Shadow Complex

It’s summer and although I should be enjoying the glorious British weather instead I find myself twiddling my thumbs waiting for autumn to begin. As any game aficionado will tell you, autumn and the lead up to Christmas contain the games they’ve been waiting all year to get their hands on. This year the line-up’s pretty good; _Halo: ODST_ in September, _Uncharted 2_ in October, _Modern Warfare 2_ in November and the list goes on. In essence, the summer period is sparse with regard to new releases and is usually a good time to have a look through your back catalogue of games; games that you really should’ve played more of. However, with the advent of digital distribution, more precisely Xbox Live Arcade, over the last few years things have started to change.

Last year, while capitalising on the lack of competition from full retail games, Microsoft unleashed the Summer of Arcade marketing campaign. Offering a strong line-up of download only arcade games, to be released over a set timetable, they’d successfully made summer interesting again. This year Summer of Arcade is back, containing five new titles all being released a week apart from each other. Two of these five are of particular interest, the first being _Splosion Man_ and the second being _Shadow Complex_, a game developed by Chair but supported by Epic Games, the people behind the _Gears of War_ franchise.

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_Shadow Complex_ is an action adventure game in which your movement is limited to a 2D plane and is therefore similar to games such as _Super Metroid_ and _Castlevania_. What is different is the addition of numerous 3D elements as well as the use of the right analog stick as a full 360 degree aiming device. This allows for pin-point accuracy when using the weapons found in the game, of which there are many, ranging from a standard pistol to some crazy uber-powerful auto-shotgun which is unlocked nearer the end of your first playthrough.

Game progression is also similar to the _Metroid_ franchise; when you start you have a limited number of abilities meaning that a large amount of the enormous map is locked out to you. By collecting new upgrades, such as grenades and the more interesting foam gun, you can travel to previously unreachable locations. Although this does lead to a fair amount of backtracking, due to _Shadow Complex’s_ impressive presentation and enjoyable gunplay, it never gets old.

Not only are there multiple items to collect but there’s also a leveling system that upgrades the character’s accuracy, precision and stamina as well as unlocking more interesting additions at key milestones, such as the full map at level 20. Although I didn’t instantly notice an increase in my character’s performance from one level to the next, over time I’m sure it made a difference. The level cap is 50 and you will not reach that in your first, or maybe even your second playthrough; to put it in prospective, upon finishing the game the first time I was only level 20.

The story, although not brilliant, is fairly convincing, sets up the game well and finishes in a satisfactory way. You play as an average Joe who happens to be exploring some caves with his relatively new girlfriend. After about 2 minutes of playing the game, you discover an underground secret military base controlled by the Restoration, a terrorist group hell-bent on messing up the United States, with San Francisco at the top of the list. At first you’re tasked with rescuing the girlfriend, who gets captured instantly, followed by trying to figure out what’s going on and putting a stop to it all. It’s entertaining but it’s really just an excuse to shoot a lot of bad guys and blow up a lot of walking tanks.

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Another factor that makes _Shadow Complex_ stand out from the rest of the generally mediocre XBLA releases is its presentation. Making use of the Unreal 3 Engine, courtesy of Epic Games no doubt, the game’s visuals are fantastic for a download only title. Excellent uses of lighting, good texture work and impressive character modelling form an iconic gameworld with a style similar to that seen in the original _Metal Gear Solid_. Every single part of the map is unique, with no repetition of assets, and the detail found in both the outdoors environments as well as in the complex itself is so complete that at times I thought I was playing a full £40 retail game.

To be honest, _Shadow Complex_ offers such good value for money that it could have been a retail game. It took me 7ish hours to complete the game first time through, at which point I reloaded my last save and went about trying to find all 100% of the items hidden throughout the map; by the time I’d done that I’d passed the 11 hour mark. Considering that there’s an achievement for reaching level 50, I then started the game again to continue with my character; although you lose all of your items and abilities, you level carries over from your previous playthrough, when you start a new game.

Not only is there the hefty campaign but also a separate game mode called Proving Grounds. Here, you’re given a sub-set of the abilities found throughout the main game and are tasked with completing multiple challenges in the quickest time possible. It reminded me a lot of last year’s _Bionic Commando: Rearmed_ but not as annoying and, therefore, far more enjoyable. With the addition of leaderboards for pretty much everything, main campaign and Proving Grounds included, there’s a huge amount of replayability in _Shadow Complex_, especially if you’ve got a group of competitive friends that you simply have to beat.

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of the developer Chair but having Epic on board made me take notice and I’m glad I did. _Shadow Complex_ is truly fantastic game, well worth the 1200 Microsoft Point asking price. At this price point, even if you only playthrough the game once and aren’t worried about completing it 100%, you’ll get your money’s worth. With hours upon hours of gameplay, fantastic graphics and fluid and enjoyable action, _Shadow Complex_ is the most compelling experience I’ve ever had with a downloadable game.

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