2 Minute Review: Shadow Complex

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An old school throwback with all modern bells and whistles

DO: Indulge your sense of nostalgia over a game genre that’s time has largely past. Alternatively, if you’re not a gaming dinosaur, find out why everyone loved Metroid so much.

TYPE: Side-Scrolling Platformer

PLATFORM: XBox 360 (Reviewed)

PRICE: $15

MEAT: You play as Jason Fleming (sidenote: More protagonists should be named “Jason”. It’s an awesome name.) who appears to be an everyman in the same way Steven Seagal’s character in Under Siege was “just a cook”. In a very brief flashback we’re given that Jason’s mysterious background includes some kind of training because his father is some kind of super-spy and/or warrior badass and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Despite his attempt at a normal life he finds himself unwittingly drawn into a plot against the United States when he, and I’m not making this up, stumbles into the base of a homegrown terrorist organization thanks to an outing with his “girlfriend” that was supposed to be nothing more than some hiking and spelunking. I used “girlfriend” in quotes because despite the marketing materials for the game they also establish that Jason and Claire have been dating for all of two days. The lengths he goes through for a woman he met at a bar is nothing short of epic.

I wouldn’t usually bother with the back story, but in this case the story is very much part of the gameplay and it does a great job. For a side-scroller I don’t expect much since you’re artificially confined in your actions, yet the action onscreen and the story presentation flow together perfectly. Your character is upgraded gradually and as you unlock new abilities you can backtrack to previously visited locations to acquire upgrades that were inaccessible before. Despite all the backtracking, the ability to explore a section in a way that wasn’t previously possible keeps the game interesting even though you may have visited the same room multiple times.

Just a minor spoiler, but what you have is a guy who starts out with a flashlight and the ability to jump who gradually ends up with a suit of incredible power armor that gives him abilities beyond that of normal men.

PERKS: In my opinion these kinds of retro-retreads are unnecessary since technology has since advanced enough that we can move beyond the old “side scroller”. There is a reason the Metroid series went first person. The only reason why I’m reviewing this game is because I downloaded the demo just to see what all the fuss was about.

Then something miraculous happened.

The game was just ridiculously fun to play. Save points occur often enough that the game can be played in short bursts, if you can actually force yourself to turn it off, but are far enough apart that there is a real challenge. The controls, for the most part, are excellently done. One of my long-standing complaints with platformers, even those that fuse with side-scrolling shooters, is the lack of precision in controlling the character. Aiming your weapons is a bit of a challenge at first, but with practice becomes fairly simple. I never felt like I was struggling with the controls and that is incredibly important.

The actual “Shadow Complex” is vast with many varied environments, hazards, and enemies. The game has an excellent pace, keeping the player engaged and allowing them to flex some muscle on occasion while making sure they get fresh challenges. I really appreciate that as you acquire new abilities some of the early opponents that are quite difficult become easy to dispatch in a variety of satisfying ways. Naturally, the game keeps ramping up the “bosses” so it never gets too easy but the player is not exposed to a challenge too early either.

The first boss fight sold me the game

The first boss fight sold me the game

SCREAMS: The game is “2.5D”, so there are times when you have side hallways that enemies can approach but you can’t travel down. In theory you can aim and shoot them, but sometimes you have your gun pointed at enemies and other times it’s pointing straight up. In this case the controls try to interpret your intention and it doesn’t always work.

Your ability to “wall climb” is limited, which is ok except that sometimes the game doesn’t register your attempt to jump off one wall to another Jackie Chan style. Also, one of your abilities is a grappling hook which is tons of fun but has the same problem as the wall climb. It can be very frustrating to see your grappling line bounce ineffectually off of a wall or ceiling.

Perhaps a personal preference, the game has many areas that are inaccessible early on that you can later unlock by using upgrades the game gives you. The problem here is that the upgrades needed seem to come about midway through the game, but then come quite often. This is kind of frustrating though because you can see areas that have extras you could get to but have to continually ignore because you haven’t acquired missiles yet or can’t double jump.

A common complaint is that you can trigger the endgame by accident. The good news is that if this happens you can simply end and restart from your last continue. This way you can still get any upgrades you may have missed. You cannot trigger the endgame sequence without at least having the basic abilities to beat it, so the game at least gives players the possibility of winning, though the challenge may be greater than it has to be if they are not sufficiently prepared.

Screenshots will not do this game justice

Screenshots will not do this game justice

VERDICT: Let me be clear here, this is my “2009 Game I Can’t Put Down” and I truly do feel this entire genre is well past it’s prime. This is a game I was determined to hate and love it anyway. You can’t rent it and I would recommend this as a BUY even if you could.

Comments

  1. This game is the first thing I’m downloading when I get home tomorrow. It will be the focus of my weekend of gaming!

    Great review.

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