Review by AuspexAO
"Almost Suspiciously Great"
After completing my 100% run through the game last night I thought it might be time to let those who are still on the fence about Shadow Complex know that it's time to come down. This is a phenomenal title deserving its already high rating on XBOX Live Arcade.
Unless you are the type of gamer that follows E3 and reads up on trade publications the gem that is Shadow Complex might have taken you by surprise. This action/adventure title follows the "Metroidvania" formula which is geek-speak for a title that features a large and generally connected map, plenty of item and weapon upgrades strewn about, and a lot of backtracking and using new powers to get to areas that you could not before. Generally these types of games take place on a 2D plain, as does Shadow Complex. However, the game does run on a 3D engine so the result is a pure 2D experience combined with an interesting depth of field that the enemies sometimes inhabit and can even launch attacks from.
Gameplay: (10/10) The most important aspect of any title and where Shadow Complex truly excels. In the single player campaign (there is no multiplayer at the time of this review) the player steps into the boots of a reluctant infiltrator. As you work your way into the heart of an underground citadel on the quest to find your girlfriend you will fight, jump, and climb your way into and out of many seemingly inescapable situations. Gun play is frequent and targetting with your guns is amazing. The game intelligently guides your laser sight (controlled by the right stick) towards even distant background targets and you will rarely find yourself fighting the system for control. The platforming is similarly smooth. Jumps feel more loose than realistic and it really helps with some of the crazy midair stunts you have to perform.
Puzzle-solving elements are color coded in a fashion similar to the Metroid games. A red door requires a missle, a green one a grenade, and so on. This makes finding your way around seem easy although it is a deceptive feeling as some of the chambers take real creativity and finesse to open or enter. Fun moves like the super fast run that breaks blue bricks or the tricky boost/hook wall climb make getting around a blast.
Boss battles are usually the highlights of a game like this, but in this case the fun of exploration and combat is at least as fun as your encounters with the bosses. They are lots of fun, but don't usually change the gameplay or the combat all that much. There are a few that really stand out, though, and the end encounter is a set piece that you will definitely remember.
Graphics: (8/10) Excellent considering this is a downloadable title and does not have a DVD packed full of art assets and textures. The art direction fits with the "advanced technology" theme of the game so you will see many different takes on high-security doors, ducts, and catwalks. What impressed me was not the environment, but rather the stunning way the action unfolds within it. Massive fire-fights with dozens of foes often lead to spectacular explosions and bone-crunching melee takedowns that send bodies flying across the screen.
Character models are well-done but they do lack diversity. (guards are in uniforms, after all) The robotic foes you face are well-animated and textured but definitely share the overall aesthetic with the rest of the base. This sameness is most likely thematic, but it would have been nice to see some more creative mecha designs.
Sound: (8/10) When there is noticeable music it is very good. Both driving and intense, the score urges the player to press on. The shouts and screams of the guards are satisfyingly intense as is the weapons fire. Voice acting is spread evenly throughout the game and is, for the most part, decent. The main character spouts the typical one-liners in a likeable wiseguy voice.
Story: (8/10) I know it seems paradoxical to say this, but the story is both barely there and really good. There isn't a lot of explanation or cutscenes, (there are a few) but the guards chatting and the goings on in the stronghold tell the tale without narration. It can best be described as "ambient narration." What begins as a simple "rescue the princess" story quickly becomes much more epic, and I felt that the developers did an excellent job making the player feel like an incredible super-agent. I can only hope future James Bond games borrow a page from Shadow Complex's book.
Control: (10/10) Spot on. Controls are fed to the player along a very reasonable learning curve. The game begins with simple running, jumping, and mantling. Later the player is taught many advance moves that can be practiced in the excellent tutorials and challenge rooms. If you are at home with platformer controls you won't have difficulty picking up the "shooter" aspects of this title.
Replay: (8/10) Shadow Complex offers an amazing campaign, 30 challenge rooms, and the ability to "level up" your character to earn unlockables. There are also the usual achievements as well as "master challenges" that are basically awards given for completing difficult feats.
Overall: (9/10 - not an average) Not just "great for a XBLA game." Shadow Complex easily surpasses many full releases. Download it today if you are even slightly fond of action/adventure titles.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/24/09
Game Release: Shadow Complex (US, 08/19/09)
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