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.

Getting into Wiihab

We’ve all read, seen, or heard the reports about the Wii, albeit indirectly, breaking televisions and turning living rooms into obstacle courses. That strap on the control isn’t just a gray tassel that you can hang your keys on while boxing Wii avatars, after all.

But what not a lot people may know is that it has also helped others as a part of their physical rehabilitation. The Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Nebraska is using the Wii as a part of their program in helping brain injury patients get back onto their feet as you can watch in this clip below:

They’re not the only ones doing this, either, as a rehabilitation center in Norfolk has also incorporated it into their program. “Wiihab” seems to be catching on as hospitals and other medical centers are using Nintendo’s console to help their patients.

Seeing the Wii used for something more than simple gaming is a refreshing twist to the stereotype that games are just for fun and with Microsoft’s own full motion system for the Xbox 360, Natal, on its way, it will be interesting to see just how it might be put to similar use. Peripheral interfaces have come a long way since R.O.B. and the Lightgun for the NES, and so have the ideas that people have come up with in using them to heal as well as entertain.

Halo ODST unexpectedly shows up on the internets…

I just caught this browsing around on the ‘net for news and can only think that 2009 is turning out to be the Year of the Leaked Game.

Halo ODST is a standalone expansion to the Halo series casting the player as an ODST trooper sent in to back up Master Chief with their own mission. The leak was already reported earlier as having come from France with Microsoft making the magnanimous decision NOT to ban early recruits, especially when they claimed that only about a hundred copies had actually gone out.

You can catch some of the footage below (which is all in French with English subs). It probably goes without saying that if you don’t want to be spoiled before the September 22nd release date, don’t watch it.

But now it looks like there’s an actual distro out on the ‘net as reported by several sites such as fan-based halo.bungie.org. It was only a matter of time before this happened, but you can bet that Microsoft won’t be looking at this particular incident in the same way as the accidental release of legit copies above.

Manipulator? Purveyor? Warrior?

Funcom has updated its site promoting their new PC MMO-in-the-works, “The Secret World”, with a test to see which of the three secret societies you might be best suited for. It also gives you a chance to be a part of the upcoming beta which should be more than enough of an incentive for fans familiar with writer Ragnar Tornquist’s work with “The Longest Journey” and its sequel, “Dreamfall”.

If you don’t know what it is about, “The Secret World” takes place in real world locations such as New York and London as it pits players in a secret war against the forces of darkness. Those myths that go bump in the night? The Boogey Man? Atlantis? Cthulhu? They could be real. The question is, will you fight to keep these secrets buried? Use them towards your own ends? Or sell them to the highest bidder as part of a secret agenda? That’s about what this sounds like. It sounds pretty intriguing, especially when they say that the gameplay is classless without leveling.

Think about that one: no leveling, no classes. My RPG sensibilities had to chew on that for awhile. It sounds almost as welcome as when 4ed D&D rid itself of Vancian magic memorization, but I need to see how it could work first before I get too excited.

Anyways, I took the test which was a mix of unique visuals and odd questions making it feel as if I were being grilled in the backroom of a fortune teller’s shop in Chinatown…the kind that Eddie Murphy in the Golden Child might have visited.

As for the faction it picked out for me, well, I’ll be keeping that as my own secret, but it’s not fixed. At the end of the test, would-be beta testers can opt to pick from the three societies offered: the Templar, the Illuminati, or the Dragon. Once you do, you’ll get an e-mail and a kit that you can download to show off your affiliation. The layers are finally peeling away from Funcom’s latest game, adding a bit more detail to what was teased in the trailer below.

Update 9.4.09: The second trailer has been added below. It looks like the trailers are covering each of the societies in turn. The first looks like it’s showing off the Dragon. The second one, I’m guessing, is for the Templars.

Review: Batman – Arkham Asylum

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I’m Batman.

Not the most eloquent thought, but there it was in all its unshakable glory as it kept racing through my head while I was playing Batman: Arkham Asylum. Rocksteady’s take on the Caped Crusader not only faithfully emulates and represents its subject matter — it practically bleeds it. Many hero games promise to “immerse” you in a character’s world, but this is one of the few that actually pulls it off.

One of the reasons Batman stands apart from so many other superheroes is because we think he is one of us. He wasn’t blessed with the ability to fly, or with claws coming out of his hands — his defining trait is a tragic memory which he has used as the driving force behind everything he does. He’s trained his body and his mind to their absolute peak, and the result is, really, our very own American ninja.

Devout fans of the comic mythos already know this, but for the masses who know Batman though mostly movies, games and television shows over the years, you can find more than a few mixed signals. That’s led to confusion, and the result is a range of work that paints Batman with various brushes: He was a campy detective (the early ’60s show), a brooding, silent crimefighter fighting a circus of crime (the Tim Burton movies) and in the best examples, the ultimate badass with a brain. He would be noble enough to support wholeheartedly, but also have enough edge to satisfy any darker needs we have for our heroes. In other words, Batman has way of making us feel that a simple beatdown of a serial rapist and killer is enough.

To me, the bodies of work that best emulate the ideal are Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And now, I want to add Batman: Arkham Asylum to the list.

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