Shadow Complex Review
Jason Flemming: he is no one, and he his everyone. He is also your main character in Shadow Complex, the last title in the Summer of Arcade line of games for 2009. Created by Chair Entertainment (part of Epic Games and of Undertow fame), Shadow Complex actually takes place within the Empire universe made famous by Orson Scott Card... although there's little here that makes that apparent.
After a brief "Look at all the stuff you'll be able to do later!" segment, the real game kicks off while you are on a hike with a pretty young lady. She goes on ahead then disappears while you follow her trail. Jason is presented as your normal, everyday fellow... thrown into an extraordinary situation and takes it upon himself to stop a rogue group of terrorists, called the Progressive Restoration, from starting the second Civil War (somehow). The story here is not spoon fed to you, and you're always left without that omniscient feeling. You only see and hear what Jason sees and hears and are better off for it.
Jason is so ill-equipped for the task that he doesn't even start off the game with a gun... but why would you if you're on a hike? Instead, you get a flashlight and some climbing gear while you head into the enemy base tucked away in a underground cavern. The only superhuman thing about Jason is that he doesn't take damage from long falls. Instead, as you progress and explore Shadow Complex's rather large map, you'll find new gadgets to make yourself a little better here and there. You'll find numerous gun upgrades, secondary fire modes, a mini booster jetpack and more. Most of these upgrades will allow you to access previously unavailable areas of the map. Additionally, exploring and taking down enemies earns you XP in-game, and at each level increase you'll improve even more with accuracy and health upgrades among others.
The combination of gear pickups and experience based leveling is really one of the strong points here. It never feels like a grind to get to the next level, instead you are always improving yourself in a more gradual progression instead of a stepped one. Furthermore, you can earn achievements for performing a specific number of enemy takedowns which are all tracked on the game's leaderboard system. Once you hit the "achievement" level, sure you'll unlock the achievement, but you're still competing with your friends to see who can melee the most baddies, or get the most headshots. It's a great little meta system.
Using the Unreal Engine, Shadow Complex is really quite a great looking Xbox Live Arcade game, and arguably the best looking out of them all. The mountainside are lush, animations are smooth, and there are no load times once the game gets going. Additionally, while at it's core is a 2D platformer, every bit of the game has some depth to it, some of which force you to attack enemies that are in the background.
While it looks good, SC lacks much of the character found in the games it borrows from... you're just running and gunning like some generic dude. There are also several glitches which really detract from the immersion, like running up to an enemy to melee him, and clipping through the wall, or not having a specific animation kick in when you're trying to wall jump. I even had one point where I had to restart the game thanks to an audio loop getting stuck. There are other points as well where the 3D elements don't seem to make sense... Why do I have to jump off a landing when there are stairs right there?
Shadow Complex borrows just about everything it has from the 15 year old Super Metroid, the exploration and map, to the carbon copy weapon and ability upgrades. It does little to innovate on the formula, but that doesn't make it bad at all. Shadow Complex is a solid, great looking "Metroid-vania" game that could have spent some more time in the cooker to iron out some weird glitches that take place. Most importantly, it is a fun game. If you've ever played post-Symphony of the Night Castlevania titles, or Super Metroid, you know what you should expect here and can decide if you want to do it again or not. Those of you who haven't, give it try and see why exploration games of this ilk has become beloved by many over the years.
- Visually, one of the best Xbox Live Arcade titles available
- Entertaining, tried and true, exploration and upgrade gameplay
- If you're a completionist, this game will keep you busy for a long, long time
- Quirky bugs detract from the overall experience
- Lacks some charm found in similar games of it's kind
- Did Chair just copy and paste portions out of Super Metroid? Let's try to change things up a bit more next time.