Shadow Complex Review (Xbox360)

There must be something in the air. The whole reason the side-scroller genre waned was because of the evolution of videogames graphics. But now they’re back, and it looks like they’re here to stay. Shadow Complex, a side-scroller shooter/action thriller title from Epic Games & Chair Entertainment is one more addition to the newly revived genre. Based on the work of one of today’s greatest science fiction writers, Shadow Complex doesn’t mess around, throwing you straight into the action and through a medium paced action-thriller.

Set at the same time as Orson Scott Cards Empire novel, Shadow Complex puts you in the shoes of Jason Fleming, an (sort-of) ordinary man trying to live an ordinary life. Whilst exploring a cave with his date Claire, the couple accidently stumble upon the hideout of a secret organisation bent on plunging the United States into another civil war. Claire is captured, and it’s up to you to save her, naturally. Luckily, you just also happen to be the son of a soldier, and put through extensive military training at some point in your life, so you’re no beginner when it comes to a pistol.

The game can seem a tad misleading at first. The tutorials and the first level have you controlling a character fully kitted out in a futuristic combat suite, crafted for the sole purpose of kicking butt. Yet the majority of the game is spent playing as Fleming, who starts off with only a flashlight. This is only slowly rectified, because as you progress through the complex, you pick up bits and pieces of the combat armour. Along with additional weapons you find, you become more and more like Greyfox until eventually you come full circle and are pretty much a walking tank. The tutorial also leads on to several challenge mini-missions called ‘Proving Grounds’, where you must try and get as high a score as possible. These scores are then updated to an online leaderboard, so there is something else to do apart from the main story, although it’s not much.

The game is a mixture of mild problem solving, although very mild, and simple A- B action. As you get deeper into the complex, you unlock new areas, items, enemies etc... And the story slowly unfolds as you go along through over heard conversations and short cut scenes. Some things however, especially secret areas and short cuts require weapons or gadgets that you don’t pick up until later, and so you must back track to find the games secrets. These are mostly in the form of collectables and power ups, but they’re worth going after. Very Super Metroid in this sense, which is cited as an inspiration along with Castlevania: Symphony of Light.

The plot is classic Card, all the way. It might not be Ender’s Game, and a little bit Metal Gear meets Uncharted but the story holds its own. Despite being based off a book, the arcade game doesn’t assume you’ve read it, which is a plus. Whilst voice acting is kept tight and under control, at times it’s a little ‘too’ controlled, especially when you get to a point where you’ve met up with the girl and are now looking for a way to get them both out. Considering he’d just expended so much time and effort trying to save her, you’d think they’d at least talk about something. This can hinder the character side of things, but since you spend a lot of time shooting things, you probably won’t miss it much. In fact you may even forget she’s there.

Of course being a 2D/3D sidescroller, the way the levels are designed bring out some ‘oddities’ from time to time, which give the game an odd feel. For example, there are many vertical sections which allow for travelling between floors in this military base. Usually, these come in the form of stairs, but sometimes the way the section pans out has you not actually using said stairs, just jumping from the adjacent balcony. Despite sneaking around a top-secret military facility, even James Bond would use the stairs like a normal person unless his lift was in danger, so things like this can make you smirk. This is a very minor thing however, and a matter of perspective. There are a few bugs present, especially in the auto-aiming system.

Whilst the majority of enemies will exists on the same 2D plane as you, since the environment has been rendered in 3D, the developers got creative and made sure the enemy used that third dimension that’s cut off from you. This would make combat rather one sided, but that’s where the auto-aiming comes in. Simply point your gun in the general direction of the enemy, and the AI will then aim your gun ‘off screen’ for you, so you can take care of the enemies. It’s not perfect, but its good enough provided you play it smart.

Aside from that, there aren't that many game-breaking bugs, apart from a bit of a doosey that comes when you complete the game having collected all the items. Probably could have used a few extra months development time, but there have been games that have released in far worse states.

Shadow Complex is a fun, yet involving game. The action is well paced, there’s plenty of differing challenges, and the story will keep you hooked whether you’re a card fan or not. Epic has taken a break from Gears and taken on a long forgotten genre, and done it well. One of the better Xbox Live Arcade games to hit the dashboard this year, and has a quality about it that is just as good as any full game out there at the moment.


By Kres (SI Elite) on Aug 20, 2009
Oh dear, 8.7! Don't recall of too many console games lately that have been getting such high scores. Will sniff this one out.