I’m not one to let Alex have all the fun with the opening 5 minutes of a game. So far he’s broken down the opening five minutes of Heavy Rain, which doesn’t really cover much in those scant opening minutes; Uncharted 2, which absolutely excels; God of War 3, pretty much as good as it gets; and Portal, a triumph in walking players through mechanics. It’s my turn now, and I want to take a look at our first Xbox 360 exclusive, Shadow Complex. I’m not sure what made this almost two year old game pop into my head but I’m glad it did.
Chair’s 2.5D platform-adventure hit opens up like a Tom Clancy novel, with classic badass Colonel Dallas fighting to save the Vice President’s life wearing a high-tech suit of armour he’s managed to steal from the enemy. He quickly dispatches some bad guys who, for some reason, haven’t been outfitted with the same armour Dallas has managed to get his hands on. Even a gunship can’t stop Dallas, it’s gone almost as quickly as the grunts you wiped out a moment ago.[drop]Of course a cutscene then reveals the classic bait and switch that’s popped up in more and more games recently. This isn’t the equipment you’re going to start the game off with properly; in fact Dallas isn’t even the character you’ll be spending the rest of the game playing as. Chair just want you hooked in to how awesome you can be once you’ve invested a bit of time and got the armour up to scratch.
After Dallas seems to have won the battle his armour is locked down by the bad guys (perhaps stealing it from them wasn’t such a good idea after all), leaving him helpless when a blast kills the Vice President. To be honest, you could probably blitz through this in under twenty seconds if you’re so inclined, although on your first go you’ll probably spend a bit of time playing with the suit’s capabilities.
So with the unfortunate Colonel dispatched we move from bad-ass to nice guy Jason. He’s out exploring with his new girlfriend Claire, and the earlier allusions to a Tom Clancy style story quickly dissolve. All you get to start with is a flash light, hardly the equipment for a bad ass hero. As you drop into the cave system and start to explore you quickly find that Claire has seemingly left you her climbing gear to carry, the lazy woman. Well even if she won’t carry it herself at least you now have the ability to climb walls, and that’s your first of many power-ups earned.
Your new found climbing ability lets you make short work of a ledge that previously remained just out of your reach (even though Jason can jump higher than any Olympic athlete has ever managed), and you stumble upon what is possibly the most poorly disguised secret base ever created by a paramilitary group hell-bent on overthrowing a government. Laying down steel flooring and having a large, electronically locked door embedded into the rock face isn’t exactly the most subtle of approaches.
This section in the cave quickly instils the basic climbing and exploration mechanics that pretty much form the game’s core. Sure, you had Colonel Dallas showing off the game’s weaponry and giving you a basic overview of them, but without pushing the player to explore the game would feel pretty much a lost cause.[drop2]Anyway, we’re done with the dank cave, onto the mysterious base. It quickly becomes clear that the base’s purpose is at least mildly evil when two masked soldiers drag an unwilling Claire into the base. Jason instantly decides on a Mario like mission to retrieve his girlfriend from the clutches of this shadowy organisation. Perhaps not what you or I would do, but just after our five minute time limit its revealed that Jason isn’t quite as normal as his appearance would suggest.
Once inside the base you’re quickly introduced to the game’s mapping system and avoiding the base’s surveillance systems but, a little oddly, things slow down once you’re inside the base. You also, briefly, have the exploration mechanic stripped back a little to guide you to your first weapon. After navigating your way through some clearly signposted ventilation ducts to that weapon you hit the five minute mark and we reach the close of this entry in Project 5. The ventilation system here is the only part that feels a little forced, although it clearly does need to be obviously signposted to avoid player frustration.
Shadow Complex’s first five minutes is an enjoyable guide through the most of the game’s basic mechanics with some broad strokes of the story thrown in. Of course there’s a lot more to come with things getting vastly more interesting, but the broad overview of the game’s universe is laid out in these opening minutes. Although the section with with Dallas might feel like it’s a little tacked onto the front just to show players where you’re going to end up, it does show enough of the plot to make it feel worthwhile.
It really is a strong opening, but there’s just something that doesn’t feel quite enough somehow. It’s hard to put your finger on what it is, but it doesn’t have the epic battle of God of War 3 or the drama of Uncharted 2’s train sequence. Although you are thrown straight into the action with Dallas, the section could do with being longer to really add some drama to proceedings.