Review | Shadow Complex
Format: Xbox360 | Genre: Side-scrolling action | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio | Developer: Chair/EPIC | Release date: 19/08/09 | RRP: 1200MSP
By Daniel Lipscombe
Chair are, or should I say were, a team of little-known developers, known only for the creation of Undertow for Xbox Live Arcade.
It was an underwater diving game that wasn’t overly special, to the point where Microsoft gave it away to gamers as an apology for broken Xbox Live service. So you can be forgiven for drawing a blank on this small, Utah based-company until now. One thing you need to know about them is that they have great ambition – ambition that has now created a marriage of minds between themselves and EPIC Games.
Shortly after Chair opened their doors in 2005, they acquired the rights to the Empire property – a series of books by Orson Scott Card – and they’ve sat on those rights until today. Taking the form of a 2D/3D platforming shooter that lives on the same blood that pumps through Castlevania and Metroid, Shadow Complex runs alongside the story of the Empire books.
Though cosmetically a side-scrolling shooter, Shadow Complex may be better described as a side-scrolling adventure game. The heart and soul of this new property is in exploration and story, and Shadow Complex delivers a narrative and characters that most games yearn to create. It’s not just in the way they look, but in the nuances of their speech and the emotions they convey. Jason, our hero, is an everyday man with a military background, his girlfriend Claire a playful and charming woman. Each has real substance to their character.
//It’s in the eyes
With terrific visuals that would fool anyone who didn’t know it were a mere 700mb downloadable game, and voice acting that conveys emotion as well as any movie that springs to mind, Shadow Complex makes you feel part of something special from the opening scene. However, it’s not merely the characters that make this game so involving; it’s the environments and atmosphere. Each area is thoughtfully designed, with spaced-out cover for evading bullets, vast underwater sections with ambient lighting filtering down to the bottom, and epic boss battles that could have been extracted from the latest Hollywood blockbuster. There are regular moments at which you’ll find yourself mouth agape at the scenery and its detail.
Action sequences are filled with tension, whether you’re ensuring you’re under cover while storming a room full of soldiers, or running at breakneck speeds across the surface of a lake while timing your jumps so as not to be shot by a gunship helicopter. Each of these sections has been crafted with precision, in order to deliver an adventure worthy of the pre-release hype.
Throughout the entire game the influence of Super Metroid and other side-scrolling games is apparent, but there’s a flavour of Hideo Kojima’s work here too. Many instances would feel at home in Metal Gear Solid – moments like crawling through air ducts over a cafeteria full of Progressive Restoration soldiers chatting over lunch. In fact, even the bosses are reminiscent of Metal Gear’s – large bipedal robots that tower over regular men, with you searching for and taking advantage of weak spots to put the mechanical beasts to rest.
All of this action and drama takes place in a complex set out in the wilderness. After falling behind on a hiking trip with Claire, Jason hurries through a cavern-based tutorial to find his girlfriend being dragged into what looks like an army base by two soldiers in hi-tech suits. Jason breaks into the base to rescue Claire, and an epic story unfolds from there. Tasked with escaping from the base, Jason explores every nook and cranny for equipment to help on his mission, quickly finding his own power suit, the Omega armour.
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