Shadow Complex

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Developer: Chair Entertainment
Release Date: March 16, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'Shadow Complex Remastered'

by Brian Dumlao on April 13, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Shadow Complex features old school side-scroller design combined with cutting-edge gameplay and high-definition graphics.

The summer of 2009 saw the release of Shadow Complex for the Xbox 360. Developed by Chair Entertainment and produced by Microsoft, the game was widely praised by critics and players alike as a Metroidvania title that added depth-based combat. There was demand for a sequel, but nothing materialized. Instead, Chair was purchased by Epic Games and spent the next few years working on the Infinity Blade series on iOS. After a surprise announcement at last year's The Game Awards, we get Shadow Complex Remastered, one of this generation's countless remastering projects that's appreciated since it marks the series' multiplatform appearance on PC and PS4. That means Xbox One owners also get it, though that can muddy things up given some of the system changes in the past year.

In an opening sequence, an attack on Washington D.C. results in the vice president being killed. You play the role of Jason Fleming as he and his date Claire explore the caves in the Olympus Mountains in Washington state. It doesn't take long before Claire is captured and Jason learns that a hidden military group plans to launch a strike against San Francisco. Armed with only his military training, Jason must save his girlfriend and the United States.

What is interesting about the story is how much of an afterthought it is in the grand scheme of the things. At first, there's a steady stream of scenes that sets up the tale, fills in Jason's background and explains what you're up against in the underground facility. Once you get your pistol, you don't get anything else from the narrative. You'll still get some important tidbits in the middle and end of the tale, but that's it. Ultimately, the tale is functional but forgettable.

A few minutes into the game, you'll understand how Shadow Complex got its Metroidvania designation. The game world is open to you from the start, but they're blocked off by doors or other obstacles that must be unlocked. Progression isn't marked by the amount of territory you cover so much as it is by the equipment you gather. You'll start off with nothing but a pistol and a flashlight, but you'll soon get things like a foam gun, grenades and a jetpack, which form the components for a powerful super suit. Getting each new piece requires you to move to a new area and return to previously explored areas to destroy barriers and uncover additional secrets along the way, such as upgraded health and secondary weapon caches.

Though most games of this type depend heavily on firearms for attacks, you also have the ability to melee enemies. Ammo is nearly unlimited, but it's enjoyable to take down a foe without resistance or use an exploding bot against an enemy by simply kicking it over. The more prominent addition is the use of 3-D space for combat. Your right analog stick allows you to aim up and down on a 2-D plane, but certain areas let you shoot toward the screen or into the environment to catch enemies or break boxes. It isn't a precise system, and even with assisted aiming, you'll still fire quite a few shots. It's a neat trick that is used often but not to the point where it becomes tiresome to experience.

When all of these elements are combined, Shadow Complex Remastered functions very well. The pacing is brisk, and there's a nice balance in weapon discovery, so you're not getting new things too quickly or going for long stretches without something new. It also finds a balance in pleasing genre purists and those looking for an experience that's not intimidating. You can always see a recommended path, so you're never lost, but at the same time, you can turn off feature and find everything on your own, including alternate ways to reach the objective faster. The title doesn't seem to heavily favor one approach over the other, but it serves both sides rather well.

At the same time, there are parts that could've been done better. Reappearing enemies are just as much a part of the Metroidvania formula as backtracking, but it can get annoying to enter rooms where you're immediately overtaken by enemy fire over and over again. Also, the game doesn't seem to make a big deal out of bosses. They generally come with a nice scene introducing their arrival, but considering the ease with which they can be defeated, you'd be forgiven for not taking them seriously.

Once you've completed the campaign, you have Proving Grounds. Set as time trials, they're a bunch of similarly themed challenge levels that are reminiscent of the VR missions in Metal Gear Solid. Everything from jumping to platforming and basic combat are explored here, and your completion times have associated medal rankings to judge how well you did. You don't get anything extra for completing the challenge levels, but they provide additional game content before you decide to move on to another title.

Graphically, you're certainly getting an improvement over the original. The resolution has jumped to full 1080p, and the frame rate now holds steady at 60fps all the time. Lighting has also seen some improvements, but don't expect a night-and-day difference in this regard when compared to the original. Beyond that, everything else remains the same. The level of zoom employed by the camera makes the environments look great while the characters seem to be very well done. Once it zooms in, though, you'll see that the faces are pretty basic, and some of the animations are rather stiff. What's here is fine, but since this is a remastered version of an older title, I expected more bells and whistles.

Unlike the graphics, the sound has received no change at all. The music still has a subdued action movie vibe that's more along the lines of a political thriller, not a guns-blazing rock extravaganza. The voice cast puts in a fine performance, and even though some of the lines sound a bit hokey, the whole thing is solid. What doesn't work is how the quality of the voice samples wavers. Sometimes the lines come out nice and crisp. Other times, especially early on above ground, you get samples that sound like they've been compressed too much or have a tin can echo. This was present in the original as well, and it's sad to see that there wasn't much care taken to clean this up.

As stated earlier, the best thing about this release is that the series is now on a non-Microsoft platform, so those without an Xbox have the chance to see what all of the fuss is about. Xbox One owners have had the original version of this title available via backward compatibility for some time. Comparing the two, the only real differences are a more fluid frame rate, a resolution bump, and a set of Achievements leading to 100 Gamerscore instead of the original's 200. Both the Xbox 360 version and this one retail at the same price, so those who are coming in fresh have no reason to go after the original versus the remastered version. Longtime fans, however, have no reason to purchase this version unless they want the best possible iteration or want those Achievements.

Shadow Complex Remastered remains a fun title. The gameplay remains faithful to the Metroidvania formula, warts and all, while the addition of partial 3-D fighting makes it feel fresh compared to its contemporaries. It comes in at a good length and has some nice time trial challenges to give it more legs once the various campaign endings have been exhausted. It could've used some more improvements in the presentation section, but genre fans will enjoy this title while holding out hope that someday, Chair will finally develop a sequel.

Score: 8.0/10

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