Back in the days of Xbox Live Arcade, there was a slew of innovative titles that pioneered the service and unearthed new experiences for gamers. Shadow Complex, originally released in 2009, was one of these distinctive games. With its 2.5D shooting/platforming and well crafted narrative, the news of a remastered version gracing the PlayStation platform for the first time definitely perked some ears. Shadow Complex Remastered is not only a love letter to the Metroidvania genre, but conveys its entertaining mechanics and individuality better than ever before.
Developed by ChAIR and Epic Games, Shadow Complex Remastered follows Jason Flemming and his girlfriend Claire as they investigate what seem to be unexplored caverns. When Claire goes off to explore the terrain up ahead and stops answering Jason’s calls, he becomes worried and starts searching for her. He stumbles upon a massive hidden complex infiltrated with an armed infantry and containing mysterious high level technology. Worst of all, they have captured Claire. This is when the adventures begin as you attempt to rescue Claire and figure out the truth hidden within the complex.
What garnished so much attention for Shadow Complex back in 2009 and today, is the foundation the game is built upon is so well designed. Traversing though the complex and learning all of the grappling and shooting mechanics was a blast. The narrative and plot stay focused, and diving deeper into this tale is a truly engaging experience. I love how all the parts of a retro metroidvania get sewn together and receive all of the bells and whistles of a modern adventurer. Immediately upon playing Shadow Complex, you see it shape and define itself as a creative and remarkable platformer that has fully deserved the countless awards it has received to date.
You move Jason along with the left analog stick, while the right and left stick can control his gunfire in any direction desired. It plays like a fusion between a platformer and dual stick shooter all in one. The layout for shooting and utilizing your inventory is super smooth, never leading to button stumbles during intense situations. One of the most used mechanics in Shadow Complex Remastered is the grappling and climbing abilities. This is one of the few areas where I think the game falters. I just couldn’t seem to obtain complete consistency with Jason’s movements. I would jump to a ledge flawlessly in one instant, and then bobble around the next ledge seconds later. Additionally, Jason is hampered with a troublesome double jump feature. Instead of just double tapping the jump button to execute the double jump, you’re required to hold it down for a longer amount of time. Now this may sound fine in theory, but when you are in the flow of the game or under gunfire, it can be pretty inconsistent. It’s not something that degrades the overall experience, but it definitely didn’t have the tight, responsive feel I was hoping for.
As you move through the complex Jason unlocks new weapons and equipment that enhance his abilities and how he navigates. Whether it’s a new assault rifle, grenade type, or new piece of his suit, the upgrades help evenly pace the campaign and keeps the experience fresh. It’s pretty cool to see Jason start with basic clothing and then slowly become powered up with high-tech armor. It allows you to play the game differently and more efficiently. Upgrades like the thrusters to enable a higher jumps, or the scuba mask attachment so he can swim without drowning, really add new layers to the compelling gameplay.
Shadow Complex Remastered has definitely seen an upgrade graphically from its original form, but not enough to classify it as a selling point. Games like this are proof that even in 2016, you don’t need to be pushing every ounce out of the GPU to have a great gameplay experience. Now the outdoor environments look decent, but once inside the complex everything gets swallowed up by a coat of multiple grays. The details and textures almost appear to be nonexistent and can actually make backtracking a little tricky when searching for visual reminders of where you have been. Thankfully it’s not all somber, the character animations show a substantial upgrade compared to the original. You can see the detail on their clothing and even some neat lighting effects from the environment and gunfire. It still doesn’t look like something natively developed on the current gen consoles, but the visual enhancements are noticeable enough to be appreciated.
I walked into Shadow Complex Remastered not knowing that Jason would be brought to life by a legendary voice actor. None other than the infamous Nolan North voices our protagonist, and what a treat it is. Having such a distinguished and talented voice actor take the reigns is so important and crucial to how the narrative is brought forth. The dialogue is expertly delivered and the character interactions feel genuine and believable. Even the VO work for Claire is above what you would generally expect for a side scrolling platformer. I think the sound design in Shadow Complex Remastered was one of the integral components that make this game pack such a punch.
Shadow Complex Remastered may have seen its glory on the Xbox platform, but is now ready to share is 2.5D platforming adventure to the PlayStation universe. Unique levels to explore, a compelling story, and excellent shooting/platforming mechanics, prove that even 7 years later there is still something worth revisiting here. The controls may not always be in the pocket, but the core enjoyment of Shadow Complex Remastered is. Whether this is your second go-around or not, this complex is worth your time.
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