Before their mobile fame from the Infinity Blade franchise, Chair Entertainment produced in 2009 a game called Shadow Complex on Xbox 360 through the Xbox Live Arcade program. The game was very highly praised, and even received many nominations into the “Game of the Year” category. So the release of a remastered game 6-7 years after the original, on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is considered good news. I didn’t own an Xbox 360 console back then, but now have the chance to discover this gem from the past on my PS4.
The story is simple : Your name is Jason Fleming (voiced by Nolan North, before his Nathan Drake fame) and you are backpacking in the woods with your girlfriend Claire (voiced by Eliza Schneider, known to have voice Rebecca Crane from the Assassin’s Creed franchise among other things). During that excursion, you stumble into an unknown cavern, when Claire decides that it would be a great idea to go explore it. After a moment where there is no answer back from her, you fall upon a strange organisation called the Restoration, which has plans to basically provoke a civil war in the United States. Then it becomes a rescue mission : saving Claire and saving the country.
The story is very minimalist and is basically just a context to make you explore the environment fully. One of the driving force of the story is the fact that pretty early on, you meet with your loved one, but she is injured and can barely walk. So, to save her and have enough strength to get her out of there, you fall upon a special mechanical armor belonging to the Restoration, which would help you do your bidding. The state it is in when you find it though is not 100% and you need to find all components restoring it to full capacity.
This is where the Metroid-vania gameplay style appears. You start with very minimal abilities, and when you discover those armor parts, or new weapons, etc., their usage allows you to get access to parts that you couldn’t before. Also, you are never really lost in the game : you always have access to a world map, which will display a ‘?’ icon over a section where a special action/collectible/weapon/interaction is located. Also, when moving around, you are equipped with a special kind of flashlight that can help discover some parts of the environment that can be interacted with. These sections glow in a certain color and they represent a kind of action to perform. You always know what to do, because the inventory/help sections of the game explains thoroughly what they represent. It is a blessing for those hardcore collectors and completionists, but could turn off some players looking for a challenge.
I have to do a quick mention about the graphics of the game. Being a remastered version of a 6-7 years old game, I didn’t expect to be blown away by them, and it might have been my safe pad for this, because the game shows its game. The engine used to render the gameplay scenes are not blend, but not high quality either, but it didn’t distract from the experience. The cinematics though were just plain horrible. At one point, a scene was pretty much running in a PlayStation 3 quality, and the character was looking a monitor, in which the quality was… beginning of life PlayStation 2… I just laughed, because that one really struck a chord. Important thing to mention though : you usually don’t play a Metroid-vania game for the graphics, it’s for the gameplay, so even though I wasn’t pleased, I was able to continue playing.
All the environments are presented in a 2.5D format, which means that you can really only move left and right, but a lot of things can happen in the background, like enemies appearing. This is where my main complaint about the game resides. Because of the always switching action scenes between enemies in the background and the ones on your level, the controls are not always responsive, and many times I was wasting bullets firing nothing, when trying to shoot an enemy in the back. Moving around from left to right while aiming up with my right stick always seem to work at one point, but it was getting tiresome during some segments of the game. Also, the jumping (and double-jumping) mechanism demands some getting used to, because it is really fast and not 100%, making some tricky jumping scenes frustrating. Fortunately, there were not that many, and I was back shooting more bad guys.
I really liked the fact that when the game starts, you are not powerful at all, you are slowing crawling into areas, scared of the enemies, and really pointed towards a stealth game more than action. Some close-combat moves contextual to the environments are a really nice touch in this game and it gave me a Metal Gear Solid vibe I really appreciated.
The more powerful you get though, the more you realized that your weapons are really strong, and after a while, stealth was gone from my repertoire : it was all action gun-blazing carnage. After the moment I put my hands on an automatic gun, there were no turning back ! Metal Gear transformed into a full-fledged Contra ! The game is great at really making you feel powerful and when you are surrounded by the chaos of dead bodies and explosions caused by no other than you, the feeling is wonderful, especially during the very final scene. The sounds of explosions and guns are perfect for that kind of game. This is what kept me playing for my run of the game (which took me around 6 hours on the medium difficulty), and it was a pleasure to bring chaos with me. (Too bad though that the rest of the sound department was really lackluster : background music, other sound effects… very ordinary…)
A side note for the achievements/trophy hunters : this game will definitely asks for some work, with multiple plays. Some demands 100% completion, and some other asks for very fast finish times, so if you want a challenge, you’ll be served with this game.