With the recent surge of 2.5D games (3D levels, 2D playing fields) Shadow Complex bursts onto the scene to claim top prize. A lengthy and visually impressive side scrolling shooter from Epic Games, it feels like a Metroid game with all the benefits of a contemporary engine.
You begin as an enhanced agent equipped with all manner of weapons and gadgets. If you bother to check, or even realise in the brief opening stint, you’ll probably be a bit confused at what function foam performs in a firefight with armed soldiers or a patrolling helicopter.
However, your time spent as this super powered agent of death is short lived. Initiating an all-things-familiar tale of conspiracy and secret armies plotting to take over the world, you’re left in the shoes of
Nathan Drake Jason Flemming (voiced by the very same Nolan North). Not super-suit shoes mind, they’re probably converse. Star Trek novelist Peter David has penned the story, indeed there’s no limit on the production values here, Epic pulling out all the plugs to weave an engrossing, if not predictable, narrative to accompany the impressive visuals and voice work.
The game plays like old Metroid titles, which is a great thing. Besides occasionally forcing you to fire into the third dimension (confusing the controls in the process), the 2D shooter/ exploration hybrid is fantastic, a reverence to some of the greatest games from the past.
What begins as a limited map soon evolves into a huge and diverse one filled with underground networks, flooded chambers, mines, and secret-military buildings. The temptation to explore matched only by the desire to discover the next big upgrade.
Similarly Jason, who inadvertently falls headfirst into this adventure whilst out on a date with his new girlfriend (who obviously is captured), accesses bigger guns and stronger armour as the game progresses. Upgrades come at regular intervals and keep the combat exciting.
The map is filled with hidden areas most containing canisters, which increase Jason’s ammo for a certain weapon attachment. There’s no limit on standard ammo although missiles, foam and grenades are all limited. This is rarely an issue though as upgrade canisters are littered all over the map and it doesn’t take long for the various ammo counters to exceed the forty figure. Automatic save rooms are in abundance as well, each stocked with ammo and health and act as checkpoints if Jason dies.
There’s no questioning the quality of Shadow Complex, it’s every bit as much fun as a game should be flirting with Metroid’s famed formula. The pinnacle of the recent boom of 2.5D games, a lesson in the potential of Live Arcade, and a slice of humble pie for all those saying Microsoft should have lifted its 50MB arcade limit earlier.