Shadow Complex is one of those titles that shouldn’t be on Xbox Live Arcade. I’m not saying it’s not good enough; nuh-uh, no way. I’m saying it’s too good for XBLA—it makes everything else in the library look like a ROM packaged with an emulator.
Last year, Microsoft ran a promotion called “Summer Heatwave” on Xbox Live Arcade, releasing a new Arcade title every week, and giving a rebate to those who bought them all. If you bought them all, then that means you bought TMNT: Re-Shelled and Trials HD, which were both massive rip-offs in my eyes. (Re-Shelled managed to completely ruin one of the best games of all time, and the remake was based on an inferior version of the game, as well. They might as well have not bothered, because once again I got my blasted hopes up for no reason.)
One of the last games released in this promotion was Shadow Complex.
They kept the best ’til last, as they say.
Shadow Complex takes its main inspiration from Castlevania and Metroid, arguably two of the greatest action-adventure game franchises of all time. Retro-minded development team Chair Entertainment is made up of Epic Games members, and that gives the game a feeling reminiscent of Jazz Jackrabbit 2, one of my most favored underrated platformers on the PC platform.
Also, parallels can be drawn to Contra and Super Contra (especially in regards to shooting toward the background), and Shattered Soldier for its use of three-dimensional graphics while retaining 2D gameplay. That, in turn, makes for a round trip of adventure, platformer and shooter—all welded together almost perfectly.
So far, a great start. But like we saw with Dawn of the Dinosaurs, having its heart in the right place isn’t everything—so it’s good to know that Shadow Complex can hold its own as well as it does.
Besides being a mish-mash of some of the greatest games of all time, Shadow Complex is also a game of its own. It brings its own features to the table—cool turret shootouts (where the game transforms into a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective), immense yet buggy grappling hook controls, and, once unlocked, a suit that makes you invincible if you’re standing still or moving very slowly.
It is a 2D single-player experience where you will need to use stealth, cunning and combat abilities to solve puzzles, requiring thought and creativity to figure out what you need to do—which, in English, means that you won’t get stuck or lost like in the traditional Metroid titles.
Shadow Complex is rather good fun, and it’s massive. There is a vast cliff-side terrorist base to explore—and doing so should take you roughly ten hours. Just like with its predecessors, this time can easily be improved upon in further runthroughs. The incentive to replay only comes from the game’s minute selection of Achievements, though, so once they’re taken care of, there isn’t much left.
Nolan North, known for voicing Desmond Miles, the Prince of Persia, Nathan Drake and every other main character in the last two years, provides the voice of main character Jason Fleming. Jason also looks a bit like Nathan Drake anyway, so I hereby accuse the character department of being lazy. Take that, losers.
Jason Flemming. What kind of name is that, anyway?
Characters make the story, and story makes the game, but so does the engine. For reasons too boring to disclose, I hate the Unreal Engine. I have a passionate dislike for it that stems from many different causes.
The Unreal Engine is a decent engine plagued by thousands of bugs. It isn’t the cleanest engine when it comes to gaming bacteria.
Shadow Complex appears to be an exception to the rule (albeit the occasional bug is to be expected). The most troublesome glitch is that the blue-line for mission locations will disappear off the map, and switching it on and off doesn’t help. This usually happens if you progress a little further than you should (easily done), or if you backtrack to grab items and go a bit too far back.
The way I see it, Shadow Complex is in the wrong place. The gameplay is solid and fantastic, and the overall amount of effort put into it is incredible for an Xbox Live Arcade title. I’d happily pay more for this game. No, really—I would. Just like how, back in the day, we’d pay three or four times this for the next Metroid game.
The one thing I don’t get—Xbox Live Arcade has been home to some of the best arcade games ever made, but it is also home to a number of non-arcade styled games. For every Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe or Pac-Man CE, there is a Lucidity, a Braid or a ‘Splosion Man. These aren’t “arcade” games. This is the one thing holding Shadow Complex down—a game like this deserves more than a petty two hundred gamerscore to its name. It’s massive…it really, really is.
If I had to pick on Shadow Complex for anything else, it would be for coming out before Games on Demand did. Shadow Complex is far bigger than anything else on Xbox Live Arcade—if you like Metroid: Zero Mission or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, then why are you still reading this? Go. Get some Microsoft Points and buy this game. It’s fucking awesome!