Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Flashback, Bionic Commando and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. If these games got together and had a baby it would look like Shadow Complex. Chair Entertainment’s second Xbox Live! Arcade outing was, in a single word: amazing. Even though I’ve already collected every single item and uncovered all, but one percentile of the world map, I still want to play more it. It’s one of the few games which left me wanting more and for many good reasons.
The most remarkable aspect of Shadow Complex was how well it flowed from beginning to end. The game opens with a sampling of what upgrades and abilities; like all games of this nature. Shadow Complex did this without invoking the feeling of being neutered by starting me off a completely different character who has no ties to the protagonist, Jason. So when I actually assumed the role of Jason who “accidentally” stumbles into this super secret underground complex with his girlfriend, Claire, I didn’t feel like I was stripped of such awesome powers in the first place. I thought it was a neat way of approaching this age old technique.
I started on the “Hardcore” difficulty (so I’m unsure how much this rings true on the lower difficulties), but I have to say that I felt the weight of vulnerability when I was playing as an unarmored Jason. I had to avoid unwanted encounters, sneak up on unsuspecting guards for takedowns and utilize cover a lot more. It’s a noticeable shift of play style which resembles the likes of Flashback more than a Super Metroid. It was not until I received the armor upgrades and acceleration boots did I feel the Super Metroid comparisons rang true. And just when I thought the game couldn’t evolve any further, shades of Bionic Commando crept in with the introduction of the grappling hook.
I know some folks are concerned about the length of Shadow Complex. It is certainly possible to complete this game within 4 hours with the aid of the optional blue navigation line which appears on the mini-map. But if I did that, I wouldn’t get to see all that nifty hiding spots the developers stashed their power ups. And I’m sure the game would have been incredibly difficult to finish the game for the first time as a result of the lack of exploration. Because in this game you gain experience through exploration. Every little square that I uncovered gave me a bit of experience and as I gained levels, various stat boosts and bonuses were awarded.
One of the more important stat bonuses, especially early on in the game, was accuracy. Even though I was able to fine tune my aim for headshots, it wasn’t enough to negate Jason’s unsteady hand. I still felt the need to empty a pistol clip in hopes for a headshot — especially with the pesky enemies in the background. For the most part, I didn’t mind fighting them off. It was little rough at times, but it took advantage of the fact that this is an Unreal Engine 3.0 powered game and I’m all for different ideas. Fumbling with the mounted turrets against waves of background enemies attacking was the only sore spot to an otherwise satisfying combat experience.
For $15 Shadow Complex is a steal. It succeeds where others have not even bothered to try. It marries classic game design with modern innovations. It’s also wonderfully produced and like with all great titles, it’s also marred with controversy. But don’t you fret about it, there’s barely any story to speak of. Like with all the great games Shadow Complex was inspired by, it simply serves as a frame of reference and barely transcends the “I have an evil plot to cause trouble” storyline. At the heart of Shadow Complex is a satisfying adventure which will remind you of the good old times. And, at least for me, it easily ranks among the top games of the year.
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For more information on Shadow Complex, visit the official site.
P.S – For the first few hours of the game, I thought I was Nathan Drake. Differentiation wouldn’t have hurt.