Shadow Complex Hands-On Preview

While I hate to blithely sum up a game as game X meets game Y, there’s really no better way to sum up Shadow Complex than as Metroid meets Uncharted. Chair Entertainment (the studio responsible for XBLA title Undertow) and Epic Games’s Shadow Complex is a 3D-rendered, 2D side-scrolling action-adventure game with a heavy focus on shooting and exploration, not unlike Samus’s early adventures. The aesthetic and modern-day jungle setting, however, has far more in common with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, not to mention the hero who looks and sounds an awful lot like Nathan Drake – always a possibility when he’s voiced by the same guy, Nolan North.

The game starts off with protagonist Jason Fleming’s girlfriend Clare being kidnapped, bringing Jason to the heart of the jungle where he must infiltrate a mysterious military base – a shadowy complex, even – and rescue her. The demo I played began with my landing in said jungle, where I was to find my climbing gear that would allow me to grab hard to reach ledges. The climbing gear is the first of 18 upgrades you’ll unlock over the course of the game, including a full suit of armor and in pure Metroid form an ice-beam-esque “foam gun” that can create temporary staircases and makeshift cover. This was all set against lush, detailed 3D jungle environments, shown off by Jason’s ability to explore his surroundings with a flashlight aimed in any direction with h the right analogue stick.

I soon came upon a military complex, but the door was locked, so I had to hide in an underground maintenance tunnel until my adversaries arrived with Clare captive and in tow. After they made their way through the door, it was left unlocked, so I entered it posthaste. Upon entering the complex, I encountered my first security camera. Since it’s a 2D side-scroller, I couldn’t sneak past or around it Solid Snake-style, but instead I had to learn the importance of the sprint maneuver. I had to run for dear life, hopping over obstacles like crazy; once that alarm goes off, players have to find a safe hiding place to lay low until it dies down. Eventually I came upon an air vent, and in here my flashlight came in handy to illuminate my path.

Soon after I encountered the first combat scenario when I dropped into a room with several guards. There were boxes I ducked behind for cover, and then I unleashed my gunfire. The shooting was handled with the right analogue stick and very precision-based, and it gave the combat the stop-and-pop feel of a 3D shooter – say, for example, like Uncharted. After taking out a few guards with my gun, I got the chance to test out the melee combat, and it proved to be quite spectacular. As I laid waste to my enemies it was all portrayed in full 3D, although it was a little jarring at first when it switched back into 2D, given that I now knew about the hidden third dimension just waiting to pounce again, but this is in no way a bad thing; it just took a little getting used to after decades of 2D gaming that stayed strictly 2D.

The Metroid formula is a classic, and it’s gone a long way towards reinvigorating the Castlevania franchise, so it’s surprising that developers haven’t tried to borrow from it more often. By combining 2D gameplay with a 3D aesthetic and other aspects of 3D shooters, Shadow Complex is the embodiment of a “I can’t believe no-one thought of it before” idea that makes the world take notice. On the other hand, an exploration-heavy game like Shadow Complex will live or die based on its level design, something that was hard to gage from a meager eight-minute demo, especially when the full game is estimated to be between 10 and 14 hours long. Nonetheless, based on my time with it, Shadow Complex has all the assets to be one of the biggest surprise hits of the year.

We’ll find out for sure when it releases later this summer on Xbox Live Arcade.

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