Friday, August 21, 2009

Shadow Complex Review

Let me start off this review by telling you that the reason I'm able to review Shadow Complex so quickly is because I beat it that fast. Not because it's a short game, mind you... because I literally could not put it down. Seriously, I finished the game in about three long play sessions. That right there should tell you everything you need to know.

If it doesn't, I'm happy to expound. Shadow Complex, which ties into Orson Scott Card's novel Empire, is the story of a young couple, Jack and Claire, having fun exploring a cave in the woods when they happen to run into a the Restoration, a terrorist organization seeking to overthrow the government of the United States. Claire is taken prisoner by Restoration soldiers on the suspicion that she is actually a spy. And Jack, armed with naught but his trusty flashlight and the fighting skills taught to him by his military dad (even though he doesn't actually want to be part of the military), sets out to infiltrate the titular Shadow Complex to rescue Claire.

Jack picks up a few things alone the way that help him on his quest, including some guns, missiles, grenades, and special body armor. And between Jack's growing inventory and the game's paper-thin plot, you might be forgiven for thinking Shadow Complex is a run-of-the-mill first-person shooter. You might be in for a shock, then, when I tell you that the game is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer. Indeed, if there's only one single game I could could compare Shadow Complex too, it'd have to be Super Metroid.

The Shadow Complex itself is displayed on a map, and like Super Metroid a small section of the map is displayed in the upper right corner of your HUD as you explore. Like Super Metroid, you won't be able to access certain areas until you fight the right weapon or armor upgrade. And like Super Metroid, you'll be spending as much time looking for secrets as you will shooting enemies.

Aside from the obvious change in characters and settings, the most obvious difference is that Super Metroid is a 2D, sprite-based game, while Shadow Complex is a 2.5D game where everything is rendered in 3D polygons. This has a few benefits, but a few drawbacks as well. The most obvious benefit is that the game looks gorgeous. But the drawback is in the controls. Shadow Complex has both your main and sub weapons mapped to the trigger, because the right thumbstick is used for aiming. And the reason you have to aim in more than 8 directions is because enemies often attack from background. Similarly, the d-pad is used for switching sub weapons, and you have to use the left stick for moving. These control differences are minor nitpicks. You get used to the controls very quickly; they just seem a little unintuitive for a 2D platformer.

Another drawback to the 2D gameplay in 3D levels is that, occasionally, you're in a room where there's a staircase clearly rendered in the background, but you can't walk up the stairs. To progress upward, you have to jump from landing to landing, which can ruin your immersion by reminding you that you're playing a game.

Fortunately, these minor annoyances don't take away from what is ultimately a classic, non-linear side-scrolling good time. Shadow Complex has that rare quality that makes it difficult to stop playing. The result is a game that's not just one of the best games on the Xbox Live Arcade, but one of the best games on the Xbox 360 period. The game is good enough to be sold as a full-price retail box game. At the $15 asking price on the Xbox Live Arcade, there's simply no reason you shouldn't play it.

Final Score: A+


science412 said...

I'm with you, bro... I love this game! It's fun, it looks incredible and it's hard to believe that it's a Live Arcade game. My only gripe is that I don't have more time to play it.

Joe said...

Excellent game. I just finished it playing it in about 5 sessions. That's pretty good considering the way I play games.

This is the new generation of Metroid games. It is very interesting to see a game designed like this from an American developers' standpoint.

This game also shows how games have become more mainstream gamer friendly. With Metroid you would always get stuck, not sure where to go. There were many secrets.

I really like the blue line since that takes all confusion away and I can simply enjoy the game.

A really fun game, I found about 75% of the items. I know that I won't collect 100%. I wish there were some warp points to move about the map quicker to pick up the items. Too much time/bother to go across the entire map to find the rest.

But, not a big deal. Great experience and I hope this is a continuing trend for xbox arcade games.