XBLA Review: Shadow Complex

Can this game be truly Epic?

When Shadow Complex was unveiled at E3 this year, I wasn’t sure. I knew it would be good, but I wasn’t sure how much until I played it. All my worries disappeared as soon as I began playing it and then I realised I was playing something quite special…

Shadow Complex follows our protagonist hero with his girlfriend as they take a hike towards a cave, then it all goes wrong and suddenly she’s captured by militia rebels who plan to overthrow the government. Well, that’s enough motivation for most. The story is pretty basic, but does just enough to keep you interested in it.
The game isn’t like a typical Epic one. It’s not Gears or Unreal Tournament, it’s like a hybrid between Super Metroid and Bionic Commando Rearmed. It’s an unexpected move from the team, but one that pays off big time. There are so many hidden areas that you can only access with certain weapons or items that you will be coming back and forth to get them all, which is typical of Super Metroid or any other games in the series.

As you carry on, you will find plenty of lovely upgrades like better weapons and additions to your suit that let you go anywhere, I don’t want to spoil too much…but they are damn good and fun to use. There is an achievement for hunting down every upgrade, which is pretty tricky…I looked for hours and only managed to get 90% of all items, while other areas were quite tough to work out. The map is helpful, but the layout for the game is like a maze and it’s easy to get lost.

Weapons are powerful against enemies and they don’t really offer a challenge, unless you are playing on the harder difficulties. There are a few boss battles against Metal Gear-style robots, but they are fairly easy as the game tells you how to kill them, which is a bit disappointing…I would have preferred to find out myself. The campaign itself can be done in a few hours, depending on how good you are and if you are attempting to hunt down every item. It’s quite short otherwise, but the game does have an achievement which will probably make you replay the game a few times….the deadly “Level up to experience level 50” which is earned by killing enemies, finding items.etc

Then there’s another tough achievement which makes you complete the game with less than 13% of items, now that is going to take some serious working out as the game automatically saves each time you enter a save room and there are loads of them.
Before you tackle the campaign, I suggest you try the training and if you feel confident enough, tackle the Proving Grounds challenge packs. These will test your sanity, I currently have the final one left to do and I just cannot work it out. I have to smash a barrier at the top of an area by running fast into it, but there’s no room to do it…so I’m stuck and until I work it out, I won’t earn the achievement for completing the challenges.

Being a side-scroller, you would expect enemies to come from left and right…but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes enemies are in the background and take a bit longer to kill as you have to aim your weapon towards them. They still aren’t much of a challenge, but can make combat a bit more complex (no pun intended) than the normal side-scrolling third person shooters.

In terms of visuals, Shadow Complex is impressive for an XBLA game. Cutscenes are on par with any Epic game and the game itself runs smoothly and looks good. Voice-acting and the soundtrack are both great and fit the game well. Overall, its impressive in both visuals and gameplay.

The Verdict

Shadow Complex is an odd one for Epic. I never would have guessed they would be able to pull off a Metroid-style game with a touch of Bionic Commando, but they have. It’s great from start to finish and does just enough to make it replayable. Multiplayer would have been nice, but I honestly don’t think it would have worked. This is without a doubt the best XBLA game this year and you would be a fool to deny yourself this.