Shadow Complex Review
Shadow Complex box art
System: X360 (XBLA) Review Rating Legend
Dev: Chair Ent. (Epic Games) 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Microsoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Aug. 19, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
An Instant Classic
by Adam Brown

When it comes to summer there are at least two things you can count on. One is the Summer of Arcade promotion for XBLA games and the other is fireworks. However, this year the two actually closely resembled one another. As with any good fireworks display, the Summer of Arcade started strong to attract interest with 'Splosion Man and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, petered out in the middle a bit with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-shelled, and then finished with a strong finale of Trials HD and Shadow Complex. In my opinion the old saying still holds true here, because it seems as though Microsoft has definitely saved the best for last.

Shadow Complex screenshot

For anyone who doesn't know, which is probably the majority of people, Shadow Complex's story stems from Orson Scott Card's Empire Trilogy of books. The activities that transpire in the game itself actually serve as a tie-in to the second book in the trilogy entitled Hidden Empire, due out later this year. The world of the books and game is a rather bleak one, with extreme liberal and conservative political beliefs polarizing the United States to the point of starting a second Civil War.

Perhaps the best part of the game's story is in the way that it is delivered. The game starts off with you briefly controlling a super-powered soldier who is trying to save the Vice President from a radical faction called the Restoration, which serve as your adversaries throughout the game. This short scene not only introduces you to the abilities and weapons you'll gain access to later in the game, but it also does a great job of letting you know who you're up against and what they're all about.

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Shadow Complex puts you in the role of Jason Fleming, a typical everyman character on a hiking trip with his girlfriend Claire. As the two of you begin to explore your surroundings with nothing more than a flashlight, Claire is grabbed by some Restoration goons in hi-tech military gear, and it is up to you to track her down in the belly of a nearby secret military base and escape in one piece. While this may sound like your standard video game story fare, there are some twists throughout to help keep you interested. Also, while playing as Jason, the game's story is told through an intriguing mix of cutscenes and overheard conversations that gradually pull back the veil on the Restoration's sinister plans. This enlightening eavesdropping is a great delivery method for the story because it not only makes you feel as though you are outsmarting your opponents, but it also keeps your discovery of the storyline feeling more natural and less like you're being beat over the head with the game's narrative.

Shadow Complex screenshot

The game itself is a 2D side-scrolling action game, somewhat similar to a classic Metroid or Castlevania title but with some notable differences. Perhaps the biggest differentiation comes in this game's use of 3D graphics provided by the Unreal Engine 3. While the game is essentially just a 2D side-scroller, all of the game's characters and environments are fully modeled in 3D. This helps to make the game look more realistic and also provides a surprising sense of depth for the game's backgrounds. There's no question that this is rather appealing visually, but it also makes for some rather interesting gameplay elements.

Since the backgrounds are fully modeled rather than just being static 2D images, enemies can actually run around, take cover, and fire at you from these areas. This helps to keep things fresh, since you'll never know if a room is completely devoid of enemies or if a door in the distance might just open and have a group of Restoration soldiers pour out and begin attacking you. However, in order to take out said enemies, you are able to use the right analog stick to aim your weapon, which will actually aim three dimensionally into the background when necessary in order to hit enemies and certain objects. While this is an interesting idea and approach, it is also one of the only real problems with the game.

Shadow Complex screenshot

Screenshots / Images
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