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Chair Entertainment Group



Release Dates

08/19/09 Microsoft
08/19/09 Microsoft
08/19/09 Microsoft

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Owners: 722
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Review: Shadow Complex

By Miles Taven 29th Sep 2009 | 2,943 views 

Shadow Complex sets the bar for XBLA titles, and then some.

Shadow Complex was always going to be that little bit different to the other four titles that comprised Summer of Arcade, and although they were solid efforts all round, none match up to this Metroid-inspired beauty. Based on the novel “Empire” by Orson Scott Card, Epic and Chair Entertainment have crafted what feels like, at times, a fully fledged retail game. This goes beyond what XBLA was created for, and the best was truly saved for last.

All American Hero loses girlfriend whilst backpacking in some remote caves, girlfriend gets kidnapped by three suspect looking men, hero fiercely fights for his girl all the while unravelling a plot in which “the restoration” plan to attack the United States and kill the President. Got all that? Good. You don’t have to read the book to understand the story here, it feels like it borrows more from a feel good Hollywood blockbuster rather than an award winning novel. That said this is an XBLA game and it’s one of the many reasons why Shadow Complex feels like it could be a retail game.

After a two minute cutscene, I’m telling myself the leading man’s voice sounds rather familiar, and that’s because it’s Nolan North, the voice behind Nathan Drake (Uncharted) and the Prince (Prince of Persia). It's quite the achievement to have such an acclaimed actor working on a downloadable title, and a testament to Epic/Chair, proving they’ve gone all out to deliver a brilliant experience. North and the rest of the cast do well, although no marks for originality as far as dialogue goes, sometimes falling a bit flat. The soundtrack ties in wonderfully with the overall vibe of the game.

Having never played Super Metroid myself, I've quickly been filled in on the similarities between the two. Shadow Complex is essentially a fresh take on the classic 2D side scrolling genre with an extra layer of depth, literally thanks to the 3D environment. You’re thrown into the thick of it before you get the chance to figure out who the heck you’re playing as; an unnamed agent to be precise. With your armour, thrust boots and gun already unlocked and equipped this was very reminiscent of the start to Prototype. I’m not sure if this is to get the story going with a bang or to introduce the player to the controls, if it’s the latter then it really isn’t necessary. Shortly after a cutscene you take on the lead role of the game, Jason Flemming. Wasting no time, Jason’s lady friend is captured, and so you begin your mission with just a flash light to hand. The pacing for the next five minutes gives you a decent enough “tutorial” to really get a grip on the basic controls. Along the way there’s a backpack to pick up and the schematics of the Complex to download from a nearby computer station.

The map gives you a rough idea of the sheer size of the complex. You have a blue line that acts as a guide to your next way point, although for the more adventurous of you out there this can be toggled on or off. During my time in the lower part of the complex, I was surprised to find when I pulled up the map I felt somewhat claustrophobic and trapped, thinking of all the rooms and vents I’d have to traverse to get back out of the complex. As you progress, question marks will appear, but for those that like to collect items you’re not getting a free pass by having their whereabouts given to you. You’re going to have to put some thought into getting to the elusive 100% mark. It’s worth your while to go for at least the bulk of the items available. Each one has a purpose, be it upgrades to your weapons, health packs or special abilities like increasing the power in your jet pack, even the gold bars and passkeys unlock something very valuable. In the long run acquiring these upgrades is going to make things a bit easier on yourself, or you could try and complete the game with less than 13% of items to unlock an achievement, it’s not so much fun that way though.

Another pleasant surprise was the range of weapons on offer. I naively expected to carry a pistol throughout the entire game, but along the way I picked up a WSMP50 Compact, WSM400A1 Carbine, WSAR60 Coil Rifle and my favourite the Inertial Element. It felt like a natural progression throughout which fits well, what with Jason being just an everyday normal guy at the start, slowly transforming into what resembles a top secret agent. Part of what gives the game such depth is the combat, being able to pick off head shots, shooting baddies from all angles, the right analog stick is given much more purpose than previous 2D shooters, thanks to the 3D environment. Other weapons include grenades, a rocket launcher and the foam gun. I should point out that on the map each visible door is colour coded to match a weapon, so if you need to blow a hatch with a grenade it’ll show up green. To finish off your arsenal, there are gadgets which greatly improve how you get around. I won’t spoil what’s on offer but one example is the thrust boots, which will help to break down crates blocking your path and get to places much faster. Each one serves a useful purpose. If you want to take a more hands on approach to disabling the enemy, you even have the cinematic melee attack, which looks pretty cool.

The levelling system has its advantages too, each action you take provides you with EP (Experience Points), this includes finding items, killing enemies, unlocking gadgets and simply finding new rooms. Bonuses are awarded for killing off an enemy in a certain way, or for a string of melee attacks. For every level gained you get a stat boost, so that either accuracy or agility will increase. For every 10 levels you get an even bigger reward, like unlimited ammo and all items revealed on the map. You keep your level progress even if you start a new campaign, which is handy as you’re not going to reach level 50 and beyond in one play through even if you play on insane. The enemy AI is fine for the most part of the game; however, even on a harder difficult I could finish off a group of 3 soldiers by merely meleeing them. I have to say they’re not a very fearsome lot. Thankfully the restoration don’t solely rely on man power, you will have to face off against some very agile, very destructive giant robots, which come in all shapes and sizes. I guess you could call them boss battles, but they seem to pop up out of nowhere.

Without a doubt Shadow Complex is the most beautiful looking game on XBLA, from character models, weapon effects, and environments to physics. It’s impossible not to see the attention to detail that’s been put in. Character models look fantastic; being 3D really helps bring everything that moves in this game to life. I’m not sure if the character designs of the Progressive Restoration are true to the novel, but they do well to build on the story. Them VS you. You’ll face off against some mean looking giant robots, including a few stunning tarantulabots, which for me, were the highlight of the game. Exploding barrels, detonating huge rocks, and the environmental effects in general are all brilliant, but it’s being shot at whilst underwater that had me in awe. The various weapons at Jason’s disposal look and feel realistic as well, including the very stylish foam gun and the incredible thrust boots that could give Usain Bolt a run for his money. Overall nothing has gone unpolished.

The term “bang for your buck” really doesn’t quite cut it here. A brilliant campaign that lasts 4–5 hours, with a ton of items to unlock. A levelling system that rewards with even more extras, and a separate game mode called proving grounds. In the proving grounds each level plays out much like an assault course, where you have to put your skills, weapons and special gadgets to use, further adding another 1–2 hours to the overall play time. Difficulty settings range from easy to insane as well. DLC has been hinted at but not confirmed.

This isn’t just a contender for best XBLA game, it’s one of the best on the 360 full stop. This is a game that could have been adapted into a full retail game with ease. The quality here is nothing short of amazing and hopefully inspires other developers to create deeper, more enriched games. Shadow Complex was the only way to end what’s been a great summer for XBLA.

VGChartz Verdict


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Opinion (11)

Munkeh111 posted 20/02/2010, 03:09
I just came back to play this, and it reminded me what a ridiculously good game this is
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abcdario posted 17/01/2010, 02:59
Does somesbody knows how many copies dit it sell ?
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Baddman posted 26/10/2009, 08:43
wow this game is just wicked!!!
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CaptainDJ posted 19/10/2009, 11:03
Great Game. I beat it in 46 Minutes on my second play through. :D
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huaxiong90 posted 03/10/2009, 12:27
Truly a great game.
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I LOVE GIGGS posted 16/09/2009, 04:06
One of the best games this year!
Best XBLA game!
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