A modern take on a classic genre
Shadow Complex is an Xbox Live Arcade Game following in the style of classic 2D side-scrolling games such as Metroid, Castlevania, and Super Mario. You play as Jason Flemming, a typical everyman who goes on a hiking trip with a girl named Claire. As you stumble after her (a basic introduction to the game's platforming), you see her captured by white-clad guards and dragged into a hidden fortress in the depths of the cave. It's up to you to explore hidden base of "the Restoration" to free Claire and stop their diabolical schemes.
The controls are fluid and user-friendly, which makes the platforming sections much more enjoyable. You start the game with fairly basic equipment (just a flashlight and pistol) but, as you explore the halls of the Complex, you obtain new weapons and abilities. Each obstacle is color-coded based on which weapon will bypass it (missiles at the red doors, foam at the purple ones, etc.) and you will encounter quite a few doors of a certain color before you have the means to open them. This requires you to backtrack if you want to find all the hidden items (most of them upgrade your ammo capacity for your secondary weapons, although 2 unlock new items). Even this is fairly painless, as the map places question marks over every room that you have explored but not found everything in yet.
After exploration and platforming, combat is what you'll spend most of your time with. There are many types of enemies, from your basic guard with an assault rifle to robots that freeze you while everyone else beats on you. At several points, you face a larger "boss" enemy with an on-screen health bar. These are usually fairly easy fights, although there are a few that require some special maneuvering on your part. Combat controls well, and you can either aim manually with the right stick (for precision shooting) or point vaguely in the right direction and let the auto-aim help. The melee attacks are both effective and satisfying, as the camera zooms in and shows your attack in detail. Of particular note are several sections where you take-over a mounted gun turret; the camera switches to third-person and the game goes full 3D as you mow down an entire room of enemies. My only gripe with the combat is that enemies in the background are often maddeningly difficult to hit, as the usually-competent manual aim is useless there and the auto-aim has trouble hitting them.
Shadow Complex is a game you'll most likely want to play more than once, either to obtain everything you missed or complete one of the special challenge runs the game proposes. You could safely put-off acquiring most of the powerups until the end (or even skip them entirely) but there are parts of the game that would be next-to-impossible if you had not found ANY health upgrades. There's also a level system: you gain levels from exploring, killing enemies, and finding upgrades and every level enhances your basic stats like precision. Every 10 levels gives you a special upgrade, like additional health. The maximum level possible is 50, although it will require multiple playthroughs to hit the cap.
Bottom Line: Shadow Complex is an excellent game, and you often forget it's on the XBLA instead of a retail disk. Fans of Metroid, Castlevania, or any other classic side-scroller owe it to themselves to check it out. Frankly, with it's 1200 MS point cost (~$15), Shadow Complex is a game everyone should try.