Review: Shadow Complex Remastered

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Shadow Complex on the Xbox was a bit of a revelation for metroidvanias. People certainly hadn’t stopped making them but there was a shortage on major consoles, and here was one that fit the bill perfectly. That was eight years ago, though, and a lot has changed in terms of graphics and gameplay since then. If you were one of the early adopters who played it back on the couch it should be plenty familiar and just as fun. And if you weren’t, well, maybe keep reading before mashing the buy button.

I’ll save you some time and say up-front that Shadow Complex is probably as close as we’ll ever get to a Call of Duty metroidvania. The game opens with a terrorist attack on the Vice President (why anyone would bother I have no idea) by some high-tech militia types. This serves as the proper tutorial intro where you briefly have a character with most of your future powers, before being dumped into the distressed jeans of Jason Fleming, hiking through the Olympic Mountains with his ladyfriend Claire. A little spelunking plops them right in the middle of the militia base, and Jason has to get over his pacifist tendencies to shoot, explode, freeze, and dropkick the terrorists into submission.

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As a metroidvania, this is going to feel super familiar. Shadow Complex deviates little from the traditional formula of sprawling, twisting map gated by doors that need different powers to open. These take the form of grenades, riot foam, and missiles attached to your current firearm. You’ll also upgrade your gun at various points, from humble pistol all the way up to space-age super rifle, though there’s no choice involved because each new weapon is just more powerful with more ammo. Aiming and firing is handled with the right stick and trigger, so you have free reign to move, hang, and jump while blazing away at enemies all around you.

Progression is very directed, with little opportunity to sequence break (if any). It feels like the developers were most influenced by Metroid Fusion because you’ll be following objective markers (or just very linear sections of world) to cutscenes that give you new objectives to follow. The flow of the game is logical at least, with you traveling to new parts of the sprawling military complex to gain new weapons or equipment constantly. Exploration is aided by a flashlight that highlights and color-codes doors by what you need to pass them, but you’ll need to do some extensive searching to find some of the game’s well-placed secrets.

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Where the Call of Duty bit comes in is the combat. Shadow Complex is at least a little grounded in its plot, so all of your enemies are soldiers in various degrees of armor or mechs. The obvious way to dispatch enemies is by shooting them a lot, but if you bother to aim you can drop most of them with a single headshot. You also get melee executions if you get all up in their grills and most encounters have environmental options to exploit, too. Gas pipes can be ruptured with grenades, high-voltage lines can be severed and dropped, and the annoying little robot enemies can be punted into foes for an explosive return. All that said, your enemies can chew through your health pretty fast with sustained fire, so unless you’ve been diligent about scoring health pickups you might be playing a lot of cover shooting through big fights.

This only gets worse with the game’s bosses, which are the only part that I would call truly terrible. You’ll be facing power-armored soldiers, spider tanks, walkers, and other mechanical monstrosities that can burn you down very fast with their enormous cannons. Every one of them has a gimmick or weak point but it won’t always be obvious at first, and experimenting or just being slow on the uptake can cost you hundreds of HP. Even once you do grok what you’re doing, the patterns can be unforgiving and occasionally buggy… and ultimately irrelevant because it’s also pretty easy to cheese most of the bosses to death. Nearly every single one of them has a flaw in their pattern that can be exploited to beat them with little effort, meaning they’re either going to be frustrating if you fight them the “right” way, or irrelevant if you abuse them.

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Boss battles are also where the game is buggiest, though this is definitely a problem throughout. Hit detection if you try to climb on or around bosses is a mess, warping you all over the place. It happens with regular enemies and melee executions as well, sometimes refusing to trigger and other times snapping you and your victim to entirely new locations. There’s a hookshot item late in the game that only likes to stay connected half the time, and the auto-aim function when firing on enemies in the background is incredibly finicky. None of these are dealbreakers, but they can frustrate at the worst times and make the game feel less polished overall.

Despite being a “remaster”, Shadow Complex does not fare so well in the modern era. The graphics are sharper but that just makes the low-res textures and simple models stand out more. The map does its best to be useful but the corridors don’t line up so well with the map grid, leaving you with passages and connections that are hardly clear. Some of the sound effects and especially voice acting are of low audio quality, though I do want to give credit to Jason for having some decent lines that put a smile on my face. And that’s the thing, despite the shortcomings and the dated aspects, Shadow Complex still has an enjoyable core experience. Sending troops ragdolling with a grenade or puzzling out the path to a hidden upgrade is just as fun here as it was back on the 360. Newcomers may be put off by the technical and design issues, but there’s a quality game here as long as you can meet it halfway.

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