Shadow Complex is the highly-anticipated game from the guys behind Gears of War that was unveiled at E3 in June. In fact, it won many “best of E3” awards shortly after the event. While the game has garnered critical praise since its release on Xbox Live last week, it has also sparked some pretty serious controversy. Shadow Complex is based on the novel Empire, by Orson Scott Card, who is quite the controversial author, to say the least. That controversy, however, will not be detailed in this review, because I’m a big believer of playing the game for what it is, not for anything beyond that simple truth.
This title interested me for a couple reasons. First off, it takes its inspiration from 2D exploration-type platformers such as Metroid and Castlevania – games which I loved back in the 8-bit era. Secondly, the story is written by a novelist which I admire, Peter David. Admittedly, the story isn’t all that impressive. Boy meets girl, boy goes spelunking with girl, girl gets captured by weird soldiers, boy goes after girl and uncovers all sorts of interesting stuff.
The game play itself is where Shadow Complex shines. Its fairly classic 2D “fill-in-the-blank” exploration. You’re given a map at various computer terminals throughout the areas, and the map is partially filled in with breaks in the walls where you can get through (assuming you have the right tool to do so) and certain symbols inside the rooms on the map that give you a vague idea of what you will find there. Other than that, all the exploration is up to you. In some cases you traverse the complex in a linear fashion, in others you can go off the beaten path to explore on your own for a bit. Your main exploration aid besides the map is a flashlight. By shining the light on various destructible objects you will reveal what tools you have to use to remove that obstacle. For example, a yellow panel means you can shoot it with a gun to blow it out, a green door means you have to destroy it with a grenade, etc. That flashlight will likely constantly be turned on, otherwise its rather difficult to manage from point A to point B. But, who knows, some of you might like the challenge of keeping the light off. Good luck!
Exploration also brings along other benefits – you can increase your maximum number of special weapon supplies (grenades, foam packs, etc.) by finding hidden canisters, as well as increases to your health and armor. You don’t have to worry about regular gun ammunition, as you have an unlimited supply. However, you do spend a couple seconds reloading whenever your clip is depleted, which you will need to keep in mind in intense situations.
Along the way you’ll get upgrades and additions to your weapon and armor arsenal, all of which have special purposes, but aren’t really overused to the point of making exploration tedious. One example is the “scuba mask”. As you explore up until the point you obtain the mask, you learn that you can’t stay underwater for more than a few moments. After obtaining the mask, you can stay underwater indefinitely, but the game doesn’t force a whole lot of those moments on you – its just another tool in your arsenal.
Many of the situations you find yourself in are both creative and fun, such as climbing a vertical shaft by raising the water level, while dealing with a huge mechanical spider-like tank that is climbing the shaft with you. What I also really liked about the game is how it actually encourages you to explore, albeit in a very subtle manner. Resources – including the fact that you have unlimited ammo – are easy to come by. You’re never thinking, “I can’t go explore, what if I run out of grenades?!” There’s always grenades. There’s grenades everywhere – in hidden rooms, in boxes lying around, they even drop off enemies more often than not.
After a while though, things start getting repetitive. Sure, you get new special weapons, new guns and new piece of armor, but it all feels the same. You’re still using your flashlight to find secret rooms and using whatever means you have to access them, all the while progressing toward your next target area. The monotony is only broken up by those “boss” fights and perhaps a new enemy soldier every so often. There are some technical issues, as well, such as a drop in frame rate during heated fights and sometimes during cut scenes, but at least these times are few and far between.
If you’re a fan of this genre, as I am, by all means you must have Shadow Complex. Ignore the controversy and play this game because…well, because its a great game! There are a few issues here and there, and you might find yourself putting the game aside after a short while because of the monotony, but you’ll get the urge to pick it back up again the next day and explore your little gamer heart out. Also, the foam gun rocks. Take my word for it. Most definitely a worthy entry to your collection of Xbox Live Arcade titles.
- Game: Shadow Complex
- Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- MSRP: $15 (1200 Microsoft Points)
- Release Date: 8/19/2009
- Platform: Xbox 360 (XBLA)