Monday, December 28, 2009

Tech: Shadow Complex review

More than almost any other Xbox Live Arcade game I've played, "Shadow Complex" merits a full review. It has the look, feel, and length of a retail release - just look at the E3 trailer:

You play as Jason, an Everyman out for a hike with his girlfriend Claire. While exploring a cave in the mountains, you stumble upon an enormous secret military complex bristling with weapons and soldiers. In the tradition of '90s classics like "Super Metroid" and "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night," "Shadow Complex" throws you into a huge labyrinth that can only be fully explored by powering up your character.

Despite the 2D perspective, all of the action takes place in 3D. Enemies and obstacles will come from the foreground and background, and you can auto-aim along the z-axis. This depth actually frees up the level designers quite a bit, since enemies don't have to be placed in your 2D plane in order to threaten you. It also means level architecture and background scenery can be made more visually elaborate without confusing the player's movements.

Speaking of visuals, anyone familiar with Chair Entertainment's previous XBLA title, "Undertow," won't be surprised by the excellent graphics "Shadow Complex" sports. Using the expertise of Epic Games and the horsepower of Unreal Engine 3, the production values of this game are so far ahead of almost every other XBLA title that it becomes absurd to compare them. For instance, the simplistic XBLA remake of "Lode Runner" is the same price ($15) as "Shadow Complex," and the awful "Turtles In Time" remake is only $5 cheaper.

And it's not like you're only paying for the bells and whistles, either; a full playthrough of the game will take about 4-7 hours, depending on how many hidden goodies you uncover. Two achievements, "Completionist" and "Minimalist," help replayability by tasking you with finding every item and with surviving with almost none of the items, respectively.

In the end, the biggest compliment (and the biggest complaint) I can give "Shadow Complex" is that it's a perfect "Super Metroid" clone. It never veers far from that formula, but for what it is, it's a well-executed game that sets a new standard for XBLA titles.

Rating: 87/100


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