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Shadow Complex

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Epic Games
Developer: Chair Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure


Graphics & Sound:

There's two ways you can look at Shadow Complex; a really good Metroid clone, or something more. I tend to trend more towards Metroid clone, but don't take the comment as a negative one. Metroid is one of my favorite games and frankly, I'm disappointed that its particular style of gameplay isn't adopted by more action games.

Shadow Complex is everything I like about games wrapped up in a nice, Unreal Engine 3-run package. The game is absolutely beautiful and full of tiny details that really help to push the entire experience. Gameplay is presented from a side-scrolling, 2D view but the game uses all sorts of visual tricks to build a deeper visual experience. Enemies will roam (and attack you) from background catwalks and the game will even zoom in and out during certain segments. At times, combat will even shift to a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder view.

Nolan North provides his vocal talents as main character Jason Fleming (or, rather, Nathan Drake - another North-voiced character -- the two are interchangeable as far as personality goes). He's basically playing the same character, but does such a great job, I don't care. The rest of the sound package follows in quality. Music chimes in when its appropriate and the sound effects have a distinctive polish.


Gameplay:

Shadow Complex follows Jason Fleming, an everyman who heads off for a day of spelunking with a girl, Claire, he met in a bar a few nights previously. As fate would have it, the cave houses a secret militia compound run by a group looking to start the next civil war. Claire is kidnapped, Jason finds a kick-ass power suit and the race is on to stop the militia's plans. Though the story runs concurrent to Orson Scott Card's Empire, reading the novel beforehand isn't necessary.

Gameplay follows Metroid's play pattern right down to the missiles and red doors. Again, this is by no means a bad thing as the setup works and provides a lot of play (and replay) for its 1200 MS Point price tag. My first run-through lasted nearly 12 hours, which is a pretty good chunk of time considering the length of some retail games. The structure and Achievements support multiple run-throughs as well. You can go for a 100% completion on items, or attempt a speed run with a minimum number of items.

For players unfamiliar with Metroid, everything in Shadow Complex is interconnected. You start out in a small area, but as you unlock new items and components for your Omega Suit, you'll open up new paths and larger portions of the map. Upgrades include simple things, like a climbing harness (wall jump ability) as well as more complex items like a hook shot (grappling hook) and jetpack (short range flight). Discovering the interplay between these abilities is half the fun. For instance, you can start a super run and then use the jetpack to keep momentum going. Or, you can use the foam grenade on a wall, then launch a grenade into the goop, creating a sticky bomb.

Outside the main campaign, Shadow Complex offers up three challenge modes dubbed Proving Grounds. These areas aren't much different than the VR mode in Bionic Commando: Rearmed and really push your abilities with the game's items. This is the one area I've yet to really get a handle on. Challenges start out easy but get really complicated as you push through. Completing all three modes earns an Achievement and a spot on the Leaderboard, but also teaches you some neat, creative ways to combine item abilities.

Another neat "brag item" is the real time stat tracker. You can compare your score and stats with friends and other players via the Leaderboard, or watch an in-game indicator. As you rack up specific stats like melee kills and headshots, a small indicator will pop-up and let you know how you compare to a friend. It doesn't matter much in the long run, but I'd be lying if I told you a friend and I didn't get a little competitive over in-game stats.


Difficulty:

Shadow Complex is as hard or easy as you want it to be. You can go through the game following the blue guideline from objective to objective, or spend hours running and re-running through areas in attempt to collect every item. Retreading through areas isn't tough, though it does get a little annoying when you have to run to an area across the map and there's only one path to it. There's one "short cut" area to get across the map, though one or two others would have helped cut down on needless travel.

Combat is incredibly simple. The right analog stick aims (luckily, laser sights are standard on every gun) and the Right Trigger shoots. Secondary weapons use the same scheme, but swap the Right Trigger for the Right Shoulder Button. You can also pull off melee moves when prompted or even use the environment as a weapon in some cases. The only time combat really gets frustrating is on "Insane" difficulty.

Boss fights are one of Shadow Complex's few blemishes. Of the five or so boss fights you come across, only two require interesting tactics. Every other fight devolves into a race to see how many grenades you can toss between blasts from the enemy's main weapon. Once you get the missiles, boss fights are even easier. Even the final boss provides little challenge or interest.


Game Mechanics:

Item interaction lies at the core of Shadow Complex and becomes even more interesting on subsequent plays. Once you know where objects are, you'll find yourself attempting to reach them earlier than you normally would. Shadow Complex's structure supports this style of play (and encourages it with related Achievements), though it is possible to get stuck in an area. At one point I snagged an item early, but since I lacked another item needed to escape the area, I was stuck. This is a rare occurrence and probably won't happen to most players unless they get really ambitious, but be aware it can happen.

One of the game's true masterstrokes is a flashlight you pick up early in the game. The flashlight provides light for dark areas, but also highlights objects you can destroy, leading to new paths and secrets. Orange objects can be shot with a normal gun, while blue requires a speedy charge. Unlocking new paths becomes a compulsion; you'll want to remember every path you've run across and eagerly seek out new weapons just to blow open that pesky green or purple hatch. Blue doors provide some of the game's most interesting moments as you'll need to figure out a way to gain enough momentum to activate the turbo boosters.

Other than Battlefield 1943, Shadow Complex is one of the best, most entertaining values on the XBL Marketplace. 1200 MS Points may seem like a lot, but for the amount of polish and replay value, it is worth every point.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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