Before I packed up my consoles into a plastic box for what I assume will be a rather long time, Shadow Complex was a game I played annually since its release, always coming away from the title with a smile on my face. As such, I was pretty happy when I heard that the game was going to be released on PC, and quickly got to it and cleared it twice in two successive days. I realize that more praise for a game that is almost universally beloved may be unnecessary, but after writing well over… 200 game reviews, many of which I discarded for quality reasons, this sort of thing becomes a habit.
Shadow Complex Remastered Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, XBO
Developers: Chair Entertainment and Epic Games
Publisher: Epic Games
Shadow Complex is a take on the formula established in games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a 2D action game that focuses on exploring a large and sprawling environment while simultaneously receiving new powers and uncovering hidden upgrades. Or a Metroidvania if you are the sort of person who sees nothing wrong with terms like Roguelike to describe games similar to the 1980 dungeon crawler Rogue. It is a rewarding loop that allows the player to rapidly gain new abilities while becoming familiar with the game world, and feel as if they are achieving something greater by either gathering as many collectibles as possible, or go through the game at breakneck speeds.
This is accomplished by both a well designed map to explore and become intimate with over time, along with a very solid gameplay foundation of a twin stick shooter and platformer hybrid, one that offers generous aim assistance. It’s not perfect, as even after nine playthroughs I still found the jump to feel a little awkward, and the transition from aiming at things in one direction to things in the background is not always as smooth and instantaneous as it could be. It feels good, great even, in spite of those things, and becomes better as you get new weapons, abilities, and so forth, allowing you to freeze enemies in place with foam, run across water, and triple jump while using a hookshot to hop from ceilings.
Collectibles are also well placed, and actually do not require a lot of backtracking when you really look at the map, as you only need to do one major swoop over the map near the end of the game to get everything and clear it within three hours. Nothing is particularly hard to get, with most collectibles requiring only a single use of a weapon specified by a universal color and a little skill, making them easy to collect and providing a steady stream of gratification before you unlock an item that makes you invincible. I suppose it makes Shadow Complex a power fantasy, but one that is impeccably well constructed, and manages to be enjoyable even when I know every beat the game will take on its way to its conclusion.
On that note, I suppose I should talk about the story. Shadow Complex is controversially tied into a duology of novels written by Orson Scott Card, which amounts to little in regards to the story, but it is a pretty bog standard affair. The main character Jason, is a seventh generation video game protagonist, a fairly good looking somewhat scruffy white man voiced by Nolan North who received combat training from his father. When going hiking with Claire, a girl he met at a bar last night, he soon uncovers a secret military base that plans to launch an assault on San Francisco and build a better, truer America or something. It is humdrum and ignorable, even if there was an evident amount of care applied to the story’s production, with the voicework and what little dialog there is.
Moving onto the presentation, Shadow Complex is not much of a looker, using what appear to be stock shaders and such for Unreal Engine 3, and adopting a realistic aesthetic set in an industrialized setting. However, the composition of the base, use of set pieces, camera angles, and the general designs of world allow the game to retain a distinctive look. There is very clearly some effort that went into the game’s visually, and I was genuinely nostalgic when I looked upon the assortment of memorable locales in this game, which are surprisingly numerous.
As far as the game does in order to “Remaster” the Xbox 360 classic, I did not see many changes made to the game at all, aside from a change in the title screen music, which replaces the dreary track for one more fitting of the game’s tone. The resolution was increased to modern standards, frame rate is not capped, although it did often dip to 45 when I had Vsync on, and some other graphics options one would expect in a PC port. Physics are still wonky, but in an endearing way, the HUD is identical, and the game still goes grayscale whenever you get a new item, which I admit gets a bit repetitious.
I suppose I could bring up a series of little gripes I have with the game, but there are few games you can play nine times from start to finish without developing your own gripes with it. Shadow Complex quickly became one of my favorite games of all time when I played it back in 2009, and over six years later, that is still the case. Shadow Complex is simply a joy to play, and with its PC port in my possession, I intend to play through it annually.