Price: 1200 Microsoft Points
100% Completion: 10-20 hours*
Achievement Difficulty: 5/10
*This time is for the achievements only. There are several other challenges that could take quite awhile to master and complete.
If I had to describe Shadow Complex's story in just a couple words, it would be "mediocre and forgettable". Unfortunately for all of the great things this game brings to the table, a good story isn't one of them. I would go so far as to say, that the game would be just as good without it. Super Metroid didn't really have one, besides killing the Mother Brain, and it is one of the most memorable games of all time. Surprisingly enough, this game was based off of the novel Empire, by Orson Scott Card, but I guess the best-selling tale doesn't transfer well into video game form.
You play as Jason Fleming who, while searching for his missing girlfriend, stumbles across a highly advanced terrorist organization, complete with walking tanks and super soldiers. Led by a Cobra Commander lookalike, this organization plans to trigger a revolution by invading several large cities to gain followers for their cause. It is now up to Jason, to successfully find and rescue Claire, while in the process, delaying or even halting the progression of the terrorist's plans.
Overall the story is very shallow and bland. It does little to delve into the background of the characters, and doesn't even begin to give reason to the terrorist's actions. All that is said about the organization is that they want to take over the world, starting with America, as cliche as that sounds. The plot does contain a little twist at the end, but it is so absurd and ridiculous, I couldn't help but roll my eyes.
Metroidvania. To those not familiar with the term, is more than just a mash of game titles. It is the name of the niche genre created by the Metroid titles, and expanded with several games in the Castlevania franchise. The basis of the genre is a combination of platforming and adventure; explore, map, and collect power-ups, all within a side-scrolling and non-linear playing field. The genre has built up quite a hardcore following, and people to this day still play the classics (ie Super Metroid) finding new sequence breaks and attempting speed runs.
Shadow Complex, as true to the genre, follows this formula flawlessly. It feels nearly the same as the traditional Metroidvania, and is a welcome addition to the barren genre. Although the original recipe doesn't call for a story, this can be forgiven as it doesn't hurt the games overall aspect.
The game heavily revolves around exploration, as you traverse the environment and fill up your map. You'll often come across paths or barriers that you are unable to traverse with your current abilities, making you explore even more, when you finally get the required piece of equipment. This type of exploration is the staple of the genre, and rewards the player with additional pickups, for exploring side-areas and using their abilities to the fullest.
The weapons and equipment that give you new powers are all pretty standard to the genre. The guns are mostly real-world modifications, that just give additional ammo and power for each new gun you get. The equipment on the other hand, all revolve around a sort of super suit, created by the terrorist organization, conveniently left out for you to take. You'll stumble across pieces of the suit as you explore the map, each giving you an additional ability. The abilities are all typical; breath underwater, run really fast, double-jump, hook shot, etc. However, I have to say, the complete suit looks really badass.
Although the game was obviously inspired by titles such as Metroid and Castlevania, it isn't just a copy of those games. There are several additions to the gameplay, that shows ingenuity and progress. One of these such additions, is the 2D side-scrolling action, contained in a 3D environment (referred to as 2.5D). Although you'll only be able to travel on the 2D playing field, there will often be enemies outside of your path. These enemies are more than just part of the background, as they can shoot at you and you can return the favor. The aiming might be a bit frustrating at times, but once you get used to the 2.5D it makes a great addition to the gameplay.
There is also a level system, which is a new one for the genre. As you kill enemies and explore new areas, you'll gain experience, which will then level your character up. As you level up you'll gain bonuses to your stamina, accuracy, and precision. There are other bonuses that unlock at higher levels, but I'll leave that for you to discover. The best thing about the leveling system, is that it carries over to a new game, so you don't have to grind against the same enemy forever, just to reach the higher levels.
Another ingenious idea, is the inclusion of a flashlight, which not only lights up dark areas, but also reveals the necessary requirements to destroy a barrier or open a path. When the light shines on a door or obstacle, it will show the color of the corresponding weapon needed to open it. In previous games, the doors where different colors or had distinct characteristics to show how to open it. With the flashlight, the game creates a consistent and realistic looking environment, without the need for frustrating trial-and-error or ridiculous color-coded doors.
Normally, I'd say the graphics were mediocre, but seeing as this is just a XBLA game, I'm extremely impressed. The environment and character models are even better than numerous retail titles out there. In fact, this would probably be the best looking arcade game on the marketplace, if not for the recent release of Battlefield 1943.
The art style somewhat resembles modern day, but with a little sci-fi mixed in. It isn't too over-the-top futuristic, but it is still quite obvious that scientific accuracy wasn't a goal. If I would have to compare it to something, I would probably say the Metal Gear Solid series.
Even with these graphics the game runs pretty smoothly, but it can slow down a little if you are speeding through areas with large amounts of enemies. There was one graphic glitch that I came across, where Jason's hair turned purple for a cutscene, but it wasn't game breaking or anything.
The game's length itself, isn't that long. You can probably beat it in under 10 hours, even if you take the time to explore and collect most of the power-ups. Plus, when you reach level 20, the full map unlocks, including item locations, which really takes a lot of the exploration out of the game.
However, there are numerous difficulties that provide a challenge as well as extra experience to level faster. You'll need these extra difficulties, if you are going to try to reach level 50, which will take several playthroughs, even on Insane (highest difficulty). In addition to this, there is a game mode called the Proving Grounds, which is a series of challenges based on your different abilities. These challenges can provide a good distraction, as well as a nice achievement when you complete them all.
The game itself will keep you entertained for numerous playthroughs, and will keep that attraction for you to come back to, again and again over the years.
There is another aspect that adds great replay value, but it isn't for everyone. Speedruns, the process of beating the game at a certain criteria as fast as possible. This type of gameplay is on a whole different level, and has a large hardcore following, especially in this type of genre. There are people that play these games for decades, in order to find loop holes (sequence breaking) to finish the game faster and faster. There are even separate challenges, set aside from the achievements, that will prove hard even for the best speedrun enthusiast. Like I said, this type of gameplay isn't for everyone, but for those that do enjoy speedruns, this is one of those games meant for it.
For the most part you have your pretty standard achievements in this game. Complete a certain number of headshots, certain number of melee kills, finish the game, reach a specific level, etc. Nothing really revolutionary, but there are a couple unique ones, such as kick a certain number of Bombas and make 100 soldiers scream.
However, there is one achievement that I find really extraordinary, and that is the Minimalist achievement (Complete the game with less than 13% of the items). Although it isn't the hardest challenge in the game, it is the idea of it that makes it so great. You have to sequence break to get it. The develops actually want you to find loop holes in the intended gameplay. I think it is rather cool, that the developers are willing to tip their hats off to the hardcore crowd that really enjoy this type of play.
As for the achievements as a whole, they aren't too difficult. There are a couple that will take quite a bit of time, such as reaching level 50, but as for everything else they can all be obtained will a decent amount of gameplay. I will mention that although the Proving Grounds isn't the hardest thing to complete, the final challenge is quite frustrating.
If you want a real challenge however, try to complete all of the Master Challenges. These won't give you any achievements or gamerscore, but you'll get insane bragging rights if you complete them. Beat the game on Insane with 100% collection, in under 2 hours. Anyone?
This game has been talked about all Summer, and it lived up to the hype. An amazing addition to the Xbox Live Arcade and at $15 it is a must buy.