Shadow Complex - 360 - Review
How does one go about making a side-scroller in 2009? Where do you even begin? With so many technological advancements since the heyday of the genre and most gamers looking for a different kind of action these days, the revival of the side-scroller doesn’t seem like an attainable reality. Enter Shadow Complex, a game that takes the best aspects of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and mixes them with some tremendous new ideas, breathtaking action and fantastic weaponry. Shadow Complex made me giddy in ways that very few other games have, as I was barley able to contain the child-like joy that exuded my face from beginning to end.
The story of Shadow Complex is loosely based on the works of author Orson Scott Card, though none of that really matters in the end. As lovable boyfriend Jason Fleming, you are hurled into a life or death situation when your girlfriend gets kidnapped while hiking in the woods. You stumble upon a secret underground base full of guards in high-tech super suits, and are forced to traverse the dangerous military facility to find out what is going on and where they took your lady. While the plot is told decently enough through a series of nicely produced cut scenes, the true joy of Shadow Complex is in how it plays.
Shadow Complex utilizes fully 3D visuals, but your character is stuck moving along a 2D plane. You are allowed to shoot in any direction using the right analog stick, which offers enough precision to nail head shots or pop sneaky fools hiding in the background. During your six to eight hour journey, you’ll come across a number of pistols, assault rifles and shotguns, as well as some special items like missiles, grenades and even a grappling hook. You can also upgrade Jason by finding a body suit that opens up some special abilities like turbo running and rocket jumps, all of which are a hoot to use. The world of Shadow Complex is entirely open, with nary a loading time or interruption in sight. Only a series of locked doors and blocked paths keep you from seeing everything at the get-go, sending you on a quest to find the tools you will need to battle your way through the massive military installation.
This exploration aspect ends up being one of the most enjoyable parts of the game, as the world is jam-packed with things to see, do, and blow up. From a dank, converted cavern to a large, open factory full of machinery, fire, and dozens of armed workers, each area of the sprawling, multi-tiered site has their own look and feel. The developers at Chair Entertainment have also added an extra level of exploration to each environment with the upgrade icons, which can increase the power or storage of your weapons, special items, health, or armor. These icons are all cleverly hidden and require the use of every tool at your disposal along with some—if not all--of your cunning to decipher their whereabouts. Also worth mentioning is that nearly everything you do earns Jason some XP, which nabs him new moves, better accuracy and increased stamina. Needless to say, I often found myself torn between hunting down ‘just one more’ hidden upgrade and heading to the next objective.
Of course, no side-scroller would be complete without massive boss fights, and Shadow Complex delivers on this in droves. You will face a series of towering mechanical horrors throughout the campaign, each more dangerous and diabolical than the previous. As with all of the combat in the game, these fights stay consistently entertaining thanks to the huge variety of weaponry, clever use of the special abilities and unique designs of the bosses. You will also notice quite a few nods to other classic side-scrollers throughout the game, all of which are far too good to spoil here.
Shadow Complex uses all of the power of the mighty Unreal Engine 3 to deliver a visual experience that is above and beyond anything else on XBLA. The lighting paints each room as a cold, dangerous landscape of death. The character models are equally detailed, with the only downside being some lifeless facial animation during cutscene close-ups. The game’s soundtrack is full of engaging ambient sound that makes the facility feel like a tangible place, as the cavern’s echo, the machinery grinds and the laboratories bustle with the sounds of working scientists. The voice acting is equally excellent, with Nolan North of Uncharted fame infusing Jason with enough personality to make him likable.
Shadow Complex ends the Summer of Arcade on an unbelievable high note, delivering a retro-inspired romp that will thrill any gamer with a pulse. Does it have any flaws? Sure, as some of the elements might feel a bit too familiar to long time side-scrolling fanatics and the absence of cooperative play really stings the trigger fingers. But at only $15, Shadow Complex is an absolute must-buy, offering an experience that exceeds the quality found in most disk-based 360 releases.
Review Scoring Details for Shadow Complex
Shadow Complex takes the best gameplay mechanics of side-scrolling classics like Castlevania, Contra and Metroid but infuses them with enough slam-bang action, RPG-like leveling aspects and innovative ideas to keep the combat strong.
The game’s sharp graphics include fantastic lighting and great visual design. Easily the best looking game on XBLA, and also comparable to many full-priced 360 blockbusters. Only some occasional slowdown and awkward facial animation mars it.
Tremendous ambience makes each of the industrial settings feel palpable and real. The orchestrated soundtrack rarely pipes in but is always excellent, and the voice acting is uniformly superb.
Shadow Complex features four different difficulty levels, each balanced to fit a certain type of gamer. Higher settings will offer a challenge to those who want it, but less experienced gamers will be able to cruise through the campaign on the easier settings.
A new 2D side-scroller platform/action game doesn’t sound like that like anything new in theory, but the awesome weapons, screen-filling boss fights, nonstop variety and brilliant mechanics that Shadow Complex offers makes it feel like something entirely new and different.
Shadow Complex offers a retail-quality experience for 1/4th of the price. Fans of any type of action-adventure gaming would be crazy to miss out on this refreshing shooter. Now bring on Shadow Complex 2!