The guys at Chair Entertainment got tired of waiting for someone to make a modern Metroid-style 2D action game with high-def 3D graphics and next-gen trappings--so they went and made it themselves with the Unreal Engine on the Xbox 360. The game is Shadow Complex--and considering Team Ninja appears to be at work turning the next Metroid game into some sort of Samus Gaiden, I think Chair may have actually out-Metroided Metroid with this game.
You know the formula: explore a giant subterranean enemy base that looks like it's been plotted out on graph paper, run into obstacles it seems like there's no way you can get around, then discover new weapons and equipment that will give you the right abilities to surmount (or blast straight through) those roadblocks.
Even if Shadow Complex is following a prescribed formula that's been around since the NES days, we haven't seen this sort of game yet on modern, powerful hardware. The closest we've gotten is Castlevania's finest moment, Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation, and it's not a surprise to me that's one of the most beloved games, well, ever. DS games notwithstanding, why isn't anyone else doing this? And formula or not, Chair is putting a lot of unique touches into Shadow Complex; here's a few I've noticed since we've gotten the chance to start messing around with the game.
You're An Everyman
You're no intergalactic bounty hunter or expert super-spy in Shadow Complex. You're Jason, an athletic but unassuming dude hiking with his girlfriend in the forest. After discovering the underground lair of a nefarious terrorist organization and seeing your girlfriend kidnapped by the bad guys, you start to explore, find weapons and gear, and become a badass. By the end of the game you might end up looking like some kind of cyborg ninja as you gain weapons, armor, and equipment, but at the beginning you're just a guy with a trendy half-tucked shirt.
The Complex Is Huge
Chair head honcho Donald Mustard professes his love for Super Metroid at every opportunity, but that hasn't stopped him from trying his best to one-up his favorite game. Remember the big grid-like map Metroid uses to reveal the intricately plotted network of rooms and tunnels that make up its game world? Mustard says that Super Metroid's map was made up of roughly 250 to 300 squares. Shadow Complex's map, by contrast, is 780 squares. You can do the math on that one.
Games have been keeping track of your progress on individual achievements since games like The Orange Box made it cool to tell you precisely how many more antlion larvae you needed to squish before you got the all-important points. Shadow Complex will do that, too, popping up a little counter every time you get a headshot to indicate how many more headshots you need before the achievement pops.
But it takes this concept to the proverbial next level by continuing to track those achievement stats after you've already gotten the points, and comparing you to other players on your friends list. Say you need 100 headshots for the achievement. Once you hit that mark, you'll see your friend has, say, 138 headshots, giving you a new goal to beat. All the game's achievements will have a unique leaderboard that shows these stats for everyone playing the game.
Keep Playing On The Proving Grounds
I suppose a mission-based challenge mode is de rigueur in downloadable 2D action games thanks to Bionic Commando Rearmed and its ilk. Shadow Complex is right there with its own such mode called the Proving Grounds, which Mustard described as a series of ultra-tough puzzles and objectives the team came up with that were too hard to include in the core campaign but too cool not to include somewhere. You're working against a timer in each of the Proving Grounds levels, and the most interesting aspect to me is that you don't always start each one with all the necessary equipment to finish it. So in some cases you'll have to hunt out the required gear before you can actually approach the objectives.
And of course, the Proving Grounds have a surreal, virtual reality-style look to them, like any challenge mode should.
As a Metroid-style game, there's a ton of upgrade equipment to collect over the course of the game. Jump jets for double and even triple jumps, a hardened foam gun, a hookshot, the works. And a lot of this gear can be used in more than one way. You can use the foam gun to create stairs up to a higher platform, but you can also detonate the hardened foam to use it as a weapon against enemies. The hookshot is primarily used as a grappling hook that lets you swing across chasms, but you can also do things like fire it into an enemy's riot shield and jerk that shield out of his hands, giving you a clean shot at him.
Shadow Complex is out in August, and though we have a full build of the game in the office now, I'm reluctant to play too far into it in favor of waiting for the totally completed, final, polished version. Because, now that I think about it, I've been waiting for a game like this for a long, long time.