Friday, September 4, 2009

Shadow Complex Review (XBLA)

There are not a lot of games that come out in the Metroidvania genre as of late; this is the first in 12 years, the last one of any note was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Twelve years does a lot for expectations of a game that comes out in their beloved genre. What is that genre exactly? It is a side scrolling action adventure platformer.

Shadow Complex is set in the Empire universe (owned by Chair Entertainment, penned by Orson Scott Card) and it takes place simultaneously with the book. Shadow Complex tells the story (game story written by Peter David of comic book fame) of Jason Flemming and his new girlfriend Claire. They are hiking in the Pacific Northwest when a group called the Progressive Reformation kidnaps Claire. From there we are strung along by a barely existent thread of a plot into what is the first and best game in this genre in 12 years.

The first and foremost object that needs addressing is that one just needs to get their hands on this game to know what quality lies in store for them.

The game is beautifully rendered in 3D, but is played in a 2D plane, by Unreal Engine 3 and from the second that you boot it up you will be greeted by crisp visuals that one may only expect from a retail title. The cut scenes are the one area that one can notice that this is an arcade title but if they are bothering you that much you are either missing the point of this game, which is not the story, or you just are not skipping them, which is an option I took during my second playthrough.

The story is just about the only downside of the game because there is no story. You can give the story and extra point if you have read the book but it is still non-essential to the gameplay experience. The dialogue is trite, predictable and just plain boring and the most interested pieces of dialogue happen when Jason is in the vent above or below a room; a particular Chicago Cubs reference comes to mind.

The only other downer in this game is that Chair’s added feature to this genre, the touted aiming at enemies in a 3D space (the Z-axis), is sometimes broken and though I never died because of this it became very annoying over two times through the game. I specifically remember one room where I was attempting to make a foam mountain so that I could reach the ceiling and for some strange reason the Z-axis kept moving to some place in the foreground and I had to find a different way up (this was before I found a certain piece of the game’s armor that is specifically crafted for this purpose).

Shadow Complex really shines in its wealth of collectables and unlockables. The game can easily be replayed several times over without any sense of boredom. It is extremely easy to lose oneself in this game and on more than one occasion you will find that you are telling yourself, “Just one more collectable,” only to find that you will play well past that point.

The Proving Grounds section of the game is just one more area of the game that screams replayability. The three challenge packs are laden with difficulty and are not for the easily discouraged. These are the parts of the game that would have made the story mode too challenging for most people to master or even complete. These packs need have not been included but that is the kind of value that Chair packed into this title.

This game will have you reevaluating what you spend $15 dollars on in the future and I mean that in the best way possible. This is best arcade game to come out this year (this could have easily been a $40 boxed retail title) and one can only hope that that it means more of the same from Chair. Perhaps other developers will also see the success of Shadow Complex and will jump on this age-old bandwagon once again.


jarvisslacks said...

Great review, brother. As always.

Nate said...

Thank you, as always.