While I tinker away at preview content for a game that cannot be named, and my mega Top 8 list which fingers crossed, will finally get finished this week I was asked by our fearless leader to review Shadow Complex, which of course I was happy to do. Shadow Complex was THE game that made me actually go and buy Microsoft points for the first time since about 2007. Of course I bought the points before I won a key from the ever generous Geoff Keighley and I ended up buying Marvel Vs Capcom 2 instead. However the fact that I took a bus down to my local EB Games and bought points with the clear purpose of buying Shadow Complex was a big deal. Now after about 8 hours of playing it, I can say it would have easily been worth its price tag.
I’ve also decided to not go off on one of my crazy rants about the epic level of this game. (It’s about a L33T out of 10) Instead I am opting for structure and purpose with this review going through the tried and true sections of the game. Visually the game is fan freaking-tastic it looks about as good as a full retail game, which really surprised me considering this was just an arcade title. Everything from the characters to the Forest and compound environments were top notch, and the explosion that the mech’s gave off once you had filled them with enough death was always a sweet moment of eye candy. (See what I did there?) I also couldn’t end my chat about the graphics without talking about the water. It looked amazing and could easily duke it out with any big retail game on quality.
When it came to sound the game didn’t falter. The voice acting wasn’t Oscar worthy but it was a new high considering that again, this is just an arcade game. The sound effects of your weapons and gears is also well done, easily one of my favourite sounds is when you get the speed upgrade and the boom it makes as you break the sound barrier. I also challenge anyone not to get an evil grin on their face when they hear the scream of a group of Restoration troops as their talking about the weather and you drop a grenade between their legs. The music was good, but it wasn’t really anything to talk about, frankly I can’t remember it.
Story wise the game’s universe was built around a book created for the title called Empire, it was created by the legendary author Orson Scott Card. The story is the game’s only real weakness if you can call it that, since story in a game like this isn’t important in the least. That and of course Empire was only an OK book, it wasn’t anything compared to say his masterpiece Enders Game. Still it was an interesting back drop, and some of the conversations you hear between soldiers as they talk about what they’re about to do get you interested in the overall arc of what’s happening.
But let’s get to what’s really important, the gameplay. Shadow Complex is amazing on all fronts when it comes to gameplay, and Chair should be hugged, patted on the back, and a crowd of people should sing “We are the Champions” to them because they have a game of such high quality that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up on many websites best game of 2009, it’s that good. It mixes the classic adventure of a Metroid game with modern innovations. My favourite was easily the 2.5D gameplay that was at every turn. Instead of enemies just popping out of the ground, you could see them come through newly opened doors or down ladders that were in the background and by god you could blow them away with ease.
I was kind of worried that the game would screw up the shooting the people in the background, but I never found myself frustrated with it, I would point and the game would know what I wanted to kill. It was particularly cool when you had maxed out accuracy and could pretty much run through tile map pieces and just blast your gun and see 30 guys go down. The game also has a ton of different gadgets that you collect throughout your adventure. You start off with a cave climbing backpack, a flashlight, and your hopes and dreams, but it isn’t long before you’re picking up rifles, grenades, and super boots that let you pull a Jesus and run across water. (I was going to make a shaman reference, but I didn’t know how many of you are WoW players)
Of course combat is only one third of a game like this and arguably the least important part. The puzzle parts of the game were great as well; they hit this perfect balance that really stuck out to me. I would know when I was at puzzle, but the game made figuring out the solution a smooth action. I never felt like I was trying to decode a language to figure out a password, but also didn’t feel like the game was screaming the answer in my ear. Every solution just seemed logical.” Oh I need to get way up there but I can’t jump up…. hmmm I’ll shoot the water valves and flood the room.” I personally enjoyed that a lot because I hate when I am either stuck at a puzzle for 2 hours and I finally crack, look online and find out that the key to open up the lock was under the plant beside the door, or it’s like hit the three levers to open up the passage.
However the really big portion of the game, the part that would make or break a game like this is the exploration. Again Chair hit all the right notes here. The entire base seemed to be really built like a base, because sometimes the map would say go down and to the right, but I would find some other route and just go exploring and one mine cart ride later I would find that I had naturally made my way to the correct destination, and instead of coming through the front door I would be coming through the vent. It always made me willing to go exploring because the game very rarely has a dead end, which means you really don’t know where you’re going to end up, and sometimes where you end up is some high level zone and you know you shouldn’t be there just yet.
The flashlight was also a fantastic addition to the game, instead of forcing the player to try and guess where a secret path was, or how to open a certain door the flashlight would reveal the items color and you would know, red means missile, purple means foam and so on. Again it didn’t take all the fun out of exploring for secrets because usually there was a little trick to getting to the door or vent, but the game also didn’t leave you thinking “WTF where do I go?” It was also a nice break when the game would let you go top side and explore the forest surrounding the base, whether it was running like hell from a gunship, or bouncing your way down a waterfall, the change of location was a nice pallet wipe that helped keep the military secret base from getting stale.
In the end Shadow Complex is an amazing game, and the 15 bucks this will be the best buy you do this year. Chair has a bright future ahead of them and after seeing what they could do with this game I can’t wait to see what they could create if they were given the chance to make a big AAA title.
Writer’s Editorial – I’ve read a lot lately about people wanting to boycott this game on account of Orson Scott Cards stance against gay marriage. I respect the man because he wrote the Ender Series, but my loyalty or like for him ends there. I completely support the rights of any kind of coupling to live their life whichever way makes them happy. It’s one of the reasons why I am proud to be Canadian because people have such freedom here. However boycotting Shadow Complex isn’t really going to do anything to Card, his revenue doesn’t hinge on the success of the game. The same can’t be said about Chair, these guys work hard and made an amazing game, they deserve to have massive success and all of their employee’s should be able to wake up for the foreseeable future and not have to worry about studio cut backs. You hurt hard working developers when you try to organize boycotts of this game, don’t buy Cards book, hit him directly, but don’t try to prove your position by making someone else suffer because Card was a third party in the creation of the story of the game.
I know some people do it as merely an act of protest, but let’s be honest here, boycotting a game isn’t really doing anything, if you really feel strongly about the issue go and help the many organizations that are trying to get gay marriage legalized, do some real good instead of hurting this up and coming studio.