If there’s one trend that I’ve loved during this generation, it’s that 2D gaming has come back into the fold after being written off the past two generations. More and more companies seem to be open to the idea of creating a fun old-school title while giving it a new school look. The exploration/platformer isn’t one of these genres, at least when it comes to the consoles. No, Metroid and Castlevania have gone the 3D route with only the former having positive results. Chair Entertainment of all development studios has decided that it’s time for this genre to make a comeback by releasing Shadow Complex onto Xbox Live Arcade. Chair isn’t a complete stranger to the 2D realm as their previous work, Undertow, also tested those waters. . .to mixed results. That game wound up costing 360 owners nothing. This one’s $15, one of the highest priced new titles out there. Does it stack up to the classics of yesteryear and forge its own place in the exploration genre?
Upon first glance, you can see that Chair has no problem whatsoever borrowing heavily from the Super Metroid playbook. You start off by controlling a soldier in a nearly fully-powered suit. You’ve got access to missiles, grenades, a thrust pack, and a boss fight in the middle of a city street against a helicopter. You’ll notice that not only will you have to deal with enemies to your left and right, but there will also be targets in the background that you can’t access. I hope you enjoy this tutorial in disguise as you’ll soon be playing as a guy that has access to absolutely none of that stuff. . .at least for awhile.
Jason Fleming, our makeshift hero and his girlfriend stumble upon a secret industrial complex in the mountains. It isn’t long after that his girl is taken captive and he’s left to uncover whatever wrongdoings are taking place within here. Even though this game is based on a novel entitled "Empire", the game itself doesn’t really go into too much detail about it. I find that to be a blessing in disguise as there aren’t too many gameplay breaks once you get past the opening sequence. That means that the game and its map are open for you to explore without constantly being interrupted.
There’s a lot to explore for in here, too. Much like Metroid, you can go from point A to point B without too much trouble, but you’re not going to be seeing all the game has to offer if you play it like that. Jason comes equipped with a flashlight that allows him to reveal hidden areas that he can access, pending he has acquired the right upgrades at the time. These range from yellow doors and grates that can simply be shot at to red ones that require missiles to be opened. You can bet that there are plenty of items hidden within these nooks and crannies, and I found that many were hidden quite well.
Another thing that this game does well is that the areas themselves are varied up enough so that you’re not just traveling through similar looking gray hallways all throughout the game. No, along with the factory type areas are caves, underwater sections, and the cliffs that your journey begins at. It’s a fairly large map, too, one that took me a good seven hours to complete my first time through. The exploration aspect is clearly in full force here, and it’s the highlight of the game.
Shadow Complex isn’t perfect, however. The aiming, mainly when you have to shoot at enemies in the background can truly be annoying at times. Sometimes, it will take Jason forever and a day to take care of them. On other occasions, you’ll find that it’s easy to shoot those distant targets when you’d rather be taking out the ones standing right next to you chipping away at your health.
Also, many of the enemies and bosses scream generic. In fact, the regular boss battles are truly some of the most boring encounters I can think of. Since Shadow Complex doesn’t have a myriad of attacking upgrades, it finds you more or less shooting at targets with grenades or missiles for the most part. There’s usually one safe spot that your character can find rather quickly and just blow them all away. The worst of these is a boss that’s literally a spinning wheel. It will take most gamers a whopping ten seconds to find that it never changes up its pattern whatsoever, allowing you to quickly find a particular spot to stand and shoot from. Luckily, this isn’t a game breaking flaw, but it definitely keeps it from reaching the levels of previous Metroid and Castlevania titles.
What you have here is a game that does its best to emulate the successful formula that Metroid established, and for the most part, it succeeds. It looks well, it plays well, and that makes it a nicely made title in a year where there haven’t been too many for the 360. By going for 100% with the achievements in this game, you’re going to get about 20 hours out of it. If you just care about an 100% run, it will only be a 5-10 hour run total. Either way, that’s a decent amount of gameplay for a decent price. Shadow Complex may not be the greatest game of the year, but it’s certainly a good one, and one that I would recommend you try.