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Shadow Man 2econd Coming
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Acclaim
Publisher:  Acclaim
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Adventure
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  5-16-02

Three years ago Acclaim had a sleeper-hit on their hands in Shadow Man, a dark, gritty 3rd person action-adventure title based on the equally dark and gritty comic book. Shadow Man struck a fresh cord with critics and gamers alike who had all but lost faith in the genre after years of uninspired efforts. The game showed that a 3rd person adventure title could have both a fresh vision and an engaging story, two traits lacking in the genre since it was virtually created by Tomb Raider. Since than weíve had a number of titles expand on that concept (MDK 2, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, American McGeeís Alice), but none have managed to match Shadow Manís grim and adult style of storytelling. Well, Acclaim is ready to give the gaming world a second helping of the Shadow Man in Shadow Man: 2econd Coming, but with so much to live up to, can this sequel find a new audience on the PS2 and please fans at the same time? Well, move over Hendrix, thereís a new "Voodoo Child" in town.

Based on a comic that followed the exploits of one Mike LeRoi, hitman turned voodoo powered protector of the mortal realm; Shadow Man 2 picks up right after the first game left off. With the destruction of the ĎDark Engineí, a soul powered doodad threatening to destroy our world, Mike and his undead alter-ego the Shadow Man set out for a little R&R in his home-away-from-home the "place where everyone goes, without exception, when they die", better known as "Deadside". After returning home from his vacation, Mike discovers his native New Orleans deserted, and an eerie calm over the town. After some quick investigating he discovers that a powerful evil is about to emerge from the bowls of Deadside, fulfilling so many ancient prophecies and bringing forth the end of the world. And just when I was getting to like the place! Along the way Mike will discover that all is not what it seems, and that all his allies are not as honest as they appear.

While the story of SM2C isnít the most original out there, it is told so convincingly and so surprisingly well that it almost seems new. Graphic violence, mature content, the occult, and Biblical end-time prophecies havenít been combined this well since Foxís short live masterpiece Millennium. This grim setting and mature style of storytelling is by far the gameís biggest strength. Rife with profanity and nightmarish imagery, SM2C is definitely not something to buy for little Billy and is targeted more towards the audience that found Twisted Metal Black right up their alley. Unlike TMB, however, Shadow Man 2ís story is told completely through in-game cut scenes and pre-recorded dialogue.

Although the voice acting present in Shadow Man 2 isnít quite up to the level of quality of Blood Omen 2 or Metal Gear Solid 2, it doesnít have to be. Exchanges between characters are kept short and sweet and cut-scenes are integrated quite seamlessly into the action. Also neither Mike nor the Shadow Man have the flare for melodramatic hyperbole that fellow undead anti-heroes like Raziel or Kain have. Thatís because theyíd rather let their guns do all the talking, and often do. And although other characters tend to get a little long-winded when explaining the meaning of some newfound mystical artifact or the origins of a tattered piece of ancient text, Mike/Shadow Manís "Why should I care? Just give me something to kill" attitude keeps the game from feeling like it takes itís own mythology too seriously, which is definitely a problem that the Legacy of Kain series has.

Of all thatís been said about the voice acting, probably the biggest complement I could give it is that of the many accents in the game, none come off as "faked". Believable accents are definitely a minority in gaming, and when dealing with such oft-butchered accents as the "island", southern, and Irish accents, among others, it is a blessing that Acclaim has managed to get them right and do them justice.

The one misstep in the dialogue is the profanity, which often sounds stiff and forced and doesnít add much at all to the story. It almost seems as if someone went through with a pencil and throw it in at random after the success of the vulgar smash hit, Grand Theft Auto 3. While it doesnít take much away from the game, it comes off as a gimmick, which this game totally doesnít need. It is strong enough to stand on itís own without the use of such a cheap ploy.

Acclaim did manage to get the rest of SM2Cís sound design right. From the moment you turn the game on youíll notice how great everything sounds. In fact, Shadow Man 2econd Coming is one of the best sounding games to ever be released on the system. This game isnít heard; itís experienced. Itís not just that the score, at times a bit Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and at others a bit Quake, fits the mood of the gameís settings perfectly, or that the effects sound so rich and realistic that youíll swear it was happening in the living room with you, or that the ambient background noises like crickets chirping at night, frogs croaking in the bayous, and tortured moans and haunting whispers of Gehenna bring each area to life, oh no, itís not just those, but how they all come together. The juxtaposition of so many sounds creates an aural experience that, at times, can rival even Fatal Frame for creating an atmosphere thick with fear and foreboding.

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