BUY IT FROM XBLA: RIGHT HERE!
PLATFORM: Xbox Live Arcade
ESRB RATING: T
DEVELOPER: Chair Entertainment/Epic Games
PUBLISHER: Xbox Live Arcade
There’s nothing like running around a beautiful 2D world while shooting at foes with a myriad of weapons, finding powerups to get through locked doors, upgrading your suit to be able to move faster and jump higher, grabbing energy packs to boost your health, and fighting gigantic, memorable bosses! With a near-perfect mix of incredible gameplay and absolutely addictive sense of exploration, Super Metroid truly is one of the greats. In fact, it… what? Oh. Shadow Complex? I guess I can review that. Let me start over.
The remarkable thing about Shadow Complex is how fresh everything feels even though we’ve done this all before. Almost every single aspect of the game has lifted from the “Metroidvania” classics, but the stunning graphics and gameplay make sure you won’t really care.
You’re a regular joe (who somehow manages to wield military weapons and hardware with remarkable ease, killing thousands of trained soldiers in your quest… but let’s just put that aside for now) who is backpacking with his girlfriend in the woods when they stumble over a secret military base. His girl is stolen away from him and he doesn’t quite like that, so he infiltrates it with only his trusty flashlight in order to get her back. You end up stumbling over a gigantic conspiracy for a takeover of the USA and of course have to put a stop to it.
The story is cleverly told completely using the beautiful in-game graphics, but it’s mindless and easily skipped. This is especially good since it’s based on a story by notorious gay-basher and general all-around nutball Orson Scott Card. It’s actually a companion to a novel of his that hopefully you’ll never read.
The game designers have claimed influence from Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and it’s immediately obvious. The game looks and feels exactly like those games, which is definitely not a bad thing.
CHUDTIP- Use your flashlight whenever you can, because any objects or doors that can be broken into will light up in the appropriate color. You never know where you’ll find a hidden corridor…
Consider it a spiritual successor and things will go a lot smoother, because the core gameplay is utterly fantastic. Like in those games you’re mostly running left and right through doors to find weapon and suit upgrades so you can go through more doors. The thrill here is in exploration, in uncovering more of the map. You can gain upgrades in the form of grenades, missiles, a Bionic Commando-esque hook and a “foam gun”, which… well, it freezes enemies and allows you to use some as platforms to get higher. Hm. You also get a mechanical suit bit by bit that will allow you to do things like run fast or double jump. Getting each one is thrilling and while there’s a bit of backtracking required if you want to find every hidden item and open every door, the game smartly keeps you constantly moving forward in the right direction.
The controls have incorporated the ever-popular right stick aiming, so you run with the left stick, aim with the right, and shoot with the right trigger and bumper. You’ll need that precision aiming because the game makes full use of the 3D environment so enemies can freely move around in every direction, even if you’re stuck to one plane. In a couple of spots the aiming gets a bit tricky as you try to shoot at foes in the far background, but for the most part it works just fine. Special weapons are picked by hitting left and right on the d-pad which gets a little irritating, because you’ll have to scroll through them all to get the one you need- not fun when you’re in combat. As for a regular weapon you start off with a pistol but will get many new guns, each of which replaces the previous one. They all come with unlimited ammo but you’ll have to keep an eye on your ammo count and reload accordingly.
An experience system rewards you for exploring every inch of the world and for killing enemies in quick succession, and the more XP you gain the stronger your character will get. There’s not much variety to the enemies but there is a clever set of achievements that count how many times you kick a robot, for example, or make a soldier scream by knocking him off a ledge. It works like Epic’s Gears of War 2 in that it displays a counter displaying how close you are to your next milestone and makes sure that you’ll run around punching soldiers in the face, just because.
Mention must be made of the ever-present minimap in the upper right hand side of the screen, which makes navigating the world a breeze. It’s also absolutely essential for the game because the repetitive environments give you no indication of where you are. If it weren’t for the colored minimap you’d never know where you were.
CHUDTIP- Aim for the weak spot on each boss to amass more XP, This guy’s weak spot is his underside- it’s grenade time!
True to the style there are numerous big bosses to tackle but they don’t really offer you the slightest bit of challenge, not even the final boss, who isn’t really even a presence in the game. By the end of the game if you’ve been collecting upgrades you’ll be basically unstoppable, and half the weapon upgrades seem useless since most simply up the number of missiles or grenades you can carry. This would be great but you’ll never, ever run out of ammunition- it’s all over the damn place, hidden in breakable crates and left behind by enemies.
But still, exploring the world is incredibly addictive, and you’ll really want to hunt down every little secret and corner of the world.
Shadow Complex somehow manages to be a completely entertaining experience, even if the sense of deja vu is palpable.
This game is gorgeous. Using the Unreal Engine 3 means that it’s fully 3D and the character models are way more intricate than you’d expect from a 2D action/adventure game. It takes advantage of the graphics with a few fancy camera angles and by using in-game graphics for the cutscenes. It’s just cool to see the camera seemingly zoom in on your character as he picks up a new upgrade.
CHUDTIP- Yeah, that’s what the main character looks like close up.
Slick as hell, this is really all you can ask for in a modern remake of an old genre.
It took me 10 hours to get 100% complete on the second hardest “Hardcore” difficulty, which didn’t really offer much challenge. I was also a little sad that there wasn’t a second reversed military base but homages only go so far I suppose.
To offer you more there’s also a series of 21 challenges called Proving Grounds. They’re not especially challenging either but they’re good for tacking another hour or two to your experience, and 10 gamerpoints to boot.
CHUDTIP- Upgrade your suit and you can punch the hell out of the bigger soldiers, which is oh so satisfying.
The game also comes with some fun in-game achievements for the truly hardcore, which include beating the game with a minimum of equipment or doing it in under two hours, which nets you the Jason Bailey achievement. Nice touch. Whether you will want to go back to the game is up to you, but there’s plenty for the expert gamers to dive into.
It’s hard to recommend you get Shadow Complex instead of just picking up Super Metroid on the Virtual Console or Symphony of the Night on XBLA- why get the imitator when you can have the real thing? And unlike some have said it’s not the best Xbox Live Arcade throwback- that award still goes to Bionic Commando Rearmed.
But for oldschool action/adventure game fans looking for something new the game is absolutely worth your time and money. You’ll have a blast with Shadow Complex while it lasts- it’s just a shame it doesn’t really offer anything new.