Review: ‘Shadow Complex’ for XBox Live Arcade

shadow complex boxXBox 360’s Summer of Arcade, despite a few awkward weeks in the middle, kicks back up for a strong finish with its fifth and final game release, Shadow Complex. Shadow Complex could best be compared in gameplay style to the SNES classic Super Metroid. An action platformer, the player traverses through levels deep in an underground bunker, facing off against various poorly trained soldiers who are about as accurate as Cobra in the G.I. Joe cartoon.

Unlike the classic, players have full 360 degrees of motion to which they can aim their gun using the right analog stick. Also different is the inclusion of foreground and background enemies. A player cannot move themselves in to the background plane to combat enemies but they can shoot from their current position at the enemies off in the distance. This can leave players with interesting choices of taking out the immediate threat in front of them in the foreground or to take a few quick shots and aim for the sniper in the background.

In terms of setting, however, the game feels similar to a James Bond movie with high-tech gadgets combined with a little bit of modern realistic sci-fi that could be found in a game like Perfect Dark Zero. There are large mech-like bosses and interesting new weapons like a gun that allows players to create platforms in mid-air that they can use to walk on.

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The game starts with an action sequence in the streets of DC where a heavily armed battlesuit-wearing soldier must stop a terrorist group attacking the Vice President of the United States. After a quick battle with a few foot soldiers and a Blackbird helicopter, one of the game’s amazing cut scenes kicks in. From there we find out our solider isn’t the main character of this story. Instead the game cuts to a young couple, Jason and Claire, readying for a cave exploration that doesn’t go exactly as planned.

After letting Claire head down first, Jason follows only to find out that Claire has been captured by an organization called the Progressive Restoration. As Jason sneaks in to their base, the player quickly finds out about Jason’s “too perfectly coincidental” past which makes him the ideal would be hero for the game’s story. The story itself seems fairly generic at times, with the perfect example being Jason’s origin.

It does have a few brutal moments though like early in the game where Jason sees Claire being “interrogated” on a monitor. By interrogated, I mean being punched repeated across the face in a pretty harsh manner for an XBLA title. But as with most games of this type like Super Metroid, the story is not the strong point supporting the title.

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Shadow Complex rewards exploration, platforming and combat which are the most enjoyable pieces of the game. Created with the mentality that players must go back to previous areas to uncover new items, weapons and locations that had previously been unavailable with the character’s early skills, Shadow Complex definitely captures the appeal of Super Metroid’s excitement of retracing your steps to unlock a previously impassable door.

With the added speed unavailable to the classic game along with beautifully rendered 3D characters and backgrounds on a 2D plane, the game looks and plays smoothly like a retail release instead of just a downloadable game.

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But Shadow Complex isn’t a perfect game. As mentioned early, the story can be fairly weak, as has been the tradition of the genre. The enemy combatant AI is also extremely lacking. Enemies don’t run or even duck when bullets come flying their way. They won’t maneuver around objects or take cover to snake out a player that has hidden themselves behind a crate or door. Instead, they will just stand at their post, blindly shooting at cover until they are forced to reload giving the player an easy target.

This mechanic quickly ages the game away from current gen play styles as it was something being done way back in the original Nintendo and Sega days. Another problem with the game comes from its replayability. While the game includes competitive leaderboards for players fastest completion time, there is no muliplayer aspect to be found. The game also gets progressively easier for players as they play through more times.

Some of IGN.com’s editors with early builds of the game were able to find ways to complete the entire game in less than forty-five minutes. For a $15.00 price tag, it feels like the game falls short of providing a fair game time vs. money spent ratio.

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Beautiful graphics and fun gameplay compared to a high price tag for a downloadable game with not much replayibility or community features brings this game out of impulse buy territory. But as with all XBLA games, a free trial is available to all XBox Live members and since this game could fall on the fence for some players, the best way to find out if it’s for you is to play it yourself.

Shadow Complex looks to redefine the exploration platform shooter that hasn’t been found in major console release in over ten years. While it doesn’t earn itself game of the year contention because of its shortcomings, do not be confused that Shadow Complex is a fun experience. The combat is rewarding and visceral and it is still amazing to see graphical effects like this game has on a downloadable Arcade release.

With that, XBox Live’s Summer of Arcade 2009 comes to a close. Make sure to take a look at all of our other Summer of Arcade reviews and keep checking back right here for more upcoming XBLA and other console video game reviews as well as even a few upcoming contests where we will be giving away some XBLA download codes!

Score: 7.0 – XBox Live Arcade – 1200 Microsoft Points ($15.00)

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Check out more of John’s reviews at the following links:

Trials HD Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled Review

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Review

‘Splosion Man Review

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