one place there''s always something new to do back in one of the areas you''ve already been too. This is a massive game which is going to take even the most accomplished gamers an awful long time to complete. If you miss it you''re doing your N64 a disservice.
Rating: 9 of 10
Author: Roy Kimber