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XBLA REVIEW: Shadow Complex

Posted August 23rd 2009 by Will Davey.

Shadow Complex

Brought to you by Chair Entertainment and Epic Games, Shadow Complex is a modern take on the "Metroidvania" style of gameplay that has been most recently showcased in the Castlevania games on the Nintendo DS. You'll be traversing a 2D plane, and as you go through the adventure you'll find upgrades that will let you go to previously unreachable areas. It doesn't sound nearly as fun using a description to describe the genre, but it really is an incredible game.

In Shadow Complex, you play as Jason. He's your average guy who's out exploring a cave with his girlfriend, Claire. All seems to be going well until you find out that the cave is the base of a secret terrorist organisation. As if that wasn't bad enough, they've also taken Claire in for interrogation thinking she's a spy. Jason is, understandably, not best pleased with these revelations, so he takes it upon himself to take down the organisation and save Claire in the process. The overall story of the game isn't particularly important, and the plot itself is explained in several key moments as opposed to lots of small situations throughout the whole game. I personally found that to be a good thing, because with the game focusing on action and exploration, and clocking a respectable five to six hours on a first playthrough, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

The gameplay in Shadow Complex revolves around traversing environments and killing enemies on a 2D plane, but there's a twist. The enemies will often appear in the background and foreground of this plane, so whilst you'll still be pointing the right analogue stick to aim at them, the game does a good job of targeting enemies in the foreground and background, which adds a nice amount of depth to the gameplay (literally). Not only that, you'll also have to make use of cover behind crates and such, though there's no dedicated cover system, so you'll just be crouching behind them. Overall the system works very well, but I have had one problem with it. Having cleared a room of most of its soldiers, this triggered a mech enemy to enter the room. After some more shooting, I was left with one soldier in the background and the mech enemy directly to my right. The game assumed that I wanted to kill the mech, but I was aiming to try to kill the soldier, as his gunshots were missing my cover and hitting me. So while I was aiming slightly to the top-right trying to aim at the enemy in the background, the game thought I was trying to aim at the mech's head. I only had this problem once in a specific room, and with a bit of relocation I'd managed to sort it, but it goes to show that the system isn't perfect.

There's one thing about this game (and in general this style of game) that sets it apart from other styles of game: replayability. Shadow Complex goes into a very small, select group of games that as soon as I finish the game and I'm back at the main menu, I start a new game straight away. As you play through the game you gain experience through exploration, killing enemies or finding items and upgrades. Killing enemies actually nets you the least amount of core experience, and the game encourages you to explore and go back for missed items. Fairly early on in the game, once you defeat your first mech enemy, the game actually prompts you to go back and see if you can get some items that you can now reach having grabbed a new upgrade. This is something you don't see very often in games, but it works well here. The maximum level you can reach is 50, and considering I finished my first playthrough at level 18, you'll no doubt need another couple of plays through the campaign on a higher difficulty to get to the final level. Your level and experience is carried over through each playthrough, though your items and upgrades aren't, so make sure you don't mind losing all of your game's progress in that respect before starting a new campaign.


Shadow Complex also does a good job at sucking the player in. There were several situations where I'd be making my way through various rooms and areas, killing everything in sight, and suddenly I'd have to take a step back and take it all in and reassess what I was doing. You'll usually always have a key objective that you should be following, but once you get further into the game and you can freely explore much more of the complex, then you'll no doubt find yourself straying from the path just to explore that area in the corner of the map to see if there's anything there. It's that kind of gameplay that makes me appreciate Shadow Complex, and when a game can make you completely ignore a main objective for the sake of your own exploration – that's the sign of top quality.

Not only has Shadow Complex nailed the gameplay, but the graphics are top notch. Everything about the game, bar a few facial animations, screams high quality and attention to detail. Thanks to the Unreal engine being used (no discredit to the game design from Chair Entertainment obviously), the game has high quality textures, great explosions and brilliant water effects. The sound effects are all appropriate and also seem genuine – gunshots actually sound like gunshots, and the explosions are very convincing. Adding up all of these key points makes it seem odd that there are games that look worse, play worse and sound worse, but sell for twice the price on-disc in retail stores. Not only is it odd, but it also makes me appreciate how much of a bargain this game is. My first playthrough of the game took me about five and a half hours, so you're looking at double or maybe even triple that if you want to get everything out of the game.

Shadow Complex does everything right. High quality graphics, great replayability, online leaderboards for the campaign and challenge rooms to compare scores with friends – it's the complete package. The amount of content in the game could easily cost you double or triple what you're paying for it, so it'd be wrong for me not to recommend it. In fact I wouldn't even recommend it, I'd go so far as to say that you have to download it, even if it's only the trial. I know that I'll be playing through this game past the third run of credits, so I hope that you all go out and at least try to make it through one.

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Tags: shadow complex, xbla

Posted in: Reviews, Gaming

Comments (6) | Permalink | Digg | Reddit

User Comments

Modijoe

This game really is pretty amazing, but I'm not sure how many play-throughs I'll be going through. I'm tempted to get to Level 50 and grab that achievement, but I've already collected all the items so the incentive for going through the game just to level grind isn't completely appealing. But then there's that less than 13% achievement as well. I guess I'll definitely be going through it again at least once. Proving Grounds adds for some extra replayability as well I guess.

Sunday, August 23rd 2009

Will

I've done three playthroughs of the game now and I started my fourth last night. First one was simply a standard playthrough, second one was to get 100% (got past the point of no return and couldn't get all the items on my first play), and my third was for 13%. This playthrough is just to level up to 50 :)

Monday, August 24th 2009

Modijoe

There's a point of no return? I got right up to the final boss on my first playthrough but was still able to go around and get all the items. And how was doing the 13% playthrough?

Monday, August 24th 2009

Will

Yeah, where the elevator shaft explodes. If you miss the shotgun in there you can't go back in and get it. 13% isn't hard at all. You need to get creative with foam near the end (luckily I had infinite from reaching level 30), but just don't pick up anything you don't need to and you'll be fine. Took me a couple of hours to run through it and i finished with 10%

Monday, August 24th 2009

Modijoe

Yeah it's not too bad so far. I chose to play on Hardcore as well to level up a bit quicker which is a little harder than I thought, but nothing un-doable. So far the only excess items I've grabbed are three health upgrades (including the one they pretty much give to you for free). From here on out I think I'll just grab whatever's neccessary.

Monday, August 24th 2009

Modijoe

Also as for the shotgun, couldn't you get all the passkeys, grab the gold shotgun and make that count? Or do all the gold weapons count as separate items from their regular counterparts?

Monday, August 24th 2009

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