Review: Shadow Complex

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The last week in Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade for 2009 has passed and brought with it another fantastic arcade hit. The last review we did was for the fantastic Trials HD and if I’m honest I really didn’t think the quality of Trials would be matched for a long time. I was wrong. After a little hiccup with the eager download of the last title in the Summer of Arcade this year I was at the menu screen for Shadow Complex and couldn’t be more excited after reading our hands on. With Epic Games and Chair Entertainment developing the title it has had plenty of talented developers behind it and Chair Entertainment are also responsible for another great hit – Undertow. Having played and loved that game I had high expectations for Shadow Complex and rightly so as the cost, 1200MS points (£10) is certainly on the high side of the scale.

Now I’ve seen Epic Games’ Unreal 3 engine put to both good and bad use in the past, the last game I played using the engine was simply awful. However, Shadow Complex looks fantastic given the fact that it is an arcade title and some of the effects are on par with much bigger titles – a couple of effects really stand out, one in particular was the section involving swimming underwater with a helicopter hurling enough lead to drop a blue whale. Naturally I’m thinking that being underwater makes me invincible to any attack above the surface – most other games grant you this invincibility in similar situations. In this game it’s a different story – holy crap the bullets are still coming – but not entirely a bad thing because it’s shortly followed with look at those sweet ripple effects. Combat is indeed as frantic and exciting underwater as it is on the surface and the combat is where this game simply shines.

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The game uses a variation of the twin stick aiming method featured in games such as Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD (PS3). With the game rendered in 3D but based around 2D scrolling gameplay you would be forgiven for expecting plenty of enemies to approach from the front and rear of your path, Streets of Rage style. You will be pleasantly surprised that enemies appear and attack from both the foreground and the background too. Even more surprising is the way the aiming systems caters for this and allows you to aim at said enemies in the z-axis without even thinking. The game will also switch to fully 3D sets (in the first person) when, for example, you get behind a mounted machine gun. Visually this game is full of tricks and the game mechanics are so well polished that Mr Sheen would be really bored here.

So the game has a story right? Of course it does and one based on the novel “Empire” by Orson Scott Card, also known for his work on The Secret of Monkey Island. After an introduction where you are to stop a VIP being assassinated, which serves more as a brief tutorial but raises many questions, you are introduced to the main character of which you shall assume control of: Jason Flemming. Jason seems to have been dragged on a cave exploration adventure by his girlfriend and he seems a little unsure. As I wish to avoid spoilers I am just going to say that the girlfriend promptly disappears and you discover she has indeed been captured and taken into a huge underground complex. So begins your adventure and rescue attempt with plenty more juicy storyline to follow.

As with most games that involve suicidal attempts at taking on legions of enemy troops and the exploration of levels filled with traps and secret passages, you get some pretty swish gizmos along the way, despite being stripped off everything from the prologue, Metroid style. Jason ultimately finds a suit that provides him with unique abilities such as breathing underwater and extra strength. The player needs to find these components and they are conveniently placed within the stories progression, but there is so much fun to be had with all the upgrades. Jason is pretty nifty in close quarter combat (CQC) and the use of the “B” button will see Jason Flemming have an identity crisis and go all Jason Bourne with the camera zooming in each time the CQC takedown button is pressed, treating the player to a quick scene where Jason dispatches of the foe with chops, twists and punches. This never gets tiring but still gets better with a suit upgrade where later on in the game you are granted extra strength. Suddenly CQC turns into a game of “launch them into orbit” and it is really satisfying to run up to some poor sod and just smack him to watch the physics render a loose mass of limps take flight in an uncontrolled and painful looking fashion.

Another great upgrade is the “Friction Dampener” which allows Jason to run at speeds so fast he can travel across water and charge through destructible targets. Pretty much all of the upgrades grant the player the opportunity to go back through the level and unlock previously locked areas. Turns out that the aforementioned chopper shooting at me when I was swimming underwater last time couldn’t keep up with me when I was running across the water faster than Superman could skim a pebble. Heh!

Of course abilities are all nice and dandy but games are much more fun with weapons. Happily Shadow Complex sports many weapons with much needed secondary fires. Throughout the levels are different coloured entrances leading to many areas, with some areas hidden – the colour of an entrance is discovered by shining your flashlight at it. If for instance the entrance shines green, then you will need to launch or throw a grenade at it to destroy it and gain access. With bullets, grenades, foam and missiles – there are plenty of hidden areas needing to be found with the correct ballistics and a keen eye. Another little touch is that headshots register against humanoid enemies too, which is great as with the XP levelling system you will unlock better precision and you’ll be popping melons thick and fast. Notice I said humanoid? That is because this game will throw many huge boss fights (usually a giant mech) at you that will require a good aim, plenty of ammo and see you jumping all over the place to go evasive. Diversity is one of Shadow Complex’s strong points.

As with any other arcade title you get 200 Gamerpoints to unlock with a few easy achievements and a few not so easy, and much like another great hit from Epic Games, Gears of War 2, the achievements progression is displayed in the bottom right of the screen and I personally think all games should have this feature. Boasting a lengthy single player campaign and challenge mode for you to complete that will test your patience, skill and reactions – Shadow Complex is simply another must own Arcade title that is an example of true value for your money. A fantastic example of what Arcade titles should be like: lengthy; full of variety; engaging; great looking and worth every penny.

Another belter from Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade” releases.

Score: 9/10

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