Shadow Complex Final Hands-On PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Jul 17, 2009
The game exists in the same fictional universe (Empire) as Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender's Game. Obviously, if you decide to read the book before you play the game, you’ll have a greater sense of the game’s overall context, but it’s certainly not necessary to ensure a satisfying game experience. Players assume the role of Jason Fleming, your typical, run-of-the-mill badass who stumbles across a massive paramilitary plot to drive the United States into civil war after his girlfriend Claire is taken prisoner by a group known as the Restoration. Over the course of the game, Jason’s past, as well as the Restoration’s intentions, are revealed.
Now, like any open-world game, you’re free to go where you want without encountering a single loading screen. But because of the way the world is laid out, you never know what awaits you in the next room. Every time you pass through a door (or climb into vents, shafts, etc.), you’re not sure if you’ll be entering a broom closet or a military supply station, and yet it all has a perfect sense of progression. So while each new area feels different, it all makes sense in the overall context of the game world. It’s easily one of the most perfectly realized and well-executed game spaces I’ve ever seen, and I think I’ve only explored probably half of the map at this point.
Just as the game world gradually opens up, so do Jason’s abilities. During my time with the game, I’ve gone from puny dude with a flashlight, unable to climb, to a machine gun-toting, rocket pack-wearing, underwater-breathing agent of death, all in the span of a few hours. While finding new gear is essential to unlocking new abilities, Shadow Complex also features a leveling system that increases things like your stamina, health, and aiming precision.
Combat is less impressive (so far) than the fantastic level design, but it’s still incredibly satisfying. The game sports a 2D/3D design and anyone familiar with Contra or the recent Bionic Commando: Rearmed will instantly feel at home here. You move along a single plane (left, right, up, down), while enemies can move in all directions. The left thumbstick is for movement, and the right thumbstick controls your aim. Normally, you can only aim along your 2D plane, but whenever enemies are on screen, the game will automatically turn you to give you the appropriate angle on your target. It works well enough, but it can be a bit frustrating when enemies shoot you from off-screen, giving you no choice but to run straight into their gunfire in order to expose their position.
There’s tons more to talk about, but I’ve hit the limit of what I can say before Microsoft siccs the hounds on me. And even though I still have a bit more to play, Shadow Complex has managed to deliver a truly enjoyable and expertly crafted experience so far. This is one game you aren’t going to want to miss, so make sure you check back in a few weeks for the final verdict.