I have a confession to make. While I have made a point to get pretty much every system in the previous generation, there was one machine I never tried to get. I started with a PC and due to how different it played to anything I could get for it, my next machine was a Wii. Finally, the PS3 managed to build up enough of a library I was interested in that I couldn’t get on what I had already to make it worth picking up. But, despite having one of the controllers for it on my PC, I never found myself picking up a 360. It’s library was too close to the PC for me to give it much of a look, but it did have one game that I wanted to play. So when my brother moved out to his own place and left his 360 here, I decided I was going to get Shadow Complex for it. Now, as I finish it, I’m glad it didn’t spend the cash on the system, for I could not imagine this game being a system seller. But at the same time, I am glad I finally got the chance to play through what is ultimately a very good game on it’s own.
Story: Our story begins with a soldier calling back to base to inform his superiors that he is about to engage the enemy using one of their newest weapons: a high-tech power-armor. And with this small detail we are thrust into combat and quickly dispatch the our enemies and even an enemy chopper! But it is all for naught as we are informed the Vice-President of the USA, who we were acting to defend, was blown up literally moments later as our soldier is disabled and assumed killed by a fail-safe built into the suit.
At this point, our real story begins as Jason and his new girlfriend Claire are in the woods preparing for an action-packed date: they are going cave-climbing! The young lady insists on going in first and telling Jason to follow a few minutes later, but as he climbs down, he is alarmed to find she is no where to be found at first. It doesn’t get any better when he does find her as she has been captured by troops of an unknown army. Watching them take her inside a base they had no idea was there, Jason’s mission becomes clear. He now has to sneak inside and save his girlfriend from this unknown enemy.
There is little change to this motif for most of the game. You will spend almost the entire time between looking for her and finding a way that the two of you can escape the base with, but doing so will require you to delve deeper into both the place and a hidden plot that threatens the US, which really only becomes important as you suddenly find a patriotic streak and decide to stop this attack yourself in one of the most convoluted change of goals I have ever seen to ask you to find and engage the last three bosses of any game. In essence this story is not so much a story as an excuse as to why you are here and doing all this.
Graphics: When Shadow Complex launched, it was with the hype of being the first Xbox Arcade game to bring with it a game experience much like one would expect for a game that was bought on disc. To this end, the game runs on Unreal 3 and takes advantage of the engine to produce some descent 3D graphic power for the time. I will say descent, however, as it doesn’t take too long to realize some of the models were clearly simplified to keep the game as small as possible.
But that isn’t to say the game looks bad, just that it looks a bit dated. Characters are relatively simple and outside of Jason, tend to have a few specific animations as they don’t tend to do a lot beyond patrol, point you out, and try to kill you. They look good and feel right for the environments you will be playing in, however.
And those environments will prove really varied as you play. From the lush forests and serene lake above the surface to the cement corridors and halls, to mines, and even some pristine high-tech testing rooms within the base, this game will seamlessly offer you a plethora of places to explore, taking full advantage of the power the engine offers. Even the pop-in it’s known for, while it still exists, is done with so fast you have to really look for it to know it happened. Overall this is an older game now, but it aged really well graphically.
Sound: Unfortunately you can not expect a lot in the way of music from this game. Basically, you will have a few orchestrated themes used specifically for boss fights in general, the last fight of the game, and that moment when decide to be a patriot instead of running off to survive. Beyond that, you will pretty much be listening to ambient sound until the end credits roll (which will include a pretty solid fully vocal song to mellow out to).
But that ambient sound is fairly well done, if a bit limited. You are exploring a base with basically humans populating it, so you simply can not expect a lot of ambient sounds, Im afraid. But that should surprise no one as it extends to the general sounds of the game. It all sounds great, but it basically boils down to gunfire (with variance to the guns being used), stomping boots, and enemies shouting out to fire at you and or that they lost you (always the same voice). There is little else to listen to until you get to cutscenes. At these points, you will have a few lines from Jason and maybe one other character. Thank god the quality of the acting there is pretty good (as well it should be. Jason is played by none other then Nolan North).
Gameplay: Shadow Complex is a 2.5D adventure game from a side-scrolling perspective. While playing, you will be required to wander the secret military base the game takes place in figuring out how some rooms work, looking for power ups, fighting the enemies that populate it, and trying to reach specific points to progress the story to it’s ultimate conclusion. This wandering (or rather exploring) is exceptionally well thought out both in the layout of the base and the tools available to you so you don’t just wind up lost and losing interest.
When you start the game, you will find yourself without even a weapon. It’s just Jason in day-wear with basic running and jumping abilities. Before long, you will find a pistol and Clair’s climbing gear, which will grant you the abilities of shooting and to grasp walls so you can jump from them, expanding your abilities to survive and find more of the map you can now reach. And the game will continually require you to find such upgrades to proceed in a gameplay fashion made popular by the Metroid games on the NES and SNES, and ultimately also taken up by the Castlvania titles from Symphony of the Night on.
While you explore, you will find yourself populating a map available to you by pressing “Back” on the controller. In this screen, there is a window to the map that you can manipulate the scale of and scroll through as you need. You will also find how long you have been playing, how much of the map you have been in, how many items you have collected, as well as the ability to open up a legend showing you what you need to get through certain doors by the color they are on the map. But the most important detail is that here is where you will see your current goal marked off as well as the path to get there from location you were in when the it opened up, giving speed runners a direct way they can follow if they desire, but not locking you into it. You are completely free to wander the maze and look for new places or how to get items you may have missed (marked on the map as well by “?” in the grid),but using these tools, you will never find yourself wandering aimlessly because you lost where you are trying to get to.
While running and jumping around to explore, you will meet resistance in the form of soldiers and mechanized weapons which you will have to fight. Doing so generally involves aiming via the right analog stick to point Jason’s gun at the enemies and holding down the right trigger to keep shooting. At the same time, the right bumper will allow you to use a secondary weapon you have equipped. The first one of these you will gain is grenades, but once you have more then one, you will swap them on the fly by the left/right buttons on the rocker switch, which works well enough, but can make it tough to switch mid-combat if you need to.
Still, while most of this will occur on the same 2D zone you are restricted to, enemies are going to come from the background as well. Your aiming system will compensate for this for the most part, but it is occasionally a little buggy about it, requiring you to really whip the analog stick around to try to hit a few of the enemies. Far more annoying in this regard will be when you hit office-type areas in the base watching enemies use stairs you will find yourself wanting to jump to only to find you will only land in front of them. In these areas, while they look great, it would have been better to have these rooms designed for the 2D movement and hide the stairs behind a wall to not confuse the player needlessly.
Bugs: Overall, this game ran great, but I can not say it ran perfect.
- Stand here! No Here! Stand Here!: I found it possible to from time to time glitch up the climbing system, causing Jason to stand in a wall rather then grab and climb it. This seemed only to occur once I had the armor suit.
- They don’t move: There is exactly one room with an actual non-power-based puzzle in the entire game, and I managed to break it. At a certain point, you will be sneaking into the section of the base where the enemies are storing an armor suit much like you had in the introduction of the game, guarded by two troops who’s movement controls the lazer-fields and when they open by their patrol. The way the puzzle is supposed to work is that you sneak up into the room between them and jump up into the roof to continue. If you fail, the room gets gassed and you take a LOT of damage. The problem becomes if you do like the rest of the game has trained you to do and continues to train you to do the entire time afterwards, you will attempt to kill them without being seen… which proves them both invulnerable and breaks their routine, stopping them in their tracks so they wont kill you and stopping them from patrolling/opening/closing the fields, trapping you in the room. If you do this, your only choice will be to reload your previous save.
Overall: Shadow Complex is a really good game, and from a genre of games you really don’t see a lot of outside of the portable realm anymore. If you are a fan of old-school Metroid titles or portable Castlevania ones prior to Mirror of Fate, you have a lot to look forward to here. If you want something more straight forward, you probably want to go somewhere else as this genre just is not for you.
Source: Xbox Live Arcade