There’s no team better to create Shadow Complex than Chair. Their first Xbox Live Arcade title, Undertow, was a sleeper hit deserving more notoriety than it received. It pushed graphical limits and provided an enjoyable twin stick shooter. Chair also fortified a relationship with preeminent science fiction author Orson Scott Card as they worked on bringing Card’s Empire Universe to other mediums. Throw in prolific screen writer Peter David and premier publisher Epic and all the signs of success were evident. However, potent ingredients don’t always mix well. Does Shadow Complex blend flavors with panache or lose its elegance when mixed, resulting in a common experience?
Players take on the role of Jason Fleming (voiced by Nolan North from Uncharted) as he and his girlfriend go on a hike. As one could guess, things go awry and the hero must save his damsel in distress and unravel a web of intrigue in cliché fashion. While there are cut scenes, the plot is mostly unraveled as the player overhears guards discuss plans. This keeps the player immersed, though more could’ve been done with the talent at Chair’s disposal.
Shadow Complex borrows from classics Metriod and Castlevania, infusing them with more modern successes like Uncharted and Undertow. The unique blend of shooting and side scrolling action with the open-ended maze like environment creates an unparalleled arcade experience. The right stick aims and shoots like Undertow. The control has been more refined allowing the player to target enemies in the background. This is clumsy at times when attempting to precisely target enemies, though a level of auto aim compensates. The rest of the controls are intuitive and functional. The only other issue occurs during the vent segments when it becomes hard to see.
Players pick up numerous upgrades as they progress. Most of these add to the number of each special weapon Jason can carry, and after a certain point become superfluous beyond adding replayablity for completionists. However, other upgrades change the game, opening new paths and ways to dispatch enemies. These upgrades will be needed, as the game constantly throws new enemies at Jason. Players can open the minimap when stuck, which shows all unlocked areas. The map also provides a key showing which gadget is needed to open each door. Players can also use the flashlight, which illuminates interactive objects a color based on what weapon is needed. This eliminates that frustration from a player feeling stuck.
Chair creates an extremely enjoyable experience. Shadow Complex isn’t perfect, but it comes close. To go back to the food metaphor, it’s like going to a fast food restaurant and coming away with a quality three course meal. Shadow Complex is light years beyond most arcade titles, and can hold its own against several retail titles. At $20, it’s a steal and an absolute blast.