Saturday, February 18, 2012

Shadow Complex Review: Old School, Meet New School

Old School Meets New School

Shadow Complex is a side scrolling shooter with 3D graphics that focuses heavily on map exploration and character progression. This is the game that, as you likely have heard a multitude of times recently, is a downloadable game in the vein of Super Metroid (and a few others). Some go so far as to say this game is a Metroid clone. Either way you look at it, it's definitely very similar. However, for the purposes of this review, I am going to forget Super Metroid et al., and focus merely on this game and its merits. This will be a fairly lengthy review, and I will do my best to describe in detaii what you can expect from this game.

Graphics: 10/10

Rendered in 3D using the Unreal III engine, this game is remarkably detailed. If I had seen games like this and Bionic Commando: Rearmed during the 16bit era, I would have died of shock. The game is rendered in a realistic style; aesthetically, it resembles the Gears of War games (which use the same engine). Your character is equipped with a flashlight, and using this is visually impressive even after playing. this game for 12 hours, as the lighting effects are very well done, and it adds a really nice touch to the overall look of the game. Objects in the background are as detailed as those in the foreground, and your character is modelled very nicely as well, leaving the gamer with a very impressive looking side scrolling game that is sure to impress anyone that sees it.

Yes, the game is beautiful.

Gameplay: 10/10

You run left to right, you climb, wall jump, crawl through hidden passages and ventilation shafts, and destroy rocks, doors, and other obstacles that block your path with either grenades, missles, or foam grenades (more on those in a second) depending on the color of the door. You also do a fair amount of shooting. Basically, the game has you exploring a large map, unlocking sections of it as you go, and along the way you do a fair amount of shooting. There are a few bosses scattered throughout, although they aren't particularly remarkable, and are probably this games one small weakness. They're also not terribly difficult, which may be a plus or negative, depending on what kind of gamer you are.

As I mentioned earlier, your character progresses through the game, and this is done both through earned experience and collecting powerups and weapons. The powerups you collect increase things like health, accuracy, thrusters, armor, and carrying capacity for grenades and such. The coolest item you get has to be the foam grenades. These things freeze enemies, which is cool, and can provide some breathing room when needed, but more importantly, they help you traverse the map as you can build ledges and bridges with it, as well as make your own cover. How cool is that? Another cool upgrade is the hookshot, which acts as a grappling hook, allowing you to grab onto faraway ledges and pull your self up to them. You can also grapple onto ceiiings and travel across them if you wish.

The game progresses linearly through an optional waypoint and a blue line that traces the way to go when you call up the map screen, although you are given the absulute freedom, and encouraged to, explore off the beaten path, which nets you items, experience and extra fun, as you encounter some cool hidden areas that require a bit of work to uncover in some instances.

As for the shooting, it's not like the games of old. You don't shoot in the direction you are traveling via a button press. You shoot like you would in any modern 3D shooter: the right analog stick to aim, and the R trigger to fire. This works very well, and gives you total freedom of movement, allowing you to fire in all directions while moving, and emphasis is even placed on headsots, again like most 3rd and 1st person shooters. They only hitch here is that it takes a bit f time to get used to shooting into the background. You see, this game lets you shoot along the Z axis as well as the traditional X and Y axises, so you can actually shoot into the background, instaed of just on the traditional 2D plane. It's pretty easy after you level up your character some, earning increased accuracy, although most of the initial trouble you may experience is just unfamiliarity. Give it time, and it becomes pretty straightforward.

Story: 3/10:

Unremarkable, but who's playing this for the story? Suffice it to say that you are a one man army unwittingly caught up in a conspiracy and now find yourself fighting through and around an underground facility. You are also trying to rescue your girlfriend (of course). Not very original, and not very compelling. It unfolds through cutscenes, which you encounter on an infrequent basis These cutscenes are not too long, which is probably a good thing, since the story is so thin. Your character displays little emotion, and ends up coming across as a little by the numbers in most of these scenes.

Sound: 7/10

There's not much music and most of it is not particularly memorable, which, for a game that has you alone in remote areas, could be sign asa small downside. Everything else is clear and represents what it should. Guns sound nice, as do explosions and NPC voices. No issues there, although I am not an audiophile, so I don't have super high standards when it comes to sound. There's nothing grating, I can say that. The voice acting is acceptable, although, again, your character is pretty flat and emotionless.

Replayability: 10/10

The achievements encourage repeated playthroughs, as do the in game challenges, some of which are quite difficult (beat the game in under 2 hours on insane with 100% of items for example). There is also a special challenges are called the Proving Grounds, in which you complete challenges in sectios of the map. There are 30 or so of those, and they are playable from the main menu. A first time playthrough on Normal should take somewhere between 6 and 10 hours, depending on how much exploration you do. I have heard some beat it in 4 hours. Others (including myself, took more than 12.

Overall: 10/10

Yes, a 10. For what it is, this game is incredible. A 3D, side scrolling metrodivania game with excellent visuals, a unique and engaging shooting system, great design and attention to detail, and lots of replay value. This game has brought me back to the 2D era, and has sucked me right in. I felt like a kid again when I first played this, and every time I play it I feel it all over again.

This game really is that good, especially if you grew up playing games similar to this. This is an excellently designed throwback with enough modern flair to keep gamers of all ages entertained, and it's only 15 dollars. There's no reason not to try the free trial, and see how you like it. You might find one of the most fun gaming experiences in years. Yes, years.

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