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Shadow Man: Remastering a Classic

Shadow Man Remastered brings back a cult classic – successfully reviving a game that fans have been demanding gets new life for years.

I hope they’re happy with what they wished for.

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In some preliminary research for this game, I took a quick look at some of the original reviews, and was blown away by what I saw. I remember the case, of course. It looked cool and edgy, not unlike the Blade film I’d been too young to watch.

But that was where my knowledge began and ended.

So imagine my surprise as critics at the time likened it to Ocarina of Time. Was this a hidden classic that had, up until now, escaped my attention?

At this point, it’s probably too early to say. But I’m glad I waited this long to find out. Why? Because Nightdive have done an incredible job.

Rebuilding Shadow Man

“It was not done just because we knew that there was going to be a lot of excitement about the remaster. It was done because we wanted to restore a game we felt was significant historically.”

That’s a quote from Nightdive’s head of business development Larry Kuperman from an interview with USA Today’s ForTheWin. It’s the latest quote from the company that sums up what it is they work for.

Here’s another, from the press release when the remaster was released on PC last year.

Nightdive CEO Stephen Kick said: “Shadow Man is the perfect franchise for the remaster team at Nightdive Studios. It has a dark, unique setting and is a cult-classic with a significant fan base. We’re extremely pleased with how the remaster turned out and can’t wait for players to jump back into the world of Michael LeRoi, joining his fight to keep Deadside at bay—this time in glorious 4K.”

Let’s be real – these guys aren’t going to say “We do it for the money.” That ‘glorious 4k’ remark is a telltale sign of marketing magic at work.

But when remastering old games, passion is a priority. And between these quotes and the end result, the passion is clearly on display.

Shadow Man looks fantastic for a game approaching its 25th anniversary. And it’s not just about boosting the resolution. The textures look clearer, the lighting looks better. Yes, it’s sharper. But that’s not everything.

The character models look weak, not overly changed since the original. But it is the better for it. We’ve seen what damage can be done by tinkering with old character models.

Updating a Fan Favourite

Because the real effort with remastering a game isn’t necessarily in getting it running on modern devices. Hell, it can be that too, of course. But there’s a layer of creativity that needs to be reigned in.

Do you fix the original game, using tools that weren’t available in 1999 to better represent what the developers were going for? Or do you leave things that were bad then for the sake of preservation? It is a thin like to walk.

Kuperman said: “In terms of the technical side, we know how it’s supposed to look, and we know when it has to adapt to the modern hardware, how to have widescreen support, how to have support for much higher resolutions than they had in those days.

“The challenge is always to stay faithful, and to make it… It’s been a mantra at Nightdive, that our goal is to make the games look not the way that they were back then, but the way you remember them as looking and to recapture that experience.”

And so far their successes have been noteworthy.

Nightdive

Nightdive was formed from a problem fans of many old games will find all too familiar.

Co-founder Stephen Kick wanted to play System Shock 2, but soon began to struggle.

He told Game Informer: “I was carrying the CDs and installing the game, and I’m getting all these errors right off the bat. So immediately I go on the internet and start looking for fanmade patches, just anything I can get to get the game running again. I go on GOG.com, it’s gotta be there, and it’s not. There’s no legal way to purchase this game. There’s no way to play it on anything newer than Windows XP.

“And the whole experience just opened up this sort of mystery trail: This is one of the best games ever made. How is there no way to play it?”

Since then, they’ve had success after success, with Shadow Man as the most recent.

Their average score on Metacritic is in the mid-70s. That’s not too bad when you consider the titles they’re remastering are often decades old. They must not only contend with the technical side of these games, but with the fact critics can’t (or don’t necessarily need to) put them into their original context.

Shadow Man: Remastering a Classic – Conclusion

There are few studios that make remastering their main task. With Bluepoint being bought up by Sony, it’s perhaps only Nightdive that still gets a regular mention.

And it is with good reason that they do. Their work shows passion for the original material, and Shadow Man is no exception.

 

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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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