Bringing Metroidvanias Into The Modern Era
Micsoft's "summer of arcade" (so named because of its tendancy to release big-name arcade titles during the summer-months) has been going strong for some time now, and Microsoft has put the icing on the metaphorical cake with the release of Shadow Complex, Chair Entertainment's slick new "Metroidvania" style sidescrolling action-adventure game. Is Shadow Complex up to the tall task of finishing up what has been an excellent series of releases (barring one turtle-related-title that we shall not name), or does it fall flat on its metaphorical face?
Well, you'll be happy to know that it is more than capable of standing among the rest of the Summer of Arcade catalog. In fact, Shadow Complex is one of the best downloadable games ever released. The narrative follows Jason Fleming, voiced by video gaming's voice-overlord Nolan North (Uncharted, Prince of Persia), as he finds himself caught up in the nefarious Restoration's plot to overthrow the American Government.
While the game is set in the universe created by Orson Scott Card, the narrative certainly takes a back-seat to the action. The true thrills in the game come from the enormous pool of unlockables available to the player. Armed initially with nothing but a flashlight, players will gather up weapons and various parts of an intricate mechanical suit of armor that will, by the end of the game, have you feeling truly unstoppable. The various weapons and abilities are all endlessly fun to play around with, with the foam-gun stealing the show as the most interesting of them all.
Thankfully, the playground that players are dropped into is as interesting as the gear they are given to play around with inside of it. Despite much of the game being set in an industrial, military complex, the level-design stays wonderfully varied as the player makes their way through flooded barracks buildings, dimly lit production lines, and claustrophobic undergound caves. Where the game truly shines, however, is outdoors, where the Unreal Engine truly gets to flex its graphical muscles. The forests are beautifully rendered, and the dense flora is a fitting backdrop for the action.
The title doesn't merely boast impressive visuals and a wide array of equipment, however. It also controls wonderfully well. The locomotion is fun and fast, and the analog-stick based shooting controls work well, although shooting off into the background, which happens more often than one would like, can be clunky and feels more dependent on luck than actual skill with the controls. Additionally, players can gain experience multipliers depending on how quickly, and stylishly, they dispatch their opponents, be it with head-shots, melee attacks, or using environmental hazards. The experience players gain goes into leveling them up, which gives bonuses like Stamina boosts, revealing the full map, and some others that I won't spoil for you. Experience can also be gained by uncovering and exploring the map, which lends tangible benefits, beyond finding items, to more inquisitive gamers.
It took me about five hours to play through the game on my first attempt. I finished with about 63% of items unlocked, and after a brief tour of the menu screen, dove right back in for a second playthrough. Shadow Complex is just that type of game. It will hook you in, and keep you hooked, without the need for any tacked-on multiplayer modes or costume unlocks, and the fact that it does it for a mere 1200 Microsoft Points ($15) makes it all the more impressive. This is a title that has not only secured its place as the best game available for download from XBLA, but as one of the best games to be released this year, and there are absoultely no qualifiers required for that statement.