“Just how big is this place?”
As Jason Fleming uttered those words from the top of a big industrial elevator, my imagination ran wild. “Is this the guy from Uncharted?” I thought. “I mean, his face isn’t really like the guy from Uncharted, but his shirt and backpack are kind of similar. And isn’t that the same voice actor?”
After I dismissed that train of thought, I realized how excited I was to be playing Shadow Complex Remastered. Ahead there stood danger, discovery, and a great adventure full of possibility. Even in those early moments of the game, I could tell that I was in for one hell of a ride.
Originally released on Xbox Live in 2009, Shadow Complex is a side-scrolling action-adventure game, featuring exploration and a weapon/upgrade system that fits it snugly into the Metroidvania subgenre. Players take the role of Nathan Drake Jason Fleming as he and his girlfriend Claire go out to hike on a beautiful sunny day. Before they can get far, Claire is kidnapped by mysterious masked men. When Jason sees her being violently interrogated on camera, he springs into action. Soon thereafter, he discovers a giant underground base, crawling with soldiers and massive mechanical weapons.
Shadow Complex Remastered features a 3D aesthetic, but is explored entirely in 2D, though with a few twists. Enemies will sometimes attack from the background, and can be engaged just like those that attack from the sides. There are also a few turret sections and boss fights that make use of the third dimension. The 2D movement in a 3D world usually works very well, but can be occasionally disorienting, particularly in large areas with lots of platforms and hallways.
As players explore the world they will discover new weapons, armor, and utility items which serve to unlock new areas and allow further exploration. There are plenty of secret areas to uncover and hidden upgrades to unlock. There’s also a nice variety of enemies encountered throughout the game, and they can be battled in a number of ways.
Gunplay makes up the core foundation of Shadow Complex’s combat, but instant melee-kills provide a slick option for players, as do powerful grenades and missiles. Ammo is unlimited in Shadow Complex, while consumable weapons are easy to restock, giving players a great deal of freedom in how they play. There are often ways to make use of the environment as well; players will need to use cover to survive heavy firefights, while explosive barrels, and even explosive enemies can be exploited to the player’s advantage.
At times, combat can be a little unpredictable, as enemies are targeted by a combination of free-aiming and auto-aiming. This usually works fine, though sometimes it’s a pain to target the enemies that are in the background. When the auto-aim fails, you can try to free-aim, but sometimes Jason simply refuses to point his gun at the background. I found myself fumbling with the aim, constantly readjusting and over-correcting like a grandfather who hadn’t touched a video game controller since Pac-Man on the 2600.
Bosses are usually big mechanical monstrosities, and make for some well-crafted fights. Each boss is visually imposing, offering intense moments of action that stand out and liven on pace. Often, Jason can make creative use of his weapons and environment to take down the big baddies. Conversely, I found that the bosses—on normal difficulty—were sometimes easier than the waves of enemies leading up to them. This made a few of the battles slightly anticlimactic from a mechanical standpoint.
Shadow Complex’s story is directly inspired by and runs parallel to The Empire novels by Orson Scott Card. Despite its literary inspiration, the storytelling and dialogue are often cheesy, and elements of the plot are infeasible. The game was even scripted by famous comic and TV writer Peter David.
…Okay, maybe I’m using the term”famous” a little loosely. I have no idea who Peter David is, though I suspect I would mistake him for George R.R. Martin if I met him in person. But he worked on Nickelodeon’s Space Cases, so he must be a god among men.
Sadly, famous author or not, the characters are one-dimensional and the villain might as well be twirling a big wiry mustache. It’s also hard to fathom how a gargantuan military complex with technology that’s superior to any government on the planet could remain hidden and isolated in the United States.
And then there’s the ending. Oh, how I wish I could discuss the ending.
But the fact that Shadow Complex employed some famous comic guy to write its story shows how committed Chair Entertainment was to making an exceptional game. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s a very fun one with outstanding technical design and the kind of top-end gameplay that can only be accomplished by the best in the business. It provides combat that is original to the genre, making Shadow Complex an experience that can’t be duplicated by any other game on the market.
As to the Remaster itself, very little new content has been added to Shadow Complex. Aside from some minor graphical updates, there are some new timed challenges and melee take-downs. If you’ve already played or own this game from the original release, the Remaster is not worth a second purchase. The campaign holds up great, but will have much more value to new players who haven’t experienced it yet.
When it’s all said, Shadow Complex Remastered is a success, blending combat and exploration in a masterful way that only the best games do. The fundamentals of game design are solid from start to finish, and anyone with a passing interest in the genre will find an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. The Remaster doesn’t stand out enough from the original release to warrant a second purchase, but that’s no skin off the teeth of new players. Small issues aside, Shadow Complex is a great game that will hopefully be enjoyed by a whole new wave of people.