First off, I’d like to apologize for this review being over a week late. A few things came up that prevented me from writing the review as well as I wanted, including needing to play through the game again and watching EVO. My next review should be out of the door a bit faster than this one, and I don’t intend on making these delays a habit. And with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the next game, Shadow Complex.
Platform: XBox 360 Exclusive
Price: 1200 MSP[$15 roughly]
Publisher: Epic Games
Genre: Metroid-style action exploration platformer
ESRB Rating: M
Shadow Complex is a very important game for the 360’s online service. It was one of the first to really push the limits of what was acceptable to be put onto XBLA, and helped paved the way for a lot of other great titles that got onto the service, several of which I will be reviewing in due time. Its success of over 500’000 units sold helped prove to MS that having large games on the service was not actually a bad thing. But why was it so successful? What could this game offer? Read more to find out.
STORY: The plot of Shadow Complex is not complicated. You play as a man named Jason, off on a hiking trip with his new girlfriend. She runs off ahead when they get there and soon enough, things go south. She gets kidnapped by a mysterious military force, and Jason decides to rescue her and unravel a crazy government conspiracy in the process. It’s honestly a pretty minimal game on plot however, there are some cutscenes but most of the exposition and setup of the story is in the background, heard by grunts that don’t notice your presence. It’s nothing really original, but it doesn’t do anything particularly horrible either. Not really why you play the game though. And for those concerned about plot in your Metroids, there is cutscene skip.
GAMEPLAY: This game is Super Metroid. Well, okay, that’s simplifying things a lot and there are differences, but this game is a big homage to classic Metroid games in general. This is an exploration based platformer where you navigate a large 2D area, collecting powerups and fighting through hordes of enemies. There are some notable differences compared to Super Metroid however. For starters, the controls. As this game uses the XBox 360 pad and not a SNES pad, the controls are actually a bit less cluttered than Super Metroid’s were. You can use the right analog stick to aim, and you have two different fire buttons. RT shoots your main gun and RB shoots your alternate weapon, like grenades and foam. These additions help the controls feel nice and smooth, even if you have to use the terrible 360 DPad to switch weapons.
One of the notable differences is its usage of the third dimension. While the game is in 2D, enemies attack from the foreground. Fortunately, the game tends to auto-aim well enough to deal with them as long as you aim in their general direction when attacking. On top of that, there are some bosses that utilize the foreground and a couple of parts where you take control of a turret and fire into the foreground directly. While it doesn’t change the gameplay THAT much, it’s still definitely there and worthy of noting.
Another major difference is how the game handles inspecting nooks and crannies. Anyone who has played old Metroid games know how it is, you curl up into a morph ball and bomb everything in sight and see what things pop up on the tiles as a result. In Shadow Complex they took a simpler approach, Jason has a flashlight you can turn on. Aside from helping explore dark areas, it also makes certain objects light up, letting you know if they can destroyed and, if they can, how to destroy them via simple color coding. This helps speed the gameplay up compared to Super Metroid, as you don’t have to spend as much time investigating areas to figure out what can be destroyed and what can’t.
But don’t let that fool you into thinking finding all items is easy. On the contrary, full 100% completion in this game can be quite challenging, with some very cleverly hidden items. One of the little flaws with the game unfortunately, is that there’s an event that triggers right before the final boss in the game and that can trip you up. It triggers an explosion event that can potentially screw you out of one the upgrades permanently, albeit one that is not needed to finish the game. But more distressingly, the entire eastern part of the map becomes unavailable because the final boss is unavoidably in your way after that event. Aside from THAT, the game is fairly open about how you can explore it, and also like Super Metroid beatable with bare minimum upgrades. It’s entirely possible to beat the game with 13% items collected, there’s even an achievement for it.
But aside from going for 100%, this game has plenty of content that many different strokes of gamers can enjoy, from the speedrunner to the completionist to even the casual player. Multiple difficulty settings, a special challenge trial mode, and it even contains in-game achievements that aren’t a part of the normal achievement system. As long as you don’t mind your game being a little non-linear, it’s hard not to like this game.
GRAPHICS: While the art direction isn’t the most amazing thing you’ll see in games, the level of detail in the backgrounds is pretty good overall, though it can be kind of hard to notice when in the middle of a firefight or looking for items intently. It’s low on the browns and greys of your typical Unreal Engine 3 game, which certainly helps. There’s prettier games, but this game does the graphics alright enough overall.
AUDIO: Probably the weakest part of the game here. There’s barely a soundtrack at all, and none of the tracks really stick out at all. The voice acting is alright, there’s much worse out there but it won’t exactly rivet you with powerful dialogue. The sound effects are fine and all fit with whatever they are associated with, and for the most part your treks through the mysterious complex are silent aside from explosions and gunfire.
In short, Shadow Complex is a very gameplay-oriented game. The story is kinda generic, the graphics aren’t especially amazing, the sound design is weak as hell, but the gameplay is one of the strongest examples of a classic Metroid title in a long time. In an era where Nintendo and Konami are both rather afraid of sticking to their guns in their Metroidvania titles, this game stands against that and celebrates those games. It has some small problems, like the aforementioned dickery against completionists, but is overall a game that is definitely worth giving a try. Unless you really hate games that are styled after Metroid, I’d recommend at least giving it a try. It has enough content to be worth $15 at the least.