Michael Kontoudis
08 Sep, 2009

Shadow Complex Review

360 Review | Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Ape Super Metroid.
If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then Chair Entertainment may definitely make Nintendo blush. Shadow Complex, the aforementioned developer’s latest title for Xbox 360 Live Arcade, is nothing less than a display of abject worship and reverence on the altar of Super Metroid, Nintendo’s seminal 1994 classic. Shadow Complex arrives as the big hitter of Microsoft’s ‘Summer of Arcade’ promotion, and it is a title which while not being terribly innovative in any significant way, stands tall as one of the most accomplished and impressive Live Arcade titles to date. Jumping, shooting and eking out secrets are the order of the day, but the big questions remains: just how good is Shadow Complex, and does it manage to surpass the game it so clearly aspires to evoke?

Jason prepares to inflict Massive Damage.

Jason prepares to inflict Massive Damage.
On a superficial level, Shadow Complex is an action and exploration-based adventure which takes place on a 2D plane with a few third dimensional flourishes. The game’s story, to the extent that the series of plotted events represents one, is utterly forgettable and far from compelling. This is quite a shame given that Shadow Complex is based on author Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novel, Empire, which by all accounts offers a far more compelling narrative. In any case, players assume the role of Jason Flemming, a seemingly average fellow who goes hiking with his newfound love-interest named Clare. Things go pear-shaped when the curious lady decides to explore some caves and finds herself kidnapped by a rogue military group with designs on the free world who roost in a massive underground complex. Jason takes it upon himself to explore the base and recover Clare. Needless to say, Shadow Complex is not a title which will keep you hooked and one edge in anticipation of the next thrilling turn in its tale. There’s just enough meat to it to provide a basic context, and before you know it, you are Jason Flemming, jumping around caves and crawling through vents.

As has been made exceedingly obvious in the preceding paragraphs, Shadow Complex takes a leaf from the esteemed book of exploration-based action titles, notably Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Jason runs, jumps and shoots a variety of weapons while traversing the map and acquiring new abilities which allow him to delve deeper into the complex and reach previously inaccessible areas. Said abilities include grappling hooks, boots which enable the ubiquitous ‘double jump’, missiles and our personal favourite, the foam gun, which can be used to freeze enemies and create solid platforms upon which Jason can tread. The game’s controls generally work fairly well and are intuitively mapped; the face buttons control basic actions, leaving the directional pad to scroll through equipped abilities and the right analogue stick free to direct the aim of Jason’s firearms. There are a few quirks which detract from the game’s otherwise glossy sheen, though, including finicky jumping animations and somewhat lethargic shooting controls when attempting to peg enemies who are placed on a different plane to Jason.

There's no place like foam.

There's no place like foam.
For the most part though, Shadow Complex is tight, fun and immediately evokes the pleasures of its forebearers while managing to bring a few unique features to its table. In a nice touch, almost every action performed in the game, from shooting an enemy to finding one of the myriad secret items (which increase your maximum health or missile capacity, for example) rewards the player with experiences points and allow Jason to level up and become more powerful and proficient. Even better, an optional ‘blue line’ is available at any time on the game’s map screen to direct the player to the next major objective. Far from making the game too easy, such modern touches help to alleviate frustration and provide the more anal-retentive completionists with an indication of where not to travel until they have scratched their itch for sniffing out every last secret. This core gameplay of combat and traversal is broken up by a handful of (forgettable) turret sections and (sadly, even more forgettable) boss-battle set pieces, but by and large, the gameplay on offer in Shadow Complex is dependable and familiar. For many, it will be a reminder of how much satisfaction and fun can be had with the time-tested template laid down by Metroid et al.

Aside from its story and a number of deeply unimpressive cutscenes, Shadow Complex is a handsomely-presented game in a number of ways. Courtesy of Unreal Engine 3, its visuals and detailed, slick and pleasing to the eye. Each crumbling rock and slick metal surface is rendered with love and polish, and it is truly a marvel that a downloadable game looks so fantastic. To say that Shadow Complex makes other Live Arcade titles appear lacking in ambition is an understatement. The sound design is of a similarly high standard, with moody tunes and cracking effects compensating for some laughable voice acting (the performers done no favours by the purported ‘script’). On the whole, a level of attention and technical prowess befitting a full-priced retail title has been bestowed on Shadow Complex, which posits it at the forefront of technical excellence in the arena of downloadable games.

'Snake, we're not tools of the government or anyone else...'

'Snake, we're not tools of the government or anyone else...'
Quite aside from its solid mechanics and impressive graphics, Shadow Complex offers decent value for its low price of entry. Completing the campaign should take most gamers about five or six hours at most, although locating each and every collectible item and uncovering every last inch of the map will require a couple more hours of playing time. Extending the title's life even further are a variety of discrete challenges contained in a mode titled 'Proving Ground', testing players' skills in completing tasks with a pared-back inventory. Online leaderboards go along way to encouraging competition and motivation, and all in all, it's just another facet of the game which reinforces its impressive production value.

Shadow Complex is an easy title to recommend to all Xbox 360 owners with an internet connection: its addictive, well-tuned gameplay is meshed with gorgeous visuals which put most other downloadable games to shame. Lousy story and weak cutscenes aside, Shadow Complex is a modern update of the classic Super Metroid formula which does justice to its source inspiration. It might not surpass Nintendo's colossal masterpiece, but few would ever have expected it to, right?
The Score
A well-written love letter to an almost-forgotten style of game, Shadow Complex is quite simply one of the best titles available on Xbox Live Arcade.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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4 years ago
Loved the game, achievement whored it to death now will probably be 2 or more years before I touch it again. such is modern technology I suppose.

What I like about Shadow Complex the most was the length. Not to long but short enough to do 2.5 hours speed runs for xp through. Insane difficulty was just right as well, required smart thinking on who or what you started a fight with.
What's with reviews always talking about 'love letter to x series/game/genre' all the time? Or have I just not noticed it until recently. I'm not talking about just on this site, but on other gaming sites as well.
4 years ago
I'll definitely have to pick this one up in the uni holidays. Anything vaguely like a 2D Metroid game is right up my alley.
4 years ago
I must be going slow, spent over 10 hours messing around trying to find everything on my first run and am about 85% of the map and 70% of items.

Awesome game, however.
4 years ago
Any one finish under an hour yet? Took a few playthroughs but managed it. Then again I did take a few shortcuts along the way
4 years ago
Finished it today. Brilliant game, almost as awesome as Splosion Man, must download!
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  19/08/2009 (Confirmed)
  Action Adventure
Year Made:

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