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Mike Leroi was a taxi driver in Chicago when a local gang leaving 20 thousand Dollars in the back seat of his cab executed one of his passengers. Desperate for cash, Mike took the money and fled back to his hometown of New Orleans where he shared it with his family, paying for a life-saving operation on his younger brother.
It wasn't long before the gang caught up with him and repaid their debt by staging a drive-by shooting on his car, in which all of his family was killed, but somehow Mike survived.
On recovering from his injuries Mike was left with no memory and his poverty lead him into the New Orleans underworld, where he fell under the spell of a Voodoo priestess named Nettie.
She possessed him with her magic and later forcibly implanted the Mask of Shadows into his chest to ensure that he would never be able to resist her command again.
Mike can use this mask to become the ShadowMan and travel from our world to the place where everyone goes when they die - Deadside.
Meanwhile a man called Legion has enlisted the help of the five most notorious killers that ever walked our planet, to build a 'dark-engine' powered by evil souls that will transport the dead back to Earth to start the Apocalypse and end all mankind. Nettie has had a vision of this event and recognises Legion as being the Devil himself. She instructs Mike and his alter ego ShadowMan to destroy the machine and eliminate the gang.
During the course of the game Mike starts to regain his memory and begins to realise that his younger brother Luke could still be alive somewhere in Deadside. He also begins to suspect that Nettie may not be all that she appears and so must find a way to break the voodoo spell that she has over him.
This 3D adult-adventure combines both puzzle solving, armed combat and platform elements.
Sound and Vision:
The main programming breakthrough in this game is also its biggest hindrance. Most games of this type employ some form of fogging technique to restrict the field of vision to only the area directly around your character. Either that or the levels are cleverly designed so that you can never see far into the distance anyway. The simple reason for this is that it's the only way that most programmers can keep the quality and speed of the graphics at a reasonable level. ShadowMan breaks this mould by allowing you to see miles and miles into the distance. It's a wonderful effect that no doubt is spectacular when played on a very high specification PC with an equally impressive 3D card installed, but on the PlayStation it just plain sucks.
The very first area in the game is a prime example. Making your way through various pathways a small church can be seen in the distance. The further up the level you progress the larger and larger it appears until you eventually arrive at its door. There is no doubting that this creates the impression of actually being inside a vast area but the resultant jerkiness and slowdown that accompanies it ruins much of this atmosphere. Furthermore the constant break-up, seaming and glitching of the graphics wherever textures meet, virtually kill the game before it has even started. I would go as far as to say that this is the very worst example of this problem that I have seen in a PlayStation game for a very long time.
To offset this problem and keep the speed of the game above snails pace (especially during combat situations), the movement and animation of the main character has been compromised. When in 'strafe' mode Mike often looks like he is hovering over the ground and while walking through water the resulting ripples are delayed for a second before appearing, while none appear when Mike jumps up and down. Worse still is the 'crouch' move, which rather than lowering Mike, just 'snaps' into position with no animation at all.
Other graphical examples that this game has either been badly coded or (as we suspect) released before it was ready are:
The Textures used on the Rottweiler dogs are very realistic, but all is lost when they walk straight through a door that is closed. Later in the game I noticed flying monsters that appeared to be trapped half inside and half outside of a wall. Also I found that by turning slowly left or right behind some of the closed doors, what was waiting for us behind them could clearly be seen.
From a distance it's difficult to spot the difference between a pool of red blood (which you can swim through), and a bed of hot coals (which will fry you). Often the only way is to jump in and hope for the best. Similar problems occur with the narrow ledges, which may or may not be clung to and shimmied along. Some are real while others are only part of the background scenery.
Doors that appear from a distance to slam shut very quickly, move slower and slower the nearer you get. By the time you are standing beside them, they are closing so slow that even your Grandma could sneak past them.
By far the most frustrating of the bugs occurs when standing close to a wall and half of Mike's body disappears into it. This alone is nothing too serious, but when trying to move away from the wall you find that he has become completely stuck to it. The only guaranteed way out is to 'jump', which often sees him falling off a ledge to his doom. Its not just walls either, there are loads of objects scattered throughout the game that have superglue qualities to them.
On a brighter note the lighting effects are very good throughout the game. Shooting the shadowgun down a dark passage shows a reflection of light trace the path of the bullet along the corridor walls. Despite the lack of resolution, some of the textures of your character and the scenery are brilliant.
The biggest plus point within the game is the excellent camera angles. Using the second analog stick on the dual-shock pad allows the camera to be positioned in any one of 18 pre-set positions allowing a good look around an area before being exposing to danger. By far the best angle is the one slightly above and behind your character. Unlike many other 3D adventure games (including Tomb Raider), the camera will hold in the same position once selected. This allows you to see what is coming at you - essential when fighting with one of the many monsters within the game.
While we have established that there are loads of graphically based bugs in the game, nothing could be further from the truth about the storyline. It is epic in its construction and execution. The cut scenes that help the story to unfold make full use of the in-game engine (like Metal Gear Solid). This helped to keep the game on one disk and also allowed over 1 hour of in-game speech to be included.
The voice-overs for the characters are amongst the best heard in any videogame. Professional actors have obviously been used and the game has little of the 'B' movie qualities that exist in games such as Resident Evil.
The samples used for spot-effects are brilliant and combined with some great background music makes this game as scary as hell when played alone in a dark room. Like all good horror movies, the style, volume and pace of the music changes dramatically when you are about to encounter a dangerous situation, making your heart beat faster and inducing a little panic before anything has actually happened.
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