Review: Shadow Complex (Xbox Live Arcade)

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If you took Nathan Drake from Uncharted and threw him into a more earthbound version of Metroid, you essentially get Chair’s Shadow Complex, a joyful reminder that fun action doesn’t always have to come in three dimensions. It’s a game that makes you wonder why you spent $60 on another game that’s either collecting dust or sitting under a choice beverage.

As an unsuspecting but extremely well-trained hiker who stumbles onto a terror group housing mechs and other world-bending weaponry, you’ll find yourself crawling, swimming and running through a large base, slowly piecing together the story while trying to stay alive. If you remember Metroid from the NES days, you’ll be right at home with the game’s constant demand for exploration. You’ll use a map that helps paint a path to your next objective, but you’re also free to search every 2D nook and cranny of the base — elevator shafts, ventilation shafts, large and small rooms filled with an assortment of bad guys, and of course, machines that fire missiles at you.

Perhaps my favorite part of the game is how you fight back. Jason (that’s the name of the aw-shucks, who-me protagonist of the game) scrambles around the base finding any weapon he can. First, it’s a pistol and his considerable melee skills (with the B button serving as all-purpose pain-bringer). Eventually, he stumbles onto pieces of the ultimate battle armor with features that include: boots that make you run like the Flash and enable you to charge through breakable objects, a Batman-like grappling claw, and thrusters.

You also have weapons that serve certain purposes, like breaking open the right doors. There are no keys in this game, only the right kind of firepower, which could be applicable to real life in some countries. The game tells you what the right kind of weapon for the job is via a color-coded system that hinges on the use of Jason’s flashlight. You can turn the light on, shine it around, and eventually find a passage, panel or door that turns purple, red, yellow or green.

Enter the weapons, another part of the game I enjoyed. You’ve got your typical firearms, but you’ve also got grenades, missiles and foam charges. Yes, foam — as in you fire a projectile, it hits, and expansive foam emerges. It’s extremely useful and creative. Most of the time, you use it to gum up machinery so it breaks. However, you can also use this foam of the gods as an adhesive for the otherwise bouncy grenades you launch. Very handy against irritable, railgun-bearing machines of death.

There’s also an whimsical, puzzle-like quality to the game as you figure out how each tool and weapon works, how one passage leads to another part of the base, how access is gained with the right combination of weaponry and skill. The visuals aren’t bad either, giving the impression of a much larger world but managing to keep you focused going left to right. The only time the 2D plane is really broken is when Jason fires at enemies in the background.

I didn’t find too much to pick at in this game, other than Jason almost seems a little too good at what he does. He’s got Jack Bauer-like accuracy with any gun he has, and he also wins all of his melee battles. In other words, the game seems a bit on the easy side for the most part, the battles with choppers and mechs notwithstanding. While there’s a map and plenty of enemies to play with, some might find the game’s penchant for backtracking annoying. The game also sometimes magically replaces doors, panels, fallen objects or enemies in some rooms just for the hell of it — I call it the magic maintenance crew, who was extremely popular in 2D gaming days of yore.

Overall, Shadow Complex is the most enjoyable Xbox Live Arcade experience I’ve had to date. It’s simple, smart and slightly addicting – all the qualities an arcade game should have. Plus, it’s the most fun you’ll have with foam that won’t get you in trouble with the law.