Shadow Complex (XBLA)ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Action Games
Developer: Chair Entertainment/Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Games
This week sees the release of Shadow Complex for the Xbox LIVE Arcade. Developed by Chair Entertainment, with a little help from Epic Games as it uses the Unreal Engine 3, it is a title that has been highly anticipated since June when it was unveiled at E3. It is also part of the much-promoted Xbox LIVE "Summer of Arcade" avalanche of top tier releases. To me, this summer has been a relatively dry point in gaming and downloadable games have taken up the slack generally being the most interesting things out there as most retail titles are waiting for Q4 or have been delayed until 2010. With such a lack of fresh meat there is lots of room for a game like Shadow Complex to strut its stuff. We’ve already seen the multi-player-only Battlefield 1942 gain huge sales in this industry climate, now it is Shadow Complex’s turn to attempt the same with a purely single player experience.
Visually, Shadow Complex blends a mix of game types really well and Donald Mustard did a fantastic job with the creative direction to give it a slick appearance. It is a fairly open world, with new avenues unlocked by gaining new abilities, much like Metroid rewarding exploration and experimentation. Similar to Contra, it can be best described as 2.5D where gameplay is largely 2D in nature with some instances of 3D interaction. Impressively, the environments are well designed too. The level design is quite superb and some of the best in any 2D platformer to date (and that’s saying something!) The layouts seem somewhat logical and natural - rather than being designed purely as a game-obstacle. The lighting in the game really gives it a strong, coloruful presentation without repetition being terribly evident. In short, the environments are seamless and beautiful with lots of variety. Overall gamers should be happy with the visuals here.
The sound is pretty solid and manages to compliment the visuals. It surprisingly does not get repetitive or annoying like some of the games released on XBLA. In terms of music there is very limited and subtle notes involved and it all helps with the atmosphere of the game. As for the sound effects they have some finesse and manage to be well articulated but yet not distracting. Often with these games the sounds can get stale really quickly. On a bit of a downside there are only 3 or 4 different sounds that enemies will make throughout the game while your own character will always make the same grunts and expressions.
This is an interesting game specifically because it doesn’t do anything new. It does things which are old but with a contemporary flare. Most games released lately seem to be mostly recycling themselves, especially as sequels or remakes. There isn’t a massive amount of innovation, risk taking, or originality going on in the industry these days. It is easier to play it safe and just tweak the same game that you released 12 months ago with some new graphical filters. What Shadow Complex does is take 1980s gameplay and applies the same principles in this modern day setting resulting in a game which plays like a cross between Metroid, Contra, Prince of Persia and Impossible Mission, yet with sharp, dynamic presentation. Peter David’s script is not as typically cheesy as you’d expect in this game either, running parallel to Orson Scott Card’s novel ‘Empire‘ with the game presented as a companion to the novel’s sequel ‘Hidden Empire.’
One of the major problems with this Shadow Complex is that unlike the 1980’s influences it draws from, it is surprisingly easy. The save system is location based - if you enter a ’save room’ it automatically and instantly saves your progress. These rooms are common enough so that you rarely find yourself frustrated as you don’t have to re-traverse the same areas of the map just to overcome one obstacle. Playing through on even the more difficult settings allows for ones progress to still be quite steady. It would be nice if the game presented a challenge similar to those games it so heavily draws inspiration from. There is some value in frustration. That being said, the replayability is still there since the game incorporates a live leaderboard system, constantly informing you of how much better your friends are then you or vice-a-versa. When you get a head-shot on an evil henchman, you are notified how many more head-shots your friends have accomplished. This, of course, makes the game much more competitive in nature and drives you to replay simply for one-upmanship.
With this game the experience of everyone involved really shines through. Despite sounding like I am gushing, the high production values and attention to detail are evident with every step. The game’s pacing is quick enough not to get too tiresome, yet slow enough to allow for a decent learning curve. At the end of the day Shadow Complex seems to be well thought out and assembled perfectly and it is really hard to come up with significant criticisms, especially considering low price of 1200 MSP (about $17 CAD). The game is solid in scale, concept, execution and attention to detail is impressive. Sure, it is not a perfect game, no game ever is, but its’ problems are very minor. I have no problem recommending this Xbox LIVE arcade title as I believe it is possibly one of the best Xbox LIVE Arcade games to date.