Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shadow Complex (Xbox 360)

Hike After The Summer So They Don't Get You!
First person shooters are of what the first decade of gaming in the 21st century is about since its baby steps since the 1980s but during that time, gaming was still in its baby steps. Unable to process such modern graphical enhancements such as motion blur, specular highlighing, and megatexturing, game systems stuck with mostly flat 2 dimensional planes where it was left to right; from point A to point B. Games using this basic format of progression including Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night (Sony PlayStation, 1997) and Metroid series including the acclaimed Super Metroid (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1994) took the linear gameplay of past games and made the whole game open ended for gamers to find new content including weapon upgrades and hidden rooms anytime. Now we go to 2009 where that influence is brought into effect in the Xbox Live Arcade exclusive Shadow Complex. Only for 1200 Microsoft Points and the last game of the Arcade's Summer Of Arcade program filled with addicting gameplay that defies the interpretation of what Xbox Live Arcade is and what can it really be in the future.

Taking place within Orson Scott Card's 2006 best seller Empire to tie into the sequel Hidden Empire (2009), it starts off in Washington D.C. with a military officer failing to attempting to save the Vice President with a powersuit built by the main antagonistic terrorist group the Restoration. Then the player follows an everyman named Jason Fleming who agrees to hike with his new girlfriend Claire in the Washington state forest but later encounters her captured by the Restoration and their plans to attack major cities including San Francisco. Jason finds himself into a conflict he never wanted to be part of and is made to save Claire and stop the Restoration's plans once and for starting with only a flashlight and a backpack.

It's simply put as girl gets captured, the protagonist must get by any means to save her. By no means it's original but it's entertaining to see how it goes to save her. There is some backstory elements within the cutscenes and in game respectively that help Jason's character progression and give cohesion to people who lack knowledge of what Empire was about. The plot overall is more on the side and although in this day and age of gaming it's a disadvantage, it's also a benefit because the game's intention is to get the user to digest the story by personal choice and really try to engage in the gameplay in which Shadow Complex is all about.

Following in the spirits of the aforementioned Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night and as well as some other adventure games such as Out Of This World (PC, 1991), it's all about exploration where the player can find new weapons, power-ups, and upgrades that can help destroy enemies easier, unlock new rooms, and find more of the 110 items throughout the game's large and detailed map. Some of these areas can only though be accessed through particular weapons including missiles and the extremely useful foam gun which can also freeze enemies in their position and can lead to explosive ends. Although linear in some senses especially trying to completely beat game the players can backtrack to any area of the complex and can search for any missing upgrades by using new gear and the bonuses in leveling up can extend the gamers' imagination in finding ways around and to even finding exploits. The first playthrough can encourage a scouring of every little duct or cave for the 100% completion achievement but it's all about playing it again to play with different variables. This is where the achievement system comes in where Shadow Complex features some by doing a specific action multiple times including kicking small robots named bombas and getting multiple headshots; but those can't compare to the non-pointed master challenges where it's a test to hardcore gamers to do such things as completing the game at 100% under three hours on Insane difficulty to finding the hilarious secret ending.

The campaign can last up to 6-10 hours within the first playthrough but as you get familiar with the complex it will be an easier time the second, third, and such times to a possible 30 minutes or less as some have found a way.

Besides the main campaign, there is also the Proving Grounds game mode where it helps new users to getting familiar and to master weapons and upgrades and test them with twenty-one different trials separated by seven trials in three packs with each getting difficult. It's addicting to get the platinum medals and to get high scores on the leaderboards even if trial and error can be very apparent in this mode. Practice makes perfect.

Running under Unreal Engine 3, Chair Entertainment provided an excellent job in making a detailed game for release on Xbox Live Arcade. From the natural woods to the artificial yet clean underground hallways, Chair made an interesting complex with variation all around as opposed to being constantly industrialized gray. Character models mostly looks attractive and detailed although not including Claire in some cases where she looks like a different person in every cutscene she is in; it might be the lighting or the angle of the shot but it feels so awkward looking at her after her first appearance. Supported with well-executed voice acting from everyone to the loud weapon sounds, the presentation is excellent especially in the Arcade field.

IGN Original Trailer of Shadow Complex

Playing in a 2D space, Shadow Complex mainly plays in the format where most enemies are in the foreground with some exceptions of where enemies for example enemies from the background and enter the fight. The player can get Jason to shoot them with the background auto aim feature using the right analog stick; it works but when trying to get a precise shot or at least getting a hit it's a challenge upon itself especially when the target is lethal.

You will start off with only a flashlight and will shortly get weapons to fight against strong enemies ranging from infantry soldiers to mechanized bipedal tanks in which some though can be easily defeated with reading hint pop-ups revealing their weak spot. If possible, you can eliminate them with instant kill close quarter combat but it can be deadly up close to especially at harder difficulties. Even on normal difficulty, the enemies can kill you within a few seconds if you don't find cover or kill them fast enough. Taking cover is one part of what makes Shadow Complex tactical as opposed to other side-scrollers. You can aim for headshots or if possible kill with obstacles including bombas, electical cables, or flaming vents. When you do kill people especially larger enemies, there is a sense of relief and the the urge to kill more especially with them having entertaining rag-doll death animations.

Even with a game like this, there are had to be issues. Running on Unreal Engine 3 there are some short comings including the common late texture loading and the motion blur in some cases can be distracting and makes the screen look unclear. There are some texture errors especially at the ending with 100% completion in which Jason has white hair with purple highlights as opposed to the regular black. Enemies sometimes don't see my presence unless I am very close to them or just fire a bullet in their general direction. Occassional rag-doll/environment collision glitching as well but that and the others are too minor when compare to the game's large amount of high priority advantages.

I will go off and say that Shadow Complex is an heir to its influences and brings new forms of gameplay to a new gaming audiences. Despite it's little shortcomings, Shadow Complex is a watershed and a forerunner for possible major projects to be made in Xbox Live Arcade. From the guys who made a very casual underwater game named Undertow (2007) to something big and amazing like this sold in a format mostly selling seemingly smaller formatted games, Chair Entertainment made the best Xbox Live Arcade game.


No comments:

Post a Comment