The level design in Shadow Master is relatively straightforward, with lots of simple mazelike maps. Unfortunately, the areas you must traverse with your hulking buggy are all too often narrow and confining, making navigation a chore. To make matters worse, the bad guys always seem to appear when you run yourself into a corner. Once they surround you, it's that much tougher to get clear. If ever there was a game that screamed out for a third-person perspective, this is it.
One other feature worthy of note is the music. For a shoot-em-up action game, it's really not that bad, but it can become annoying in a relatively short time. What's worse, the music plays over most of the sound effects. Your weapons make very little noise, while your enemies' attacks are nearly silent, save for the resulting explosions. If you turn the music off, you'll also miss the pre-mission briefings. How nice.
The game supports a variety of control devices, and using a joystick or steering wheel is recommended. Keyboard and mouse make the game much more difficult to play. Speaking of difficulty, this game has no adjustable difficulty setting. This is never a good thing. It also only allows save-games after completing a level. Both of these criticisms are minor, however, when compared with Shadow Master's instability - the game crashed on us frequently, usually taking the whole system down with it.
Though the game is supposed to require a 3D card in order to run, it does offer a software-only renderer. That came in handy, since Shadow Master refused to acknowledge the Orchid Righteous 3D card installed on one of our test systems (despite running with the latest Direct3D and Glide drivers). On our other test system, equipped with a Quantum 3D Obsidian board, the game ran fine - until we tried to network the two.
Shadow Master's network performance is reminiscent of the old-school IPX games, the original Doom and Origin's Wing Commander Armada in particular. Gameplay seems to slow down to the speed of the slowest machine on the network, which is a phenomenon I haven't encountered in quite a while. Our Righteous 3D machine chugged along at an unplayable pace, even with low-resolution, flat-shaded graphics enabled. The Obsidian system ran just as slowly, which made the two-player session boring, frustrating, and as far from fun as possible. Also, the game touts TCP/IP support, but this is not available from any menu. The only options were IPX and serial connections. With this kind of performance, however, the lack of IP support may be a good thing.
In the end, Shadow Master comes across as another barely average game that tries to earn its keep on looks alone. If you're looking for a cool-looking 3D game with good gameplay, skip this and go for Wing Commander Prophecy or Quake II.