Shadow Complex // XBLA
November 3, 2009
It’s games like Shadow Complex that finally persuaded me to take the hit and buy Microsoft’s console again. Although I’m not a fan of huge Xbox exclusives such as Gears Of War and the Halo franchise, I recognise that the Xbox Live service is possibly the best download platform of any of the current crop of consoles. Having read about the likes of Shadow Complex, ‘Splosion Man, Lucidity and Axel & Pixel (review coming soon), I was eager to start filling up my hard drive with some snack-sized gaming.
Shadow Complex, however, turned out to a full-blown meal. Combining the gameplay mechanics of old-school side-scrolling shooters with the polished visuals of today, Shadow Complex is absorbing and throwaway in the same breath. A range of powerups, each more destructive than the last, provide cheap relief, as uniformed soldiers crumple from your well-judged headshots or fly from the force of a hastily deployed missile.
Although I’m aware I make this comparison a lot, Shadow Complex is a direct descendant of the Metroid school of gaming, this time from the 16-bit version, Super Metroid. Progress is barred by colour-coded doors which are opened using a particular power-up – red doors can only be blasted open by missiles for example, whilst barriers of a green hue can be blown apart by grenades, an early power-up. Other items increase the performance of your Omega Suit, an armoured exoskeleton (sound familiar?) that can be upgraded to give you a hook shot, boot thrusters and, my favourite, the Friction Dampener. Each new skill opens up new areas of the map, which slowly lights up as you uncover it’s secrets The (admittedly paper-thin) plot unfolds alongside this progression, and the pale blue line (which can be turned off for those who don’t want the help) shows the path to the next objective. Frustration from not knowing what do next never rears it’s ugly head.
The 2.5D environment can sometimes throw up anomalies however – it can be fiddly to target enemies that are firing at you from the background, and you are often given the option to punch an assailant who doesn’t appear to be close to you at all. There are some difficulty spikes also – some bosses require rapid cycling through your secondary fire weapons, which can be cumbersome considering this function is mapped to the D-pad. And the save points, whilst fairly liberal, can still have a nasty habit of dumping you back in a mess of enemies each time you die, resulting in a few more unnecessary deaths.
These are minor gripes though. Shadow Complex gets much more right than it does wrong, and clocking in at just over 7 hours for a full playthrough, provides as much entertainment as some full retail releases. As technology improves, hard drives expand, and broadband gets ever faster, substantial download packages like this will become the norm. XBLA, PSN and WiiWare could well become the first places to which we turn for premium gaming experiences; the era of high street purchasing could be nearing it’s end. Shadow Complex, while not perhaps any kind of nail in the coffin, could certainly be counted as the faintest ringing of a death knell for retail videogames. If the quality of all subsequent downloads can match the high standards set by Chair Entertainment’s nostalgic shooter, we are unlikely to mourn their passing.