A few weeks ago I was bored and looking for something to play. I thumbed through the Xbox Live Arcade catalog hoping something would catch my attention. I had come across Shadow Complex before, but never gave it much thought. I had heard in passing that it was a good game but I never really gave it any thought. On a whim I downloaded the demo just to see what all the fuss was about. What I found was a highly entertaining game that was challenging, fun, and addictive.
Shadow complex is a 2D side scroller that allows you to fight in a 3-dimensional space. What I mean by this is you can shoot in the plane of the TV, but you can also shoot enemies that are behind the plane. It seems strange at first, but the controls eventually become second nature. The plot of Shadow Complex is convoluted, a little out of left field, but still entertaining. You play Jason, a soldier’s son that has combat training, but no desire to pursue a military career. Your story begins with you and your girlfriend Claire heading out for a spelunking adventure. It’s not long before the two of you are separated and you are on a quest to find and save her. But your motives grow beyond a simple damsel in distress plot, you soon find yourself fighting to stop a mutiny set to overthrow the US Government by a maniacal character that resembles Hitler with a motorcycle helmet . Exciting right?
At the center of your adventures is a suit that enhances your speed, jumping abilities, and strength. You will also find better weapons along the way. One thing that Shadow Complex does that is different than most current games is the difficulty of the enemies stays the same throughout the game no matter how strong you get. You start off fairly weak, but by the end of the campaign you are practically invulnerable (if you collect all of the armor upgrades). It is a nice change of pace from the current video game progression schemes. By the end of the game you are literally blowing people away while absorbing massive amounts of damage. While this may seem boring, it actually helps to highlight a major portion of the game, puzzle solving.
Navigating the levels and collecting all of the upgrades will require you to utilize the suit and its powers to pull it all off. As you progress through the game and collect more upgrades for your suit you will find yourself using a combination of powers to reach that illusive upgrade. While the majority of these puzzles are fairly obvious, there are a few that will have you scratching your head. More than once I had to resort to using the internet to find the solution to a puzzle that was driving me nuts.
Gameplay wise Shadow Complex does a great job of blending the 2D side-to-side gameplay in a 3D environment. The game provides some auto aim assistance as it is very difficult to target a single enemy out of a group in the same area. Luckily, the mechanics and damage are forgiving so you don’t have to worry about taking damage while blasting away. Shadow Complex also incorporates a lot of vent work and “secret” passages. Sometimes these are necessary to more forward in a level, but more often than not they lead to valuable upgrades. It pays to watch out for the different areas that you can explore as some can give you the advantage when it comes to battle. A nice feature the developers included for help is to highlight the vents and hidden areas when you shine your flashlight on them. Not only do they light up, but they also change color to reflect the method needed to break open the door, vent, ect. That means a green hatch requires a grenade to open it, red for a rocket, and you get the idea. It is a simple addition that helps to keep your movement through the world quick and efficient.
A large portion of the game will be spent returning to areas previously explored to collect the upgrades that you were unable to attain before. Once you unlock more suit powers and upgrades you will be able to access areas that you were previously unable to. But word to the wise, there is a room with a domed, command center station in it. Make note of where this room is as after you enter it you will be blocked off from a portion of the map making it practically impossible to obtain 100% of the upgrades and 100% of the map unlocked.
Graphics wise the game isn’t too bad. It isn’t a graphical heavyweight, but it does look nice and it works well for an arcade game. I would put the graphics on par with a previous gen games, maybe just a little better. But the lack of current generation graphics brings with it the ability for the world to be loaded at all times. You are able to go to any part of the map and never come across a loading screen.
The game is not without its laughs though. Aside from the absurd plot, the kill effects and sound bites were also quite funny. A headshot would throw the soldier across the map like a rag doll hit with a wrecking ball. On top of that the sound bites were just as comical with the classic “AHHHHHH!!!!” coming straight out of a bad action movie.
For all of the positive points about the game, the ending was pretty lackluster. By the time you reach the final battle you are so powerful it isn’t remotely a challenge. If you have all the suit upgrades, you are for all intents and purposes invulnerable and the final battle is like playing with God Mode on. It didn’t bother me when I was running around the complex as I had been through the different areas of the map half a dozen times. It was nice to just mow on through and to head where I wanted to go. But to stand there and not take any damage during the final battle was…. well, boring.
Aside from the lackluster ending Shadow Complex is a great game that deserves a play through (or two). The controls are a little wonky at first, but you will get used to them eventually. The fast action, fun puzzle solving, and goofy sound effects make this game highly entertaining and well worth the 1200 Microsoft points. I hope to see a Shadow Complex 2 as I would like to see what happens with the story (no matter how absurd it is) and see what improvements and challenges the developers can bring to the table.