* Awarded 'Best Downloadable Game' 2009
Shadow Complex takes the rudimentary principles of the 2D side-scroller and turns them into something much more than its inspirational roots. Uniquely its own, Shadow Complex takes you deep underground in a labyrinth full of surprises. In what is already been hailed the best Xbox Live Arcade game of all time, we'll find out if Shadow Complex can live up to the hype.
In its maturing days the Xbox Live Arcade seems to be filled with more classics remakes than anything else. So when a fresh title like Shadow Complex gets released, it immediately stands out. Purely developed for the arcade, expectations are a little low, but boy they shouldn't be. In 1/2, or 1/3 the price of a normal game you are getting a premium fully developed title that can still up to some disc based games. It's no wonder why Shadow Complex is quickly rising to become one of the best sellers on the Arcade. This is one phenomenal game that will blow away your expectations. Hands down, no matter how good you thought Shadow Complex would be... it's better.
The Metroid Complex
In basics, Shadow Complex is like an updated version of the typical 1980s side-scrolling genre like classics like Super Metroid, Castlevania, or even Rolling Thunder. The main difference between Shadow Complex and its 1980s influences is that it utilizes a fully rendered 3D game world while keeping the action strictly 2D. This dynamic approach is referenced as 2.5D and it makes Shadow Complex instantly more appealing. If you stripped away the fancy 2.5D perspective you would be left with nothing more than a guy who looks like Nathan Drake paying tribute to Super Metroid. Thankfully that's not the case, and Shadow Complex stands tall as one of the best looking games on the Xbox Live Arcade.
Running around in a 2.5D world can be a little tricky with our hero, Jason Flemming because of his purposely placed disability. See the action unfolds with Jason being stuck to a 2D playing field (left, right, up, down) while everything around him happens in 3D. This means the enemies can come from the background to the foreground and provide some tricky spots for Jason to get out off. Really, its not very fair to give Jason such a horrible disability, but it makes for one hell of a game.
This unique style also incorporates large 3D characters and up-close 3D action shots which is better seen then described. In some moments the rules of 2D are totally broken as Jason leaps in for a hand-to-hand combat situations for a take down or turns the enemies turrets back against them. This makes Shadow Complex even more unique as the traditional laws of designing a 2D platformer are thrown out the window. In theory Shadow Complex isn’t the most revolution design we have seen, but it is one of the coolest twists on an older formula that we have seen in a while.
This perspective of having multiple layers definitely makes Shadow Complex stand out, but it’s not without its problems. Aiming and navigation can be a little troublesome at times because of the 2.5D perspective. The trouble comes when the game has to figure out which target you’re aiming and it sometimes it doesn’t always focus on the target you intend to attack. To help combat this issue and make the experience as smooth as possible Chair has attached a laser-scope to your weapon trajectory so you can see exactly what you’re aiming at. Without this feature you would certainly be lost, it definitely helps you quickly scan the room to pick off the enemies. The other issue in the games design is not being able to judge distance and what can and can not be leaped upon. Sometimes when a level is cluttered with objects, or something is barely visible on the screen, you won't be sure where to move. This can make some levels a little frustrating, but by no means is it a game breaker.
The story element driving Shadow Complex is the battered concept of finding your kidnapped girlfriend. Before you shrug your head, isn’t as bad as you might think and they do a good job of keeping the pace moving forward without holding you hostage to too many long drawn out dialog pieces. Conveniently Claire has picked the perfect boyfriend as Jason just happens to be a acrobatic killing machine, and conveniently she has been taken by a small military faction into their underground lair which is a perfect set up for a side-scrolling action game.... hmmm isn't it wonderful when things work out!
While you explore the underground lair searching out Claire you learn that an organization called the Progressive Restoration is about to launch an attack on the United States in order to take seize control in a civil war type scenario. This leads into some big concepts, some big battles and a nice stream of dialog that is delivered in a way that its not forced in your face. The script was written by comic book guru Peter David who's credits include comics like Spider-Man and X-Factor, along with some novels based on The Hulk, Iron Man and the Rocketeer. The universe that Shadow Complex lives in is based upon the works of science fiction writer Orson Scott Card.
I Think You Might Need a Bigger Gun?
The Flashlight is Your Friend
Surprisingly, Shadow Complex isn’t a true linear experience like you would expect. It tries hard to give the player as much freedom as possible to explore the game space. Even though the game has been mapped out in a grid format since its early development, you can still travel back and forth between sections freely. One tool that helps Jason navigate through the maze-like environment is a flashlight. The use of a flashlight does more than light your way in dark areas, it doubles as a device that tells when a section can be destroys and accessed. Different substances need different weapons to open, so backtracking will be necessary until you acquire all the different weapons in the game. It’ a lot of fun even when returning to some early squares and seeing what you missed when you have a different weapon or ability.
Aside from more firepower that comes with unlimited ammo, you can find secrets that will increase your health and armour. This minor RPG element is exploited even more as you rack up the kills; you gain XP that is translated into better abilities. The new abilities such as improved aiming, or stamina can not be picked and will be advancing as your progress in the game. It would have been nice to have the option to pick and choose the abilities you want to upgrade, but I digress, this is an action title after all. That being said, for an action game Shadow Complex digs a little deeper than its competition while being well balanced and highly addictive.
Also included in Shadow Complex is a nice little stat tracking feature that not only keeps track of random numerical statistics, it also displays real-time results in relation to your friends who have played the game. This is an excellent feature that more games should use, and the friendly competition also continues in the Proving Grounds section of the game which provides a number of broken down challenges for the player to over come. These changes get ranked on the leaderboards and help give you a sense of what you'll have to overcoming in the main campaign. So even after you finish the main campaign and probably hit it up a few more times, Shadow Complex will keeping you going, if you have a competitive spirit.
The four years Shadow Complex spent in development was well worth the effort. Shadow Complex is absolutely amazing and shouldn’t be disregarded because it’s only available for download. This Xbox Live Arcade exclusive package set at roughly $15 which is a steal compared to its competition on the Marketplace. Even though Shadow Complex is relatively short it is highly addictive and begs for multiple replays. Without a doubt Shadow Complex is the years’ best downloadable game to date, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable gaming experience at this price point. Head on to live, grab the demo, or download the full game and see what the fuss is all about, I know you won't be disappointed.
Reviewed by DowntownJimmy | 09.08.09
- fun and highly addictive gameplay
- 2.5D game space is impressive
- graphics are the best we’ve seen in a Xbox Live Arcade title
- excellent sound with quality voice work
- lots of power-ups and modifiers to collect
- levels and stages are thoughtfully constructed
- targeting can be a little tricky at times
- picking your upgrades would have been nice
- underneath it all, it’s still a simple 2D platformer
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