Let me start by saying that Shadow Complex is exactly the kind of game that showcases the strengths of the Xbox 360’s increasingly impressive online services. It joins a rare cadre of download-only titles like Braid, Portal, the Pixeljunk series and World of Goo that can go toe-to-toe with even the major releases and, occasionally, come out on top.
That said, let’s do the bad news first. First of all, the dialogue in Shadow Complex is bad, sometimes laughably so. In some ways that’s not a disappointment, as bad dialogue is a problem inherent in most games. But when the main character says things like, “Why’d you have to be right, Dad?” after a flashback explaining his previous reluctance to hurt/kill people, it’s a little tough to take things too seriously. This is especially ironic as the game then encourages you to go on a blatant homicidal spree.
The second and final complaint, voiced by others before me, Shadow Complex plays a lot like Super Metroid. A lot. Maybe too much. Is that a bad thing? Not really, but it is a bit awkward for some reason. In a way, it’s like reading your friend’s screenplay only to discover that it reads an awful lot like Braveheart. In any event, Super Metroid came out about 15 years ago and if it had to be imitated, Shadow Complex does a damn fine job of it.
Now for the good stuff. Shadow Complex is amazing and if you play games at all you’d be an idiot not to give it a spin. The story follows unlikely protagonist Jason Flemming and his new girlfriend Claire as the two discover a secret underground military complex that seems to pose a serious threat to the good ol’ U.S.A. Jason goes in with nothing more than a flashlight, some climbing gear and the ability to jump seven feet straight up in the air. But pretty soon he’s a virtual one-man army complete with an Iron Man-esque suit, jetpack and wrist-mounted rocket launcher.
The upside to this is that even though the game requires a ton of backtracking, it always feels fresh. It’s an entirely different experience when you sneak through a heavily-guarded area with nothing more than a handgun as opposed to barreling through the same area two hours later not unlike a walking tank.
The graphics are beautiful and the level design does a good job of complementing them. Through the course of the adventure you’ll run across grassy meadows, scale rocky cliffs, swim through an underground lake and battle enemies throughout the mysterious facility.
The action is fast-paced and fluid and the weapons, with lots of creative ways that you can choose to employ them (or not), really contribute to the overall experience. Exploration is encouraged through a ton of hidden power-ups as well as a dynamic discovery-based leveling structure, where increased attributes are rewarded based on map completion.
For the asking price of $15, Shadow Complex is worth every penny.