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Shadow Complex was originally released as an Xbox Live Arcade game back in 2009. Back then it was one of those games that peaked my interest so I bought it but never beat it. I only got so far before moving on. The Remastered version was released on PC for free back in December 2015 for about a month and it eventually came to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. I recently played through the Remastered version on Steam and since I don’t really remember much of the original game I couldn’t tell you what gameplay changes were made, if any. But from what I researched, not much. Shadow Complex is a ”Metroidvania” style game where you explore a large facility and need to obtain weapons and upgrades to progress through previously inaccessible areas. It’s actually quite impressive for what was originally an Xbox Live Arcade game.
The game starts you in a tutorial area as an unnamed soldier already engaged in battle in an attempt to save the Vice President. After this we meet the main character, Jason Fleming. Him and his girlfriend Claire are backpacking in the mountains and they come across some caverns. Claire decides to explore and is kidnapped by soldiers and brought into this massive high-tech underground complex. As Jason navigates through the complex in an effort to find her he learns that the complex is run by a secret militant group with plans to attack the United States. So now Jason has to rescue his girlfriend and save the country. The story is told through brief cutscenes here and there along with some dialogue you’ll hear among the soldiers. Jason sounds exactly like Nathan Drake so sometimes I felt like I was playing a side-scrolling Uncharted game. Nolan North does a great job voicing Jason but the rest of the voice acting is just sub-par.
Like I said before, this is a “Metroidvania” style game. You’ll navigate through areas, exploring, and looking for items and upgrades to progress. You start out with a flashlight which is used to light up dark areas and reveal color-coded objects. For example, orange objects like vents and flooring can be shot and green objects like rocks require grenades to blow them up. Because you’ll frequently encounter areas you can’t progress through yet, there will be a lot of backtracking which isn’t something new for this type of game. Early on you find Claire’s climbing gear which enables you to wall jump and grab on to ledges, things you’ll be doing often. The first weapon you obtain is a pistol but you’ll eventually find a sub-machine gun, assault rifle, coil rifle, and a shotgun-like tech weapon called the Inertial Element. You don’t actually carry all of the guns so once you find one you’re stuck with it until you find a better one. I should also mention the guns have infinite ammunition so you’ll never have to worry about finding ammo. You’ll also acquire secondary weapons like grenades for blowing stuff up, foam for freezing enemies and destroying equipment, and missiles for penetrating doors and dealing heavy damage. The secondary weapons do consume ammunition but you can find packs to increase the ammo counts.
There’s also equipment to find like a thrust pack which is enables you to perform a double-jump and a mask for breathing underwater. Then there’s high-tech armor that can be upgraded further with things like a friction dampener for running at hyperspeed, thrust boots to perform a triple jump, and a fusion helmet that creates a barrier around Jason for blocking projectiles when walking slowly or standing still. To even access the fusion helmet you’re required to find all twelve keycard components hidden throughout the complex which can be a pain. Once you obtain the armor it gives you the ability to perform a ground pound which I found pretty useless considering the rest of your arsenal is more effective. Although it does work pretty well against dudes with shields. Towards the end of the game you obtain a hookshot which can latch on to most surfaces allowing you to navigate areas much easier.
But there’s more. As you explore the complex you gain XP for leveling up and each level grants you rewards like increased precision, accuracy, and stamina. I don’t know what the real difference between precision and accuracy is in this game but over time I did notice it became much easier to pick guys off. When you hit level 20 you will automatically unlock the full map and every ten levels afterwards grants you infinite ammo for one of your secondary weapons. Hidden throughout the environments are upgrades like increased health and armor, grenade packs, foam packs, and missile packs. Let’s not forget the twelve gold bars. Finding all of these unlocks a neat little secret which I won’t spoil. The leveling up and all of the upgrades create a great sense of progression making you feel like a real badass.
As you progress through the complex you reveal more of the map and you can also access terminals that reveal specific sections of the map for you. Question marks on the map indicate a hidden item, stars are save spots, and you can turn on a blue line that tells you where to go to get to your next objective which is actually a nice feature. The areas within the facility are diverse but fit the high-tech theme. You’ll start the quest outdoors and in the caverns eventually making your way through laboratories and factories. You’ll shoot and climb your way through vents, tunnels, corridors, and even underwater areas. There’s a few different enemy types and they all wear armor and pretty much look the same. They sort of look like the new Robocop. You can sneak through some areas undetected but you’ll primarily be shooting your way through the game. There’s no real melee system but if you get close enough to an enemy you can tap a button to perform an instant melee kill. Even though this is a sidescroller enemies can still come from the background. The game will automatically aim into the background for you but only when there’s something to shoot. This can be a hit or miss because many times I would be trying to shoot dudes in front of me but the game decided I need to aim at guys coming from the background. It’s just annoying. Many times you’re going to be getting shot at by enemies off screen which can feel cheap since you can’t see them. I just found that blind firing until the bullets stopped coming was the best way to deal with it, especially if I was low on health. I used an Xbox One controller for most of my playthrough but did briefly try the keyboard and mouse combination which actually works quite well. If you’re using a controller you move with the left stick, aim your gun with the right stick, and shoot with the right trigger. It took me a bit to get used to but once I got the hang of it, aiming and shooting became second nature.
When you enter a room full of soldiers, they’re either patrolling or standing around and once they get wind of you they all start shooting. Now I didn’t find them to be too bright. I mean sometimes I could melee kill a soldier and the other guy five feet away couldn’t hear a thing. You’ll be using your flashlight a lot and I find it amazing that even though your crouching to sneak up on an enemy, they can’t see light coming from behind them. Also, you’ll always be shooting through vents, flooring, and ceilings, before entering a room full of soldiers. And they can’t hear all that noise? Now there’s four difficulty modes; casual, normal, hardcore, and insane. I played on hardcore and didn’t find the game too easy but some areas did require repeat attempts. Staying out in the open too long will result in your death so taking cover is essential. There is no snap-to-cover system so instead you just crouch and get behind something. Some objects are breakable so you’ll be forced to think on your feet every now and again, or if you’re like me you’ll just die and have to try again. There are several boss encounters and most of the bosses are these giant robotic things with only a few attacks so they’re not really too hard to take down.
Other than the story mode there’s a Proving Grounds mode. This mode is a series of challenges to complete enabling you to set a high score. They include trial and error scenarios like making it across a large gap, jumping across platforms, hooking onto walls and shooting missiles into nodes, things like that. It’s basically a test of your skills from the main game.
Shadow Complex Remastered does have improved visuals and even supports 4K resolutions but it’s still a seven year old game. There is some good texture work going on and great depth of field effects but look at some of the character models up close and you can see the game showing its age. It ran smooth maxed out on my PC and I didn’t notice any technical issues or experience any crashes. I didn’t notice any screen tearing or dips in framerate.
For a game that was released as an Xbox Live Arcade game it packs a decent amount of content. It took me about five hours to beat the campaign and that’s without collecting everything. Even with the somewhat broken aiming system I still had a good time. The story is predictable but that’s not why you would play this. It really all depends how much you like this style of gameplay. If you like to explore, shoot shit, and backtrack then you’ll probably enjoy Shadow Complex. Do I think it’s better than Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night? No. Maybe it’s because those games were groundbreaking or maybe it’s because of nostalgia but there’s nothing in Shadow Complex that you haven’t seen before. It’s still a fun game and for fifteen bucks it’s definitely worth it.