Shadow Complex Review

Note: I re-reviewed this game in 2016. Please disregard this original review.

I do not often replay games.  I like to experience titles of old so that they reignite fond memories.  However, I tend to lack the time to go through a 20+ hour game, since I have a bunch of those on my backlog.  But when I own a game that is just 3.5 hours long, expect me to replay it until I memorize the room layouts of the entire game world.  If you couldn’t tell, Shadow Complex is one of those games.  And since it involves a big facility, gaining 100 upgrades, and you backtrack a lot, I might as well use it to end Metroidvania month.

Shadow Complex Review
Platform: XBLA
Release Date: 19/8/2009
Price I Paid: $14.99

Before I get into the actual game, I need to address something that I really, really, really wish I did not need to.  The game is actually an interquel or sorts with novels made by Orson Scott Card.  Now, I never actually read any of his works, but I can safely say that I do not plan on changing that.  You see, Mr. Card is what I call a 21st Century racist, or in normal terms, he hates gay people and uses his fund to prevent them from getting married.  Now, if my review interests you in this game, I recommend that you fund a pro-homosexual marriage group to balance it out, which I guess would be less than $5.  So if you want to karmically balance it, it will be $20, but is it worth that, let’s go on in without paying any mind to the poop in the roast beef.  And no, there is not even a mention of homosexuality in this game, and there doesn’t need to be.  

The plot concerns Cobra Commander in his attempt to plunge the United States into another Civil War.  But two twenty-somethings, Nolan North, and a semi-ethnic girl, stumble onto their base located somewhere in the Oregon mountains.  But the girl gets kidnapped and the, “Dude, Save Yo Grrl!!” plot commences.  It is forgettable and I am guessing all the writing and voice work was done in an afternoon, and both of them are above average, but can be completely forgotten, and nothing will really be lost.

I will not bother explaining the Metroidvania set-up, but it is channeling Metroid far more than the Castlevania portion.  The game’s main format of combat is a 2D shooter/platformer, where you can shoot in 360 degrees, this allows for more accurate shots and the opportunity for stealth of all things.  The ability to crouch through vents and everywhere else, the occasional loose wire, explosive barrels, the inclusion of melee quick-kills, and even headshots all make the game a lot more varied in the combat department, and that is nice to see.  Especially when you consider that there are only about 7 variations of a guy with a gun, 3 explosive spider bots that you can kick like footballs, and a few robots that are like smaller and more spider-like Metal Gears that serve as the bosses.  But the game does still have enough ideas for the campaign length given.

However, you still do collect a couple of upgrades and secondary weapons.  From the simple grenades which are surprisingly useful early on, with their ability to arc and kill normal enemies in one hit.  A gun that shoots blue foam and can be used to both immobilize enemies, open passages, and sequence break for some side upgrades by forming a giant phallic looking pillar, the coolest weapon in the game.  A Speed Booster, which does not have any Shinesparking, and lets you run on walls and ceilings, but still disintegrates enemies.  Oh, and it also works while in the air, unlike in the Metroid series.  A Hookshot item that you only use a few times, but suffers from the fact that you do not know how long it fires, and it sometimes just drops you, which it did, into an instant death trap six feet below, nine blasted times.  And a helmet that makes you invincible if you walk slowly or just stand, and a bunch of gun upgrades that fell on deaf ears, because I always restart the game after visiting my armory with the golden long range shotgun of golden statue.  Seriously, collect 12 sets of 3 gold bars, and you get a permanent addition of an arsenal with every gun in the game available, but they are golden.

However, the game sadly does not diverge a path similar to that as often as I would like it to.  There is a certain absurdity to fighting a giant biped robot, shooting missiles at its back, and standing there, smirky while you are invincible, but the game never really indulges the fact that it rewards you for murdering tons of dudes by the end.  Although, there is one ending where Nolan North goes back to his jeep by pressing B in front of it, leave the base with his woman in it, and says, “Eh, plenty of fish in the sea.” While wearing the suit of armor that he stole from a terrorist facility.

The core gameplay is a blast, and kept me interested, even after I did 6 100% runs.  And while I dislike, meaning that I freaking loathe, when a game says there is nothing in that square, when they have a secret in that save room, but the icon is disrupting it on the map.  It says varied enough and the set ups for every room do give the approaches a fresh feeling, despite the fact that I recognize every room layout in the game at this point.  Although the aiming towards the background can be pretty damn finicky if you do not aim at just the right spot.

But moving onto the visuals, since the score in this game is purely atmosphere and satisfying swooshes when you get upgrades.  The game uses the Unreal engine, and the developers, Chair Entertainment only had 18 months to make this game.  So instead of making new shaders with their 12 or so employees, well Epic Games did help them out, so maybe move it up a few, , they uses the presets.  Now, I am against the overly brown and industrialized aesthetic that has plagued many games, but Shadow Complex still looks very good to me.  Since this is 2.5D, the environments only need to be designed from one angle, and because of that, they look distinct.  Grass is green, water flows, well for the most part, and the outer areas do juxtaposed nicely with the industrial look of the complex of shadowy practices.  Although every enemy is just a guy in some sort of suit that is mostly white or black, some are redder, some have blue eye things for their masks, but they are just goons in your way, who you should headshot and make them scream, because that’ll get you achievements.  

Now, this is where i need to interject, the Uncharted series is haunted by the several thousands of bad ethnic men that Nathan Drake has killed in his quest for Archaeology, and this game is no different.  At one point in the game, Nolan North, or Jason as they call him in this lifetime, says the following line, “KIlling’s getting easier, I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.  It’s good.”  I understand that these guys are trying to manipulate the country so that innocent lives dies, but executing them for having extremist ideas does not seem like a heroic trait.  The worst thing these guys did was rough-up and drug a girl he met at a bar, so they must be genocided?

But moving to the more technical part with the visuals, the animations often look stiff, since Nolan North jumps 6 feet in the air when you press A.  The running animation looks off and forced, and enemies die in overly flamboyant fashion.  But toss in the overly precise aiming reticle, and the fact that you fight metal spiders, I am convinced that the developers were not trying to make any statement regarding murder, and just wanted a fun game, but then they tied it in with a book that’s trying to be serious.  This is something that I want to ignore, since you kill a thousand men single handedly and get cured of your facial shrapnel by eating first aid kits, but this is bordering on bad tastes.  However, it is just bordering and never really does cross the line due to its mechanics, which, while never denied by the narrative, do make it seem all the sillier.

And with that out of the way, I can conclude that Shadow Complex is a very well polished, well-structured, and overall fun title.  While I am still bugged by the narrative immersion breaking aspect, the game is still a lot of fun to blast through, to the point where I do not even notice the idea of it getting boring after I play it at least once every year.  It is a pleasure, a fairly glitchy, and sometimes generic feeling pleasure, but it is a wonderfully well crafted title regardless of its relatively small team and short development time.

An exceptional product that merely suffers from a few nagging issues that do not distract too much from this experience.

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