Shadow Complex Remastered Review: The Metroidvania Complex
The burgeoning PC game-library/storefront platform war has just had a new contender enter the fray with the likes of Epic Games. In a market dominated by some hugely successful and very prominent names such as Steam and Origin, it seems very hard to make yourself known as a newcomer. One way of getting some attention would be to release the PC HD-remake of one of the most highly revered and coveted games from the last generation of consoles, for free. Which is exactly what Epic Games did over the holidays with the release of Chair Studio’s Shadow Complex Remastered.
The original Shadow Complex was released for Xbox Live Arcade in 2009 and was hugely successful, both critically and commercially. The game was revered for it’s fun gameplay, impressive graphics and for its fresh take on a familiar genre. Ever since then, fans have been begging for more, and while this may not be a sequel like some had been hoping for, it’s a perfect opportunity to revisit a fantastic game.
For those that don’t know, Shadow Complex is a side-scrolling, metroidvania-inspired, adventure game with a cool modern-day, military sci-fi aesthetic. Think Metal Gear flavoured Super Metroid. The game is built using full 3D environments, however the player is limited to 2D, sidescrolling movement and platforming. This interesting dynamic makes for some really great gameplay moments as enemies are able to move throughout the 3D environment while players must make use of perspective and assisted aiming to take them out.
When it came to the gameplay design of Shadow Complex, it almost feels as though Chair got together and compiled a list of things they like to do in games and things they don’t, then used that as their design document. I say this because Shadow Complex is a game that is about constantly moving forward and having fun whilst shunning a lot of the standard tropes of modern games that can slow things down or make playing the game a chore. For example, there’s no need to worry about ammunition or other resource management issues as the guns have unlimited ammo and health packs are abundant. This is but one example of the many ways Shadow Complex streamlines traditional gameplay tropes in favor of pure fun.
The main gameplay loop involves navigating through this secret military facility, guided by an ever-present marker on your map that leads you from one narrative-based objective to the other. Along the way you’ll fight enemies, overcome platforming challenges, solve simple puzzles and blow stuff up. More often than not, these objectives will lead to a new ability or some new gear that can be used to go back to areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s a standard formula for the Metroidvania genre, but it’s a formula that only works well if it’s done right – and Shadow Complex does just that.
There are a few reasons why Shadow Complex does the Metroidvania formula so well. The first is that the upgrades are frequent and meaningful. You get a new upgrade every half hour or so and most upgrades give you a real feeling of “This changes everything”. A good example of this is early on in the game when you acquire the jetpack. Seeing it in action really changes your perspective of the game world and you begin to envision new ways of applying your newfound abilities, which expands the scope of the world significantly.
The second reason is that the upgrades and abilities are all really fun to use. Shooting feels great, thanks to the simplified analogue stick controls and the aim assist, whilst the movement and platforming abilities such as the aforementioned jetpack, all control well and are an enjoyable challenge.
One issue that I had with this system is that some (actually most) of the best abilities are hidden away until the final third of the game, leaving you with little time and opportunity to use them. I understand that you don’t want to give players all the best stuff at the beginning of the game and leave the back end full of uninteresting upgrades, but I do think the game would have benefited by slightly altering the ability upgrade path.
The story was written by well-known comicbook writer Peter David, which is quite evident from the game’s narrative and is on par with comicbooks in terms of it’s ridiculousness. The story begins with our protagonist Jason hiking in the forest with Claire, a girl that he met at a bar the night before. The pair soon stumble onto a secret underground private-military facility before Claire is abducted and Jason takes it upon himself to infiltrate the facility to rescue her. You’ll pick up the rest of the story along the way by overhearing conversations and from Jason’s inner monologue, but its all pretty familiar stuff. Evil PMC trying to take over the world, militarised super villain etc.
The narrative may be rather forgettable, but it does set up an interesting world that lends itself to a pretty cool aesthetic design. The facility has a real cohesive, Metal Gear-esque design to it that also provides a great variety of environments to explore. There are also a decent number of different enemy types that populate the facility and they all have a sinister, germ-warfare look to them that reinforces the evil PMC vibe. Not to mention the various awesome-looking robots and mech suits that you’ll encounter along the way in the form of boss-fights. The game looks pretty damn nice in motion thanks to the Unreal 3 Engine, however some textures and most character models look downright bad when the camera gets in close for cutscenes.
Speaking of boss fights, another issue that I had lies with the few boss encounters littered throughout the game. With one specific exception, all of these encounters boil down to a simple routine of “dodge the projectile, shoot the boss”. On normal difficulty, the game puts up very little resistance, which makes boss enemies harmless bullet sponges, sometimes with a very obvious and simple puzzle mechanic thrown in. So here’s some advice to you the reader: if you're looking for a challenge, don’t play on normal difficulty.
Hidden throughout the world are a multitude of collectibles for you to track down and find. Collectibles include health and ammo capacity upgrades, as well as a few non-gameplay specific items. Most of these will require one ability upgrade or another in order to get to them, making backtracking and exploring uncharted areas essential to collecting everything.
The game also features the Proving Grounds mode, which is a set of challenges tailored to test your skills with a particular item or ability. These challenges can be quite difficult, however despite the fun I was having using the abilities, I found the game mode to be rather uninteresting after a few runs. New to the Remastered version of Shadow Complex are a number of ‘Master Challenges’ that are designed for the most hardcore players, so those that enjoyed the original and it’s Proving Grounds challenges will have some new content to experience.
If you missed the boat on Shadow Complex when it was first released in 2009, now is a great time to jump in. The combat is great fun, the platforming is challenging and the gameplay loop is really satisfying. It’s a very engaging, no nonsense, five-or-so hour package that is well worth your time. On the other hand, if you’ve played through Shadow Complex before, there’s very little in this ‘Remastered’ version that’s worth experiencing. There are some new achievements tied into the Epic Games Launcher and a few new Master Challenges to test your skills, but that’s it. For me personally, enough time had passed since I’d last played the game that experiencing Shadow Complex again gave me the same feelings of excitement and adventure that I had the first time through, and that was well worth the price of admission.
Final Say: Play It