Analyzing the Game-Changing Shadow Complex Achievements - NewsVGChartz Staff , posted on 07 February 2010 / 4,717 Views
Xbox Live Arcade games have twelve achievements each, worth 200 total points. No more, no less. Arcade titles (almost without exception) are shorter than full-length retail releases, and the scope is narrower. Narrower, but in some cases it’s also more focused.
Developers only have twelve chances to reward you with achievements in Arcade games. They have twelve chances to force you to beat the game without dying (Mega Man 9, I hate you), or demonstrate your ungodly flying skills (Geometry Wars), or they make you laugh (Penny Arcade Ep. 1’s “Nine Lives” achievement).
Some games have a good mix of “traditional” achievements (“Beat the game,” “Get 50 headshots,” etc.) and unique achievements for playing the game… a little differently. Shadow Complex is one such game.
While you’ll be able to attain most of the gamerscore in one playthrough without going too far out of your way, there are three in particular that force you to go above and beyond the call of duty for a pittance of gamerscore. These three achievements not only change the way you play Shadow Complex, but they will give you a new appreciation for what it means to “complete” a game.
Simply defeating the final boss is no longer good enough for current-day gamers. “Whew, finally beat Mass Effect; now I can move on to – wait, I only have 700 achievement points?! Guess I’m not as done as I thought.” As soon as the achievemental barbs latch themselves into your psyche, you will realize that you are at the developers’ mercy. You’re not done with a game until they say you are, and it all comes down to how demented the developer feels on that particular day.
Lazy? Here you go, Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Burning Earth, TMNT, and King Kong. Devious? Gears of War, Left 4 Dead. Inventive? The Orange Box. The Shadow Complex guys – indie developers Chair – kept things in perspective. Their achievements led you by just far enough to keep you riveted to your couch until they were done with you, then they dumped you in a ditch and said that they never loved you. But you still love them, don’t you?
First up: “Completionist: Complete the game with 100% of the items.” Fairly straightforward, I managed to net this on my first playthrough because the game was such a joy to explore. Searching every nook and cranny of the map is just my playstyle, however, and a power gamer that barrels right through the story to the end without stopping to see the sights will have a much harder time patiently sifting through every dark corner. His problems would be further exacerbated by the fact that Shadow Complex lacks any kind of teleportation feature to quickly get from one end of the fairly massive map to the other without a whole lot of old fashioned hoofin’ it.
Luckily, the game is such a perfect example of the MetroidVania style that each time you get a new upgrade – be it double-jump boots, or a hookshot, or missiles – you’ll be prepared for the next section of previously unexplorable game world. In the end, I only had to use GameFAQs for one item – not too shabby for the dozens of cleverly concealed upgrades hidden throughout the game world. Most required nothing more than the will to search, a few choice upgrades, and some ingenuity on the part of the player. “How can I reach that? It seems too far away. It can’t be, this? Wait… ooooh, I got it!” The sense of discovery and self-confidence created by Shadow Complex almost rivaled the “Ah-ha!” moment when you finally solved a puzzle in Braid. Now that’s powerful.
Finally complete, I moved on to the next-to-last achievement: “Minimalist: Complete the game with less than 13% of items.” Seems doable. Except I, being a genius (and also, apparently, a masochist) decide to crank up the difficulty to the highest notch for the experience-point increase. Deliberately avoiding every single upgrade that you come across is torture for someone that loves to collect arbitrary, ultimately useless things (*coughgamerscorecough*). Playing the whole game with only 200 health as opposed to the eventual 999 I reached on my first 100% playthrough means that even a simple henchman ambush can equal death. Also, soldiers on Insane difficulty are really good at shooting me in the face from off-screen.
I die. A lot.
But I persevere. I discover ventilation shafts for sneaking. I lob grenades while hiding behind crates. I move cautiously. I save often. I head right to the objective with blinders on my periphs while simultaneously realizing that the lure of a measly ten-point achievement is forcing me to doublethink my entire gaming style.
I’m not playing the game how I want to play. I’m playing the game how I’m being told to play.
You know how some revelations are incredibly empowering, the kind that make you feel like you can take on the world, conquer any task before you, save the day, and win the girl? This revelation is the opposite of that. I usually sit on chairs. This time, Chair sat on me.
Somehow, eventually, I pull a lot of very cheap moves and manage to beat the game in half the time it took to fully explore the world. I feel like I missed out on so much... although I had just seen it all, hours before.
Ten points left, one achievement to go. “Serious Complex: Level up to experience level 50.” After beating the game twice (once on the highest, most experience point-rich difficulty), I’ve managed to reach level 42. Fifty doesn’t seem so far away, does it? Really, it wasn’t. Just a few more hours and dozens of baddies, and “Ba-DOOP” I have all 200/200 achievement points. Sweet. Now I can finally move on with my life.
The funny thing is: if there hadn’t been two completely separate achievements leading me begrudgingly forward through two completely separate playthroughs with two completely separate goals, I wouldn’t even think about going for level 50. The first completion brought me up to level 21. Would you power through another 29 levels for ten achievement points when you can get ten points just for ENTERING A SCREEN in Madden NFL ’06? Me neither. But eight levels seems so much more attainable.
Baby steps are key with achievments. Keep the players playing by dangling that carrot just in front of their faces, leading them on, showing them a good time, then dropping them like a bad habit when you’re done with them. After two-and-a-half Shadow Complex completions, I finally feel like I’ve “completed” the game. Why? Because my gamerscore told me so. “You have seen everything I have to offer,” that magical 200/200 tells me, “You are amazing, and I grovel at your feet.”
There are many ways to play games, and there are many ways to enjoy them. If the addition of achievements heighten the gameplay experience of an already fun game, I say go for it, especially if they are layered in such a way to keep you trying new things without bringing on the tedious grind that can so easily befall the achievement-gathering metagame. If a $15 XBLA game can figure this out, why is it such a stretch for $60 full retail titles to follow suit?