How do you review an XBLA game that doesn’t feel like an XBLA game? When playing through Epic and Chair’s newest offering, Shadow Complex, it was easy to forget that it was simply a downloadable arcade game. The game feels like a large production and something that you would pick up at a retail store. Regardless of how you ultimately feel about the game, Shadow Complex will blow away any preconception you had about what an XBLA game could be.
Shadow Complex has something that XBLA games rarely do, a story. While it certainly won’t win any awards for it, the plot of Shadow Complex is certainly solid and interesting all the way through. You play as a guy who recently picked up a chick at a bar. For your first date, you decide to go exploring the wilderness with her. While in the forest, you stumble upon a gigantic underground structure full of firepower and intrigue. Something sinister is going on, and throughout the game, you’ll unravel the mystery. Much of the story is told through voiced full 3D cut scenes, a rarity for games like this.
Anyone who’s played Super Metroid or any of the Castlevania games will be right at home with Shadow Complex. The developers were clearly inspired by these games, as the game is basically a huge 3D homage. The entire game takes place in one giant lair that you explore your way through. A map that can be pulled up at anytime will show you what rooms you’ve explored, which still hold secrets and which you haven’t been in yet. By taking some time and exploring around, you can find power-ups and upgrades that will help you in your quest. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock more powers and guns, some of which pack some serious muscle.
Instead of simply being a throwback to these 2D classics, though, Shadow Complex brings a lot of new stuff to the table. The graphics are in 3D from a 2D perspective. It really adds a lot of depth to the game and makes it come alive, but doesn’t sacrifice what made these sidescrollers so fun in the first place. Combat is really fun and dare I say, inventive. Instead of simply shooting in two dimensions, you can shoot in a 3D plane. Enemies can be deep into the room instead of being in front or behind you, adding a nice twist. There is certainly a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.
Shadow Complex is an incredibly solid game that could fetch $30-40 as a retail copy. While it isn’t the longest game out there (you should be able to complete the game in under 8 hours), the fact that it’s a mere $15 makes the game a must-buy for any 360 owner. With titles like Shadow Complex and Braid, XBLA has been quickly shifting from a place for retro ports to a showcase for some of the best indie and labor-of-love projects in the gaming industry.
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360