There is a reason that Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are commonly found at the top of gamers’ top ten lists: great boss encounters, fun exploration, large map, interesting weapons and upgrades, and tons of hidden items keep players coming back for more. Shadow Complex takes that classic formula and adds just enough to set itself apart without adding too much to take away from the homage to some of our favorites of yesteryear.
The story serves as a decent window dressing, but ultimately is not terribly important. A forest hike is reason enough to get Jason near Alpha Complex, and his bar pickup from the prior night, Claire, being kidnapped is enough of a drive to make him fight. Past that all that really matters is that you want upgrades, exploration, and boss fights while the enemies stand in your way.
Combat is fun, and the system is designed to reward the player. Headshots and melee attacks both increase your experience multiplier which leads to faster level-ups, and level-ups lead to handy in-game bonuses at levels 20, 30, 40, and 50. Higher levels, expectedly, increase Jason’s accuracy, defense, or stamina as well. Even when you’ve reached level 50, though, you will find yourself striving for high multipliers just because that is where the fun lies. Meleeing an enemy soldier to see him fly across the room or kicking a bomba (mobile machine gun robot thing) behind a soldier just to watch them both explode is always entertaining. If you want to fight conventionally you will find Jason more than comfortable with pistols and rifles as well. Aim with the right stick, fire with the right trigger, and reload with Y. Reload whenever you can – there is no penalty for it since primary weapons all have infinite ammo. Secondary weapons are useful against bosses and for opening locked doors, but you will need to be more careful with them since grenades, foam, and missiles are all finite resources.
Exploration feels familiar, but map shading seems nonsensical. If I can not move from Room A to Room B without going through another section then Rooms A and B should not both be shaded purple. Similarly, crawling through vents makes sure the first time, but after a room has been infiltrated it would be nice if I could just use doors and sensible paths. Shortcuts would be nice as well (there is one, but it is not enough considering the size of the map), but I can’t figure out a way for Castlevania-esque teleporters to feel organic in the Shadow Complex world. Your reward for exploring is better primary weapons (6 upgrades from unarmed to one-hit kills), secondary weapon expansion kits (grenade packs, missile packs, and foam packs), and suit upgrades (super speed, double and triple jump, etc.). By the time the game is over Jason has been transformed from some average guy out on a hike into an Iron Man analog, and it feels great to know you’ve found 100% of the items (and you can be sure of it thanks to an in-game stat tracker).
In addition to the main adventure – which took me 8 hours or so on my first play – Shadow Complex took a page from Bionic Commando: Rearmed’s book and features 21 challenge rooms in the game mode called Proving Grounds. Challenges range from timing jumps to avoid damage to deactivating laser fields with explosive barrels to a capstone mini-campaign aptly called The Big One.
Also of note is the way that ChAIR handled the Shadow Complex achievements. They took my favorite system (Valve’s achievement page from Orange Box) and improved upon it. Not only is your achievement progress visible on the stat page, but reminders pop up to tell you how close you are to getting 50 headshots or making 100 enemies scream. Orange Box did that, too, but what it didn’t do was compare you to your friends after you have gotten the achievement. It manages to integrate achievements and friends list leaderboards into the single player campaign, and it works really well (so well in fact that it drove me to go on a melee spree in order to get ahead of a friend).
Shadow Complex should not be missed by anybody who fondly remembers Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And if you’re too young to have played either of those games then you should pick up Shadow Complex and fall in love with a brand new type of game.
Plays Like: Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Pros: numerous upgrades to find, fun challenge rooms, great achievement tracking and leaderboard integration
Cons: Odd shading of map sections, lack of shortcuts considering map size
ESRB: T for mild language, violence – there is no blood and I can’t remember any horrible swearing.