Shadow Complex  Review
Review

Shadow Complex Review

90
Faiyaz Shaikh   Sep 8, 2009

Verdict

Shadow Complex is an obvious ode to Super Metroid, one that for the most part, does its inspiration proud, dusting it off to present a polished offering to an audience weaned on shooters. As a $15 title offering well over 15 hours of entertainment, Shadow Complex will hopefully rejuvenate the genre, and spawn many like it in the years to come. You owe yourself the pleasure of experiencing this game. If you have an Xbox 360, an internet connection, and 1200 MS Points (about $15 or Rs. 650) to spare, download and play the summer highlight of the gaming world (well, apart from �Splosion Man).

Shadow Complex detailed review

Introduction

 
Shadow Complex is an inspired XBLA romp; inspired in the very sense of the word by Nintendo’s seminal 1994 SNES classic, Super Metroid. Shadow Complex borrows Metroid’s side-scrolling, platform-jumping, enemy-exploding, exploratory gameplay well; an inspired adaptation then, but one that does little else. 
 
What we get is a 2009 reincarnation of a classic masterpiece, all adorned with shiny polygons and fancy lighting effects, sculpted with the state-of-the-art Unreal engine, and proudly marching to the all-American Hollywood beat of an ordinary man pushed into extraordinary circumstances. But the reincarnation adds little to the karma pool of Super Metroid.
 
The box art for Super Metroid – the inspiration for Shadow Complex
 
That’s not to say that Shadow Complex isn’t good. It is. In fact, the game, much like its protagonist, stares into a vast abyss and questions the contemporary gaming industry’s obsession with $60 price tags slapped on games with $60 million budgets that offer little more than 6 hours of mediocre gameplay. In that sense, it is like an indie movie shaming the Hollywood bigwigs – at $15 of fun, Shadow Complex is the District 9 to Hollywood’s Transformers 2.
 
The Setup
For those unfamiliar with Super Metroid, and therefore new to Shadow Complex, the game offers a simple setup: You are thrown into a vast, interconnected cavern with nothing but a bad t-shirt and a torch. As you explore the underground, your repertoire of moves, weapons, and apparel will increase and evolve, in step with your mapping of this “Shadow Complex”. 
 
Shadow Complex is all about exploring a vast underground, err, complex
 
What is your motive? It starts off as a ruse to rescue your girlfriend but quickly (and perhaps a little too suddenly) takes a turn to saving the world (or, in this case, San Francisco) from the evil machinations of Cobra Commander. None of which matters – as soon as you take control of Jason Flemming, the protagonist, your sole motive is to move left, right, up, down, jump, shoot, explore the complex, explode the baddies. The game succeeds in that this simple gameplay mechanic is motivation enough for the next dozen or so hours.
 
Where’s the fun?
Of course, Shadow Complex is no Gears of War or Halo. If you are expecting anything like that (“omg, a shooter!”) leave those expectations at the door. The fun lies in starting off with just a torch and ending the game with enough gun power and Iron Man-like capabilities that you could very well flatten San Francisco on your own, if you felt like it. You start off as a bit of a nerd who’s scored a hot date over a weekend and end up as Übermensch – a superman literally able to jump tall buildings, run faster than a speeding bullet (and over water), and walk away unfazed from everything save a nuclear weapon. It’s this transition from zero to hero that keeps you moving on, and gladly at that.
 
The best part is watching your character evolve into a superhero
 
The game is a side-scrolling affair rendered in two-and-a-half dimensions: think of it as a Mario platformer (or Super Metroid) but with an added depth. You often shoot across a two-dimensional plane but certain enemies and bosses will rebel against society and pop-up along the z-axis; the game generally auto-aims at these misfits but you might have to intervene during the odd occasion. 
 
There is also an element of melee as you can punch and karate chop baddies (sending them flying across screens as you evolve) and kick bullet-spewing, plasma-hurling turrets (also across screens) if you are close enough. 
 
Finally, the game takes a page out of Gears of War and offers a pop-and-shoot mechanic: find cover, duck, pop out of cover at the opportune moment, and take out your foes with well-aimed headshots. 
 
That in essence is the combat aspect of Shadow Complex.
 
Combat in this game is mainly on a 2-dimensional plane,
with the occasional shot fired across the z-axis
 
While the game’s combat is serviceable, it is by no means challenging (at least at Normal difficulty). Cookie-cutter baddies meander aimlessly across hallways with little intelligence or strategy, waiting for you to end their misery. There is also little variety in the enemies you run across: you have the odd turrets, a few grunt-types, a shielded enemy, and a total of three ‘bosses’ which see repeated screening throughout this feature presentation.
 
The only time you will ever be challenged by these generic grunts is when they appear in numbers and spam grenades and missiles at you. But hey, they might have the numbers, but we have the guns! 
 
The gunplay, much like the rest of the game, evolves in the level of satisfaction offered – while you start with a pea shooter, by the end of the game, you will be armed with a golden gun that literally punches an enemy across the screen and kills most everything in one shot. There is not another sight that is more satisfying. 
 
So where is the challenge? Bosses? They are laughable at best. The strategy to take down a boss is to simply spam grenades/rockets at them. Just press RT, maintain safe distance, maybe jump or duck to not embarrass the boss to death and watch that health bar drop. 
 
The boss fights are too easy when spamming grenades or missiles
 
The fun part and real meat of the game is in the exploration. If you are the type that obsesses over finding out every secret, charting out the last centimetre of a game’s map, then this game will keep you sleepless over nights. The underground complex is vast – it offers varying landscapes from jungles and underground mines, to overarching commercial ‘workplaces’  and claustrophobic air vents. This sprawling complex then, is the true hero of the game; the sole reason to keep going, finding items, unlocking doors, and yes, punching the odd baddy in the face. Out of my way chum, there’s a missile pack behind your ass!
 
Items such as the foam gun unlock new areas of the underground complex
 
The game knows this and designs elements which serve to leverage the exploration. You will thus find items that help you to hover for small distances; run fast enough to literally break the sound barrier and run up walls and across ceilings; create make-shift bridges using a foam gun; stomp on enemies from up on high, Mario-style; and casually walk through superheated plasma or hails of bullets, unharmed. 
 
It’s an amazing experience – starting off with a bad t-shirt and ending up with the most advanced armour in the game, a golden gun, and with enough power to single-handedly stop a well-funded group of hi-tech baddies.
 
And there lies the fun.
 
In conclusion...
Shadow Complex does not evolve the Super Metroid formula beyond its 2.5-dimension presentation. Is that a bad thing? Not when you are inspired by perhaps the best 2d action game. It sticks close to Metroid’s formula and the greatness rubs off and transfers well.
 
The game could have used a bit more evolution though, some more time in the DNA vats of Chair Entertainment, the developers of Shadow Complex. Its music, for one, is truly underwhelming (except for one breath-taking section where the piano is used wonderfully). It also could have offered a little more to the Metroid formula – traversing the map is tedious at times. Being able to teleport across save points would have been a great benefit to this game.
 
Another point of contention, at least for me, is that the map of the game – a very vital piece – can sometimes be misleading: You might find yourself plan a romp across the map, carefully charting your progress in your mind, but be stopped mid-travel, frustratingly, as you find a wall that was not shown on the map, stopping you in your track. Or when the map shows a locked door but there is no such thing in the actual game. Plus representing a 2.5d world as a 2d map makes for some head-scratching instances of “where is that damn item, should be right here!” Moments like these make you question the validity of the map; a very bad thing when the map practically serves as the game’s foundation. There are also minor bugs – the rag doll physics that see an enemy fly across the screen will sometimes cause one to spin like a top, Exorcist-like, at one place.
 
The map is your friend; and sometimes the source of frustration
 
Shadow Complex is an obvious ode to Super Metroid, one that for the most part, does its inspiration proud, dusting it off to present a polished offering to an audience weaned on shooters. As a $15 title offering well over 15 hours of entertainment, Shadow Complex will hopefully rejuvenate the genre, and spawn many like it in the years to come.
 
You owe yourself the pleasure of experiencing this game. If you have an Xbox 360, an internet connection, and 1200 MS Points (about $15 or Rs. 730) to spare, download and play the summer highlight of the gaming world (well, apart from ‘Splosion Man).

 

 

Platform: Xbox 360 (XBLA title)
Price: 1200 MS Points (Rs 730)
Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

 

Faiyaz Shaikh
Faiyaz Shaikh

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