December 1, 2009

Review: Shadow Complex

Welp, I finally finished me some Shadow Complex and I'll say right out of the gate here that it's awesome. In fact, it's become one of the highest rated and most popular Xbox Live Arcade titles to date. You want to know why? Because this game is just like Metroid. No, this game is Metroid. In the absence of any 2D Metroid games for years, you're going to want to pick this up if you're a fan of that kind of stuff.

Actually, now that I think about it, there's not a whole lot to say about Shadow Complex. If you've played Metroid, Metroid 2, Super Metroid, or Metroid Fusion you already know how this game plays. It's even got all the same mechanics more or less. You've got your foam gun that acts like ice missiles, a grappling hook that acts like the grapple beam, thruster boots and a jet pack in place of screw jump and space jump, grenade launcher for bombs, rockets for missiles, a gun with never ending ammo, and even a super run that breaks though those pesky unbreakable blocks. Yessir, this game has all the trimmings of a Metroid adventure... with some notable differences.

1. All the areas are pretty much the same. You're adventuring through and underground complex (with some brief above ground sequences). As such, there's not the same variety of areas as there is in Metroid. They do the best with what's there, but the truth is it's lacking the charisma and style of Metroid. Enemies are repetitive and a bit dull. The truth is, after a while you'll collect so many upgrades for your various weapons and armor that you're basically unstoppable. I never felt that way in Metroid. Even if I had nine health tanks and a super death gun, there was always something intimidating and stronger than me lurking around the corner. Basically, Shadow Complex is a lot easier than Metroid and that makes it somewhat less fun. Also, you can swim which is kind of nifty. That has nothing to do with the above stuff, I just thought of it and figured I'd stick it in somewhere.

2. The flashlight. You can't curl into a ball, but you call crawl through air ducts. Your flashlight serves as your guide to bonus stuff. In Metroid, you'd bomb and roll your way to find missile or health upgrades. In Shadow Complex, you shine your light to reveal shortcuts and hidden passages, often leading to secret goodies. When shining your light on, say, an air duct, it will glow orange indicating it can be destroyed with gun fire. Likewise, a different color means an object can be destroyed with the corresponding colored weapon. It's straightforward and it works.

3. It's 2.5 dimensional. Your character moves in a 2D plane like a sidescroller, but you can aim and shoot straight forward with your characters back towards you. It gives the game interesting depth, but it also makes you wonder how your enemies can get back there when you can't. It makes me wonder whether this is what Metroid: Other M will feel like. You can aim your gun's laser target left, right, or into the background with the right thumb stick.


Visuals: The game runs on Unreal Engine 3 and so looks pretty kickass. Don't expect Gears of War level details here because it's an Arcade game, but for an Arcade game it looks damn good.

Controls: The game controls well and everything is mapped to the buttons as it should be. The only problem I had was switching your secondary fire (i.e. grenades, rockets, etx.) which is mapped to the d-pad. It became awkward when I had to switch fire and move at the same time because both actions are mapped for the same thumb. I often found myself reaching over with my right thumb to hit the d-dpad, which was quite weird. Aiming was pretty good, but I realized quite late in the game that you would basically autotarget when enemies were close by, even in the background.

Gameplay: It plays like Metroid. Metroid plays great. How you you think this game plays? I do appreciate the frequent save rooms (the game even auto saves before boss battles) but they almost aren't necessary because the game isn't that tough. There are more difficulty levels, though.

Sound: The sound effects are great. I played this with surround and I had to turn it down because it was blasting me away. The music is... interesting. It fits the mood, but the mood in general is kind of a weird dark soviet vibe. Lots of ambient piano and sad strings. Except for the end credits music. That song comes out of nowhere and totally ruins the mood. It's not bad, but it just doesn't seem to fit.

Presentation: This game is apparently a complement to some book called Empire and sets up its sequel Hidden Empire. Not that anyone will know or care. The story itself is minimal. Apparently it was a design choice because they modeled the game after Super Metroid and it's limited story. It's even got some cutscenes to move the "story" along. Uh, the menus are nice if anyone cares. That's usually what they put in the presentation section isn't it? Well screw that, unless it's notable. From here on out, "presentation" will probably focus on how the narrative is moved along.

Replay: I'd say it's pretty high. The game scores you somehow and racks it up once you finish, so some people may be interested in beating their high. It also has a challenge mode in addition to the story mode where you can, well, complete challenge objectives. Plus, there's a ton of crap to collect in game and you get achievements for finding it... or not finding it. Achievements add to the replay value of any game. In fact, they make the bad ones worth playing for some people. But still, completionists, regardless of achievements, will want to find everything.

Final Thoughts: Shadow Complex is an all around great game. It's no Metroid, but it's a pretty damn good substitute, especially in lieu of a new classic Metroid game. Definitely worth your time.

By the way, I'm trying out a new review style in which the Breakdown is expanded and no numerical scores are given. I've realized recently that numbers are a bit confusing and misleading. People mostly just rush to the end of reviews searching for such numbers because nothing else matters. If the number is high then the game must be good. And Metacritic can suck it! Just because one game's percentage is higher than another's does not necessarily make it a better game. It's pretty stupid, I think. So, I've taken notes from Joystiq and Play and have done away with the numbers that I don't deem important. And, no, 1up, letter grades are not better. Let me know what you think or if you have suggestions for our review style.

No comments:

Post a Comment