Super-sonic soldier slaughter. Now in 1080p!
Originally released back in 2009 for Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade, Shadow Complex, developed by Chair, was an instant breakout hit. It’s 2.5D “Metroidvania” style gameplay was addicting, the frantic combat made it a blast to play and its pseudo new game plus feature gave it some solid replay value, especially for speed-runners. Jump to 2016, where Shadow Complex Remastered has been released to breathe some life back into the dormant franchise. It brings with it everything that fans enjoyed from its original debut but with a fresh HD face lift, new achievements and master challenges.
The game’s story is a very basic one, running parallel to the Orson Scott Card novel, Empire, that it pulls inspiration from. After a brief tutorial serving intro, you take control of Jason Fleming, (played by Nolan “I can voice anything” North) who’s hiking trip with his girlfriend Claire escalates into a sci-fi adventure. This involves terrorists, nukes and their run-of-the-mill scheme to get all Pinky & the Brain. That is to say, their whole plan revolves around taking over the world. Why? I don’t really know. Between all the baddie punching, foam-spraying action, it’s never really specified, just referenced here and there through typical evil villain monologues and random conversations you’ll overhear from guards. The main villain oozes Cobra Commander levels of cheesiness, but given the development team’s admiration for G.I. Joe, this comes as no surprise. The story may be forgettable, but the exploration heavy gameplay, mixed with the slick combat, is truly what made this game memorable, even seven years later.
At first glance, the game may seem like nothing more than an average side-scrolling shooter with a 2.5D gimmick, but after a few hours, those thoughts quickly subside. Shooting, swimming and shuffling your way through the intricately designed map gives players access to an arsenal of both primary and secondary weapons, along with suit upgrades that give Jason increased mobility in many forms. The main weapons range from auto rifles to kinetic shotguns while the secondary ones start at simple grenades but advance to missiles later in the game. The signature weapon is most definitely the foam gun. This gun allows players to freeze enemies in their tracks but, with some tactical thinking, can also be used as one of the many ways to transverse the map. Using weapons to proceed isn’t exclusive to that gun, however, since all of them serve some purpose, and that’s where the “MetroidVania” aspect comes into play.
Littering almost every panel of the game world is some roadblock that must be dealt with using the appropriate item. Everything from air vents, rock piles and thick metal doors can be blasted apart, granted you have the proper tool for the task. To give players a helping hand with this, Chair incorporated a very literal guiding light to help illuminate the situation. Using the flashlight to shine on objects will reveal a specific color which corresponds to the necessary weapon. For example, green needs grenades while red requires a missile. This simple but effect design choice helps keep the game moving at a steady pace without insulting the player’s intelligence. It also acts as the perfect carrot-on-a-stick technique, since throughout the game you’ll come across many of these but won’t have the weapon yet, meaning you’ll have to remember to come back later. You’ll likely want to, as well, since most of these locations house many of the games collectibles, which mostly relate to increased ammo pickups but also include things like gold bars and passkeys needed for secret unlockables. Collecting every ammo upgrade gives you infinite ammo for that specific item, too, so completionists are rewarded with more than a paltry pat on the back.
That extra ammo will very much come in handy too, since the game is just as much about cave crawling as it is about fast paced firefights. Early on, you’ll have nothing but a pistol and some context sensitive melee attacks at your disposal, but like many games in this genre, unlocking gear and leveling up will provide more flexibility during combat. Simply shooting or punching foes is always an option, but the environmental hazards blended with the advanced abilities and weapons you’ll acquire heavily encourage a more creative approach. Running into a room, grapple hooking to the ceiling while raining down foam and missiles on enemies, only to top it off by Sparta kicking a guy into an incinerator, is just one adrenaline-fueled way to deal with an encounter. The mix of 2D and 3D shooting makes for an interesting approach both in gameplay and presentation, but there are a few instances where aiming between both dimensions can be fickle, resulting in some frustrating fights. The game has a fair number of boss fights, but other than two very specific ones, most of these boil down to shoot this thing a lot or get behind it and shoot it significantly less. It’s far from a deal breaker, but considering the game’s focus on creative problem solving in its other areas, it would have been nice to see this translate into the bosses more as well.
The technical side can be a mixed bag. The graphic upgrade isn’t much of a leap from last gen, mainly pertaining to lighting and possibly particle effects, but overall its presentation is as serviceable as it was before. The drab and dark aesthetics of the world aren’t what I’d describe as eye candy, but it certainly works with the tone and setting of the game. The design of the facility and soldiers is very reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid, particularly that of Shadow Moses, with its claustrophobic corridors, futuristic appearance and, of course, the armored mechs themselves. The frame rate can take some dips during heavy action, and there were a handful of times where simply switching screens caused some slowdown, but never to the point of completely ruining any enjoyment to be had. The rag doll physics that kick in after enemies are killed can go crazy sometimes, but this is far more amusing than detrimental. The controls generally work pretty well, but, like I stated, the 3D shooting can be a chore, and some of the platforming occasionally feels imprecise, such as wall jumping or climbing. The game relies more on ambiance than actual music but the overall sound mix is good and provides atmosphere. Gun and explosion effects pack an audible punch, especially with surround sound.
With all that said, I guess the burning question is, if you’ve played the original, is Shadow Complex Remastered worth your time and money? The short answer is no, not really. If you enjoyed it the first time but didn’t see yourself playing through it again for speed-runs or leisure, then you’ll want to opt out of this release. However, if you found replaying the main adventure a worthwhile endeavor and like plotting out different ways to complete the game or tackling its challenge mode, it earns the $15.00 it asks for admission. Now, if you’ve never played the game before but enjoy this style of gameplay, I can safely say, trying it out is hardly a complex decision.