Review by ayame95

"Great Fun in Only Two Dimensions"

INTRODUCTION

Shadow Complex is a two-dimensional action & platforming title being released exclusively for the Xbox 360 as a downloadable title. It represents not only the developing interest developers have in providing games to their customers this way, but also the rapid growth of these games from old arcade ports and glorified flash games to real, noteworthy titles. Shadow Complex is a great game on its own merits, and the reduced price tag and convenience of downloading it at home merely sweeten the pot. Read on to find on why this game is worth playing.

STORY & CHARACTERS – 5/10

Shadow Complex has a story and a small number of main characters, but it isn't even worth mentioning. It gives a reason for your main character to be there, and that's about it. The game is connected to a novel by a noted science fiction author, and there is a bit more story if you choose to pay attention. But it is unlikely you will.

Having said that, it's hardly important for a game of this nature to focus on story. Given the limited time they had to make the game and the desire to keep the file as small as possible for downloading, it's not much of an obstacle.

GAMEPLAY – 9/10

Shadow Complex is a self-admitted, unabashed Super Metroid clone. If you've played that game, then you will instantly be familiar with this one. The main character explores a map, slowly upgrading his weapons and equipment. There is a fair amount of backtracking that involves using newly acquired equipment to access previously unreachable areas (e.g. doors that require a missile to open), and the map is littered with secrets for those who are willing to spend time hunting for them. Even many of the upgrades themselves are lifted directly out of the Metroid series.

Luckily Shadow Complex demonstrates that you don't need to innovate to be great. The game play is solid start to finish, with the combat and platforming feeling spot-on throughout. The game is simply a pleasure to play, and the addition of each new weapon or piece of equipment fits in perfectly. The game is well-paced so that you find yourself playing for “just a couple more minutes” again and again.

Although the game is played almost exclusively from a two-dimensional perspective, there are few small scenes where the main character takes control of a mounted machine gun, and the game opens up to a three-dimensional perspective. These scenes are hardly more than gimmicks, but serve adequately as “palette cleansers.” The game also features the ability to aim into the 3rd dimension with the right analog stick (often enemies will appear in the background). This is a neat idea, but it takes a bit of finnicking at the start and really can't be said to benefit or hinder the game either way.

Shadow Complex also implements an online leaderboard system. In-game notifications will pop up, telling you how close you are to your friends, adding yet more incentive to play.

In addition the main campaign, the developers have added a special “Proving Grounds” mode, which offers a bunch of unique challenges that utilize the various abilities in the game. Players are challenged to complete a short platforming puzzle in a limited period of time, earning medals based on their performance. Unless you're one of the few who will do a challenge like this over and over ad infinitum (trying to shave off a few tenths of a second), it isn't likely to take up too much time. But it is an entertaining addition to have on the side.

GRAPHICS & SOUND – 8/10

Shadow Complex was made with the Unreal Engine. Although gameplay is mostly locked in the 2nd person perspective, it is rendered in 3D and the game looks the better for it. Character animations, environments and effects such as explosions look quite good. The faces and gestures during the game's few cutscenes look a bit off, but this is a minor complaint and overall the game looks gorgeous for a downloadable title….future competitors will have a high bar to jump to compete with Shadow Complex's offerings.

Character designs are the weak point here, although technically that's an artistic problem rather than a technical one. The main character is unbelievably generic, as are all the villains and just about everything else. Shadow Complex looks the part, but hardly looks unique. The art direction could have benefited from a little more originality.

One aspect deserving special attention is the underwater scenes. The game contains several areas in which the main character must swim. These are excellently done from both a graphical and gameplay perspective, and may perhaps be the most well-done underwater sequences in a game to date.

The sound is a mixed bag. On one hand the sound effects are all quite suitable and contribute to the atmosphere. However the voice acting is mediocre and the music is instantly forgettable.

REPLAYABILITY – 10/10

Shadow Complex offers a variety of incentives to keep players coming back. The main character maintains all his levels and perks (though loses his equipment) on subsequent playthroughs, allowing for a kind of “new game+” for those who choose to revisit the campaign. Finding all the upgrades and items hidden throughout the map (many of which the game can be completed without) will also take some time. And in addition to the standard 200 achievement points for a downloadable XBLA title, Shadow Complex provides a number of extra challenges (some of which seem nearly impossible). Combine this with the relative length of the campaign (8 hours or so on the first playthrough) and the Proving Grounds mode, and you've got quite a bit of bang for your buck with Shadow Complex.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION

Shadow Complex is a game that could be recommendable as a full-priced, off-the-shelf title. The fact that it's being sold brand new for about a quarter of that online means that there's really no reason to hesitate. It has its faults, but it doesn't play to them and the gameplay is simply rock-solid. Any gamers interested in the genre, or just looking for a game that's plain old fun should definitely consider picking up Shadow Complex.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/11/09

Game Release: Shadow Complex (US, 08/19/09)


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