Review: Shadow Complex (XBLA)

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Platform: XBLA (Xbox 360)

Genre: Sidescrolling Action/Adventure

Players: 1

Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games

Price: 1200 MS Points

Shadow Complex, in short, is kickass. Since I’m sure that just won’t do as a review, I’ll elaborate.

What Shadow Complex lacks in depth of story and complexity of character (no pun intended), it makes up for it with fun, addicting gameplay that harkens back to a day when games were actually, you know, designed, instead of manufactured by committee.

On the story front, Shadow Complex follows the story of Jason Flemming, who I affectionately refer to as “Nathan Bourne,” as he is voiced by non other than Nathan Drake himself, Nolan North, and is an amalgamation of that character and Jason Bourne.  Jason is a former soldier who finds himself in a very old school story plot point that revolves around him attempting to rescue his love Claire, who has been abducted by a, um, Shadowy organization as they are exploring caves at a picturesque mountainside.

Getting Claire back is easier said than done, as the soldiers take her off into the titular Complex. Running deep underground and stretching for miles, Jason must infiltrate the compound using his military abilities, and gaining a plethora of new skills (and a government developed super suit), which aid him in his journey.

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On the gameplay front, Shadow Complex is a “2.5D” side-scrolling shooter (think Bionic Commando: Rearmed) in the vein of Super Metroid (and even Contra). He can run, crouch, aim in any direction with the right analog stick, and use various firearms and grenades, as well as the special abilities granted him via his “super suit.”

The game is relatively non-linear, with the bulk (and fun) of the game revolving around exploring every nook and cranny of the shadow complex, and discovering new powerups and upgrades, which in turn, help you access even more areas of the facility.

As Jason discovers new areas and eliminates hostile soldiers and their wide array of tanks, mechs, and helicopters, he gains experience which will cause him to level up and become even more of a badass.

The controls are responsive, and smooth as silk for the most part. The only area I had any sort of brief trouble with was jumping up to a platform high above. It simply took me a bit to get used to playing in 2 dimensions again to adjust.

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Story points are dished out sporadically, and we learn more of his past and how, exactly, he’s such a badass to begin with. The story, however, is the weakest part of the game to me, despite being penned by one of my favorite writers, Orson Scott Card. It’s not that it’s not interesting, it’s just that, as a longtime gamer of nearly 30 years, I’ve seen this story many a time before. As a backdrop for the excellent gameplay, however, it’s perfect.

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Graphically, the game is using Unreal Engine 3, which, a few people would know, I’ve grown a bit tired of this generation. With that said, because the game is 2.5D (although the camera will occassionally zoom in and out to help show off the action), UE3 looks crisp and sharp on an HDTV, with detailed backgrounds. The only real weak part of the visuals are the character models, which look decidedly low poly, and kind of plain. Jason Flemming himself looks like he just graduated from the School of Modern Game Hero Design, as he is very similar to many white male protagonists of games these days. And when he finally dons the “super suit” he really looks like every while male protagonist in current games. To his credit, however, he does have hair. Still, he could easily pass for Nathan Drake’s younger brother. Who sounds exactly like him.

Anyway, the game is a single player affair, but does have leaderboards and the requisite Achievements for the junkies out there that has to have their fix.

VERDICT: BUY: At the end of the day, Shadow Complex is the best game I’ve played on the 360 this year, and I can’t recommend it enough. The level design is great, the gameplay is fast and frantic, and leveling up and gaining new skills never gets old as a gameplay mechanic. This isn’t just the best game on XBLA, but the best game I’ve played on the 360 so far this year.

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