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A retro gaming Complex

Sept 1, 2009

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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If there's one thing that the newest Xbox Live Arcade offering teaches us, it's that old-school side-scrolling never goes out of style - no matter how it's presented.

'Shadow Complex' comes to the Xbox 360 courtesy of developer Chair Entertainment (makers of 'Undertow') and Gears of War creator Epic Games (which produced the title). Though at first glance it looks like a lot more than a basic run-jump-shoot-collect side-scroller, that's in essence exactly what it is. Think Super Metroid with an extremely glossy coat of paint.

Shadow ComplexThe great thing about Shadow Complex, though, is that it's likely to appeal to much more than just fans of SNES-era video games. It doesn't rely solely on nostalgia to draw in a limited group of hardcore players. It has a good combination of tight controls and a simple premise, while thankfully losing something that older games always seemed to have - a certain level of frustration.

In Shadow Complex, you control Jason Flemming, a seemingly average Joe who is out on a date one day with his girlfriend. Of course, the couple opts to skip ice cream and the movies for a chance to explore some nearby caves (we prefer hang-gliding off of skyscrapers with our significant other). Well, Jason's girlfriend quickly disappears and next thing you know, Jason is tasked with rescuing her from a group of terrorists who have kidnapped her. Seems she accidentally stumbled on their secret base and they think she's a spy who is going to leak their plans to take over the United States.

The storyline isn't going to win any awards, but it sets the stage for what makes Shadow Complex so fun - powering Jason up and exploring a world that, considering it's a downloadable arcade game, will provide hours of exploration.

Jason starts off with little more than a flashlight and the ability to jump, but the masterfully paced game has him earning new abilities and items at a steady rate. It's not long before Jason is equipped with a gun and the ability to latch onto and jump off walls (think NES-era Ninja Gaiden games). We love the fact that every primary weapon you find in Shadow Complex has unlimited ammo. Ah, the ability to forever reload without the fear of having to stockpile more ammunition - pure awesome.

Shadow ComplexAnd really, the big hook of the game is the chance to pick up as many items as possible. It's not just about getting new types of guns - that's the easy part. It's finding all the hidden ammo packs for secondary weapons, armor upgrades and, later on in the game, bonus parts to an advanced metal suit that you acquire. The map is easy to follow, with a blue line showing the path you need to take to your next objective, along with a '?' symbol highlighting every hidden item in the game. You may think that that makes it easy to find these items, but that's certainly not the case. It'll sometimes take a lot of sleuthing to figure out just where a hidden object is in a room.

As mentioned earlier, though you don't have the ability to run back and forth on more than one plane, enemies will pop up both in front of and behind you, as well as right beside you. Though the game plays with an auto-aim feature, the right analog stick can control Jason's gun if you don't like what it's auto-aiming on, or if you just want the headshots achievement.

To make things a little more interesting, there are context sensitive actions to mix up the combat. If you're right beside an enemy, you can press the B-button to perform a melee action, while some floor-mounted guns are strewn throughout the map, which puts the player in a behind-the-back third person shooting gallery of sorts. There are even a few decent boss battles to keep things interesting.

It's worth keeping in mind that for those who can't stand backtracking, there is a lot of returning to places in Shadow Complex. Just like in the Metroid games, you'll encounter certain doors early on in the game that shine a certain colour, and only a certain type of ammo will be able to open it. Again though, this goes along with the idea that this game harkens back to an era where Blu-Ray discs and the memory they can store weren't available. The overall game world isn't huge, but there are enough hidden places sprinkled throughout that it won't seem so much like backtracking.

Shadow ComplexThere is one thing that keeps Shadow Complex from being one of the years best games (downloadable or otherwise!). Though Chair did a great job of showing the player what his or her next objective is - and that feature can be turned off for those who hate having their hand held - while still giving the ability to roam free, they did something that seems almost dishonest at the end of the game.

Without giving too much away, the player is given the option to find some non-essential (but still very cool) items before reaching the final battle. The problem is, it's not clear that at a certain point near the end of the game, the player is being led to the final battle. The blue line showing the next objective doesn't specify what exactly you're being lead to, so when you suddenly, unknowingly activate the final boss sequence, there's no way of turning back. You can always restart the game at the save point just before the boss, but if you ever go by the section of the map where the battle takes place, you'll still end up finishing your game.

It is possible to restart the game from the beginning and keeping your previous game's Experience Points, but it would have been a lot better (especially for completionists) to make things a little more clear when the game branches off at the end.

Though that is an annoyance, it can't take away from the dseveral hours' worth of addictive gameplay that costs only a fraction of a 'full' retail game. In fact, we're fairly certain that Killzone's single player campaign was shorter than that of Shadow Complex.

For those looking for some straight-up action with all the fat cut off, look no further than Shadow Complex.


Shadow Complex
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Chair Entertainment
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Official Site:

Rating: 8.0 / 10

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