Review by Thief259
A Near Perfect Excursion
After putting almost 12 hours into Shadow Complex so far, it's hard to put into words how extremely impressed I am with this game. I wasn't sure what to think at first, but I soon found myself counting the days until its release.
You are Jason Flemming, let loose in a shadowy complex (the name's inspiration perhaps?) with little information given as to the reason. You've accompanied your new girlfriend up to the mountains for a day of hiking, but after a failed attempt at hide and go seek ends with her in captivity, it's up to you to find her, save her, and to save thousands of lives in the process.
It all sounds intriguing but the story is one of the few places where Shadow Complex fails to impress. There are many questions that will arise during the game that are left unanswered, but I have a feeling that Shadow Complex may become something more than a one hit wonder game-wise with DLC (probably) and maybe even a full fledged sequel. I say game-wise because Shadow Complex bridges the gap between Orson Scott Card's (of Ender's Game fame, a game also being tackled by Chair) Empire novels, on which the game is based. Baseless speculation aside, the pacing of the game also takes a hit, with your objectives being of the go there, find that variety, you will likely find yourself at a pivotal part of the story without a clue beforehand. I initially wanted to get 100% my first playthrough, but I found myself at the end of the game without warning.
Of course, I was more than happy to jump right back in. While the areas are all interchangeable for the most part (what do you expect, it's an underground base), there's enough variety in the way you traverse the terrain that my second playthrough didn't feel redundant. Not to mention there's multiple paths for you to find and explore to decrease travel time. A quick teleport system would have been nice at times, but it's a minor enough complaint once you acquire certain upgrades.
Oh, the upgrades. What a delicious thing they are. From humble grenades to hookshots to the much coveted foam gun, you will like what you find. Each makes it possible to access a previously unseen area of the complex. Each upgrade (sans the hookshot) has multiple "packs" scattered around the complex. Each of these will not only need to be found if you want 100%, but will also gnaw at your brain until you do. Each pack adds to the ammo you can carry, and in all cases this is nice, but it is almost essential if you want to get the full effect of the foam gun. Once you've collected all of the packs you will have an infinite supply of that specific upgrade.
The foam gun deserves it's own paragraph, but in the name of space I'll only give it half. You've likely seen or heard of this weapon one way or another, but you don't truly realize how much of a game changer it is until you've acquired it. By merely stacking foam you can create bridges, and it will also stop enemies in their tracks. Combine it with a grenade for an extra bang. Large gaps will no longer be a problem, and high ledges will be nothing more than a few foam shots away. I did notice a bit of frame rate drop where large quantities of foam were concerned, but these instances were few and far between in my playthroughs. Hey, look at that, it got its own paragraph anyways.
The game has an RPG lite feel to it, in that you can level up to 50 (and beyond). Each level brings with it a perk such as increased accuracy or even a full reveal of the map at level 20. The three main upgrades, accuracy, precision and stamina don't seem to do much. Stamina increases how much damage you can take while accuracy helps with targeting. I can't say for sure what precision does, but I've heard that it helps with headshots. I would hope that if there is a Shadow Complex 2, they make leveling up have more of an impact on your character.
The gameplay in Shadow Complex in pure platforming and shooting nirvana. You'll fire in 3 dimensions, which sounds somewhat weird at first seeing as we're dealing with a 2D game, but for the most part it works just fine. I will say that there were times when the aiming would go after something in the background when I was trying to kill someone in the foreground, but this is really only a problem if your trying to use a grenade, missile, or some foam because it's a waste of ammo in most cases. As for your guns you are provided with unlimited ammo, but you have a limited clip size so expect some reloading. Also expect plenty of guns and secrets hidden around the complex that only the most astute explorers will be privy to.
The Gist: Shadow Complex is the best XBLA game out there, and it ranks up there with the best Xbox games period. Microsoft made an example out of Castle Crashers last year and managed to keep the quality coming. Shadow Complex is this years Castle Crasher's. It's a great looking game by any standards, although the occasional graphical glitch will pop up. The gameplay is solid throughout, and the Complex is large and imposing with many secrets. It only takes about 5 hours to beat the first time, but you will want to play through again (you'll even continue at the same level you left off on). Be it for achievements, to find those upgrades you missed the first time, or even just to enjoy what it has to offer all over again. Shadow Complex is $15, and I'd feel comfortable recommending it for $20.
Shadow Complex: 9 out of 10
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Shadow Complex (US, 08/19/09)
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