Let me preface this review by saying one thing: while I enjoy 2D Metroid style games, I can only play them so long before getting lost, frustrated, bored, or all of the above. That said, I also have to say, I am head-over-heels in love with Shadow Complex because the game makes exploration and backtracking actually exciting and rewarding.
Shadow Complex starts players off taking control of Jason, who might as well be called Nathan Drake considering Nolan North (the voice of Drake in Uncharted) lends his voice to this character too. As expected, things aren’t going so smoothly with Jason and his newly found lady-friend as she gets kidnapped on what was supposed to be a fun hike in some caves. A sinister story unfolds with bad men in masks and as predicted, Jason is tasked with saving the girl and figuring out just what the heck he landed in the middle of.
The perspective in Shadow Complex is something that may take a few minutes to get used to. The game looks 3D with its rich foregrounds and backgrounds but moves like a 2D game. I kept trying to head down paths in the background to follow enemies. Unlike a typical 2D side-scroller, enemies don’t just appear on both sides of the screen, but also at the top, bottom, and even in the background.
Luckily, the enemies are easy to shoot at thanks to the targeting system in this game. Weapons will auto-lock onto most enemies, but moving the right analog stick will manually aim a tracer from the weapon. Manually aiming comes in handy when trying to pick off enemies hanging out on platforms or in the background as well as targeting specific body parts. Yes, head shots also work.
Weapons and upgrades are introduced at a logical pace without overwhelming the player. Despite the amount of backtracking in the game, it never feels like a chore because there’s always a new toy to play with, a new route to open or a proverbial carrot at the end of the stick. In the later half of the game, when cooler and cooler upgrades get picked up, controlling Jason gets more exhilarating as he gets closer and closer to being practically invincible. One thing the game does well is not make older upgrades seem obsolete. Each upgrade has a time and place.
As players progress through the game, the care the artists put into each area becomes apparent. The different locales such as the cold, sterile interiors feel so distinct from the lush, sunny exteriors. The under-water sections feel like they’re actually underwater and the floating debris scattered throughout lends extra realism to the water.
Model animations are also gorgeous. I couldn’t help but stare and laugh the first time an enemy I shot down dangled from a balcony only to fall screaming to his death a few seconds later. When I noticed that Jason does a slide when he quickly switches directions while running, I knew that special care was given to this game.
In terms of game-play, it’s been a while since I played a 2D game that was this satisfying. Shadow Complex lets players run into a room, guns blazing if they’re fearless. If players lean more toward the Metal Gear Solid type of tactics, it’s also possible to sneak up to enemies and perform a bone-crunching melee finisher. Towards the later half of the game, the amount of weapons and projectiles available made disposing of enemies like an all-you-can eat buffet: options galore!
Although most of the game is straight-forward, Shadow Complex throws in a handful of fairly easy puzzles. They are logical enough that players shouldn’t get boggled down too much. The few times I did get stuck, it was because I overlooked something obvious in the room or forgot to use my flashlight. I especially enjoyed the little tricks the designers put in to deal with rooms full of enemies. Here’s a hint: plumbing + grenade.
For the amount of polish put into Shadow Complex, I expected boss fights to be nothing short of fantastic. They don’t disappoint. They’re not the hardest or trickiest fights (I’d like to give Castlevania that award) but they’re distinct, rewarding and the fireworks that come out of a defeated boss are certainly very satisfying.
Some may say that Shadow Complex is a short game, but I think its length is perfect. There isn’t a lot of filler, so things don’t get repetitive. The achievements that pop up throughout the game gives a sense of accomplishment and for those who are big achievement-mongers, there are tons to unlock in subsequent play-throughs, as well as leaderboards for speed runs and completionists.
In the end, Shadow Complex is a highly entertaining, aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable game. The range of difficulty settings caters to players of all levels. Its high production values, rewarding gameplay, and replayability makes it an absolute steal at $15 on the Xbox Marketplace.