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Review – Shadow Complex (PC, PS4, Xbox One)

2009, 2015 – Chair – 1 Player

The Good

  • Metroidvania games are pretty much awesome by default.
  • Interesting use of 2D and 3D
  • Fun gameplay and puzzles

The Bad

  • Not a lot of enemy variety.
  • Controls can be frustrating at times
  • Bosses are kind of a joke

tl;dr Review

I, like many others I gather, often have a pile of games from bundles that never end up getting played.  Recently Shadow Complex appeared in a Humble Bundle and came recommended, so I opted to actually give it a shot.  I was really surprised just how good it ended up being.

I was also surprised that it’s a Metroidvania style game,  That is, it’s a side scrolling, room based platform game full of puzzles and upgrades and the repeated need to retread old ground with new abilities.  These sorts of games, as a whole are pretty fun.  And Shadow Complex is no exception.  It’s also somewhat unique being a modern day sort of setting for such a game.

It’s not without it’s flaws though, the enemy soldiers get repetitive quick, there’s maybe a half dozen varieties.  The bosses are all kind of same-ish giant mechs and aren’t particularly frequent.    Some of them are extremely easy to pattern out and defeat as well, there’s one in particular which jets in a circle around the room that I found stupidly easy since it never once tried to enter the one corner of the room.  All that was needed was to stand there and missile it each pass.

The controls are also a bit frustrating at times, particularly when you have to do several things at once, like multi jumping and grappling.  The puzzles revolving around the speed run effect are also frustrating due to the dodgy controls while speeding along.

These negatives aren’t super bad though, particularly with the frequent save points.  It’s a fun platform exploration game and worth checking out.

In Depth

So, like I said, platform exploration.  Seeing this game was a modern era game with guns, I pretty much expected “FPS Shooter”.  Which also translates to, pretty much completely unoriginal.  I didn’t expect to really enjoy this game at all, but I was expecting a completely different game.

The basic plot follows Jason as he works to rescue his girlfriend Claire from a hidden base of radial soldiers.  Jason and Claire are out camping and they stumble on an underground complex, hidden complex, a … Shadow Complex, if you will.  Claire is kidnapped by soldiers and Jason sneaks into the complex to find her.  Over the course of the game, the larger goals of the army are made clear, they intend to overthrow the US government.  Knowing there isn’t much time, Jason works to take down the secret base and army.  Along the way he finds a super powered soldier suit and upgrades it over time to gain new abilities which allow him to reach new areas of the complex.

The game also takes place in the same realms as a couple of novels written by Orson Scott Card, called Empire and Hidden Empire.  These books are part of a universe owned by Chair who licensed the world to Card for the books.

I mentioned Metroidvania, this is a term that is commonly used for this style of game, it’s a combination of the names of the games Metroid and Castlevania, which both pioneered and made popular this style of game.  Shadow Complex has a lot more in common with Metroid than Castlevania, but the same basic play style is the same.  Honestly the similarities to Metroid are possibly part of it’s negatives as well.  Many of the powers gained through the super suit are pretty much lifted right out of Super Metroid, the Missiles, The Speed Boost, the Grappling hook.  Granted, there are all sorts of other examples of these abilities in games, and the speed boost works a bit differently with it’s running up walls and ceilings bit, the core mechanics are the same.

Probably the biggest problem of this game is getting around the map.  One key component that makes a good Metroidvania title is that the map work.  Generally speaking, this means some sort of central zone that easily access all or most of the other zones.  It should easily access each one as you unlock new abilities as well.  This makes traversing the map for return trips to collect power ups less of a trudge.  Shadow Complex has a severe lack of this.  Having to repeatedly complete the same simple puzzles to go back and collect some grenade upgrade gets really old the 4th or 5th time it’s done.

There’s also some dodgy points on the controls.  Some of the more complex puzzles involve, for example, double dumping around platforms and grappling to walls while avoiding instant death bits.  Sometimes while trying to aim the grapple it can be tricky to keep the direction of your jumps going the proper direction.  More annoying is trying to time the speed run jumps and flips needed to solve some of the running puzzles.  The speed moves too fast and the screen zooms in too much to always know what’s coming soon enough to make a proper jump.  This often means failing, then trying again, then failing again because you passed the first bit but now there was a second bit you didn’t know about and didn’t have enough notice to properly react to it.

I’m not saying it should be a cake walk, just that you aren’t even given a chance to make it a cake walk.  It doesn’t really hurt the game, but it can lead to some needless frustration.

One interesting aspect is the use of 3D in the 2D world.  The whole game is a 2D platformer, Jason only exists in one plane, but the world around you is in 3D, enemies will attack from platforms in the distance, sometimes you will find gun emplacements that let you switch to a stationary 3D view.  Your player will automatically shoot into the background when targeting enemies in the background.  It does lead to some odd moments, like why you have to scale a set of spiral stairs by leaping from landing to landing instead of just, you know, walking up them (the stairs are in the background).

In the end, Shadow Complex was a surprise but of fun to be sure.  I don’t stick around with games for long when it becomes clear I won’t enjoy them, but I played all the way through Shadow Complex once I started it.

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