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Shadow Complex 360 Review

02/09/2009 Thinking Soulful Gamer Review
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Shadow Complex 360

Shadow Complex



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Considered Gamer (360)

When it wasn't focusing on its predictable and dull story, Shadow Complex was a tremendous experience. Updating the 2D action shooter genre with some flashy and effective gameplay, its exploration and platforming mechanics were addictive and satisfying, but it was the atmosphere of the game that made its most impressive mark. The way the environments evoked a sense of place and the incidental detail which filled the world around the game transformed Shadow Complex into a much more meaningful experience.

It's been said many times that this game is a true homage to the classic SNES games of Metroid and Castlevania. But being a child of the Commodore 64 and Amiga generation this game feels closer to the thoughtful style of Flashback and Another World or, maybe more bizarrely, Flash Gordon for the C64. But away from this retro navel-gazing , Shadow Complex updates all these influences with some truly slick combat gameplay and exploration mechanics. This is the game's greatest strength as it became clear to me from the cut-scenes that the story was going down a predictable and boring road. I don't like to boast about it but I had the ending figured out within the first few minutes of the game - and I'm usually the worst with predicting storylines!

In most cases this would spell disaster for a game as far as I'm concerned, but due to its beautifully rendered world and the ability to explore this underground facility with ease it was a far greater experience than I initially thought. The compulsion to play through the game, finding every power-up and hidden area was immense - partly because the very nature of this type of game improves with that ethic, but also because the environments of Shadow Complex were so atmospheric.

This underground facility, occupied by a mysterious home-grown terrorist force, had a character all of its own. Crawling through vents and under the floors revealed, not only weapons upgrades but details about the bigger picture, alluding to a greater and deeper story going on outside of the game. So effective were these little snatches of conversations between enemy guards that I found myself more intrigued by the hints the game revealed than merely following its own story.

This underground facility, occupied by a mysterious home-grown terrorist force, had a character all of its own.

Because Shadow Complex takes place in the same universe as Orson Scott Card's novel 'Empire', I feel it adds a huge amount to the believability of the game. The fact that it will also go hand-in-hand with his next book in the series 'Hidden Empire' gives it a unique role of bridging the gap between two works of fiction. Both these points mean the game's atmosphere has a weight and a meaning than most other games can't get close to. I really felt there was something deeper here, a story that went beyond the scope of all I could possibly see within the game. When Shadow Complex can do this then I know its made a certain connection that'll keep me interested and intrigued for a long time.

But Card's involvement has come with a large debate about whether or not his political and moral views constituent a boycott of this game depending on how the consumer feels. This is an issue that's undeniably worth considering, but the fact remains that setting the game in an established author's world has huge benefits for the believability of the game. Despite my own personal misgivings about Card's views, I'm desperate to read his Empire book and find out more about the world Shadow Complex operates in.

It might be a small emotional connection that the game makes, but it's one that gives it a layer of depth and atmosphere that's hard to find in most videogames.

It's just as well the game has this immense atmosphere as whenever the game kicks into a cut-scene, my interest fades rapidly away at the sight of the characters and the odd dichotomy between the game mechanics and story. There's nothing I find more disconnecting than having a story pressing a sense of urgency on me and then having that mean nothing when I get back in control of my character. I am, for the most part in Shadow Complex, trying to rescue someone in the facility from torture or death and yet I'm also encouraged to explore as much as possible to obtain weapon and item upgrades. In this context, the disconnect is a minor, if irritating, issue and I'm more concerned about the apathetic blood lust the 'ordinary' hero appears to engage in. He goes from being reluctant to even grasp a gun to happily mowing down several hundred guards, but at least the character makes a reference himself to the bloodshed - 'Killing's getting easier, not sure if that's good or bad. It's good'.

I have to wonder if games will ever take the killing of other virtual characters a bit more seriously. It's not that I'm getting hot under the collar about violence in videogames, but it'd be good to see a little bit of reality when it comes to the mass slaughter of enemies, no matter how generic they might be.

Even with these minor flaws, Shadow Complex took me on a pleasing ride through its world and did something a game hasn't done since Deus Ex - it made me want to read a book. Though Deus Ex had me reaching for the esoteric and more philosophical literature, this game's ability to fit comfortable within Orson Scott Card's world has encouraged me to pick up Empire and look forward to Card's next book in the series. It might be a small emotional connection that the game makes, but it's one that gives it a layer of depth and atmosphere that's hard to find in most videogames. It evokes memories of classic games from my past and just as they've had a sense of place and uniqueness, so has Shadow Complex and I eagerly await the next installment in its world.

Written by Adam Standing

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Adam Standing writes the Soulful Gamer column.

"Soulful gaming is found in a myriad of places. Games that tell a meaningful story with believable characters. Games that tackle issues larger than the latest run and gun technology. And for me in particular, games that connect me to an inspiring story often quietly overlooked by other players."

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