previews\ Jun 2, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Shadow Complex - 360 - Preview

E3 2009 PreviewE3 2008 GameZone Previews

It seems that games like Contra and Metal Slug, classic side-scrolling shooters, will forever be remade as classic side-scrolling shooters. And yet, if they're fun to play, no one complains. That might change now that Shadow Complex is coming. At first glance, it looks like every other shooter out there. The characters are typical brutes, the graphics are reminiscent of Gears of War, and everywhere you turn people are firing weapons.

Contrary to how it may sound, this game is not a Gears of War clone. Though the graphics are deceiving, it's not really in 3D. Shadow Complex is in fact an old-school-inspired 2D shooter with bits of 3D integration. It might sound like a simple concept, but with Epic in charge of the project, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the results will blow your mind.

The core gameplay is pure side-scrolling goodness. With machineguns, rocket launchers and handguns in your arsenal (assuming, of course, that you find them), the basics are not at all unexpected. Players can run while shooting, a simple but necessary feature, and it is also possible to shoot in all directions. This goes beyond 360-degree firing. In addition to the 2D elements, if an enemy is in the foreground or background of a level, you can attack him just by firing in his direction.

Shadow Complex screenshots

Shadow Complex's E3 demo illustrated this with an introductory stage that involved an enemy helicopter from within the background of the stage. The effects are incredibly realistic and detailed; if you didn't know better, you'd swear you were playing a 3D shooter. But the controls remain in 2D. Only when attacking the helicopter does the game branch into 3D territory. Even then the game stays true to its Contra inspiration.

Unlike Metal Slug, Shadow Complex doesn't bog you down with an endless array of enemies. That could change by the time the game is released in August, but the demo featured areas that were more about exploring than fighting. Despite this, the game never drags. Enemies were interspersed to keep things interesting, and the environments change frequently to ensure that players are never bored. One minute you're running through a rocky, mountainous location, and the next minute you're crawling through air ducts and other tight areas. There are big, wide-open locations and even a few passageways that will remind you of the Castlevania games for the DS. Not so much in the way they look but in the way they're laid out, and especially in the way the map is presented. Each level section (each room, you could say) is shown on the map as one square, making it easy to figure out where you've been and where you need to go.

The demo concluded with a large robotic beast with thick armor and a short temper. It loves to lunge forward for a quick attack, eliminating players that weren't expecting his evil move. Unfortunately, the demo was timed and I was unable to finish the boss before the game reset itself. Being the hard-working journalist that I am, it didn't seem fair to let it end at that. Fine, I'll admit – I wanted to play through the demo again anyway. So I dove in once more...and failed a second time. After that, Shadow Complex had yet to become tiresome. The thought of playing through those stages a third time was not a bad one. In truth, it was something I looked forward to. Which of course makes me wonder: if these short levels were fun to play through twice, how many times are we going to want to play through the entire game? I cannot wait to find out.


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