Metroidvania-style games are a dime a dozen in the present era, but it’s interesting to look at one that tries to do things differently. Shadow Complex is a Metroidvania like the rest of them in many ways, and I think what it’s trying to do differently is using realistic characters for the protagonist and the female lead, and unfortunately using realistic weapons instead of a sword, a whip, or an arm cannon. The use of realistic weapons (like semi-automatic guns) makes the game feel too much like a shooter and makes exploration less enjoyable. Couple that with the unlikable main characters, and you can safely skip Shadow Complex.
Let’s talk first about what Shadow Complex gets right. As in other Metroidvanias, there is a large, sprawling map, giving you a lot to explore. I particularly like the flashlight. If you shine your flashlight on a vent, it turns orange, indicating a standard weapon can give you access. If you shine your flashlight on an armored door, it turns green, indicating that a grenade destroys the door. All passageways are color-coded, and you need to figure out which weapon matches which color. Finally, the game draws a clear line showing where you need to go next. For anyone who has gotten lost in a Metroid or Castlevania game, this is a huge timesaver.
What is bad about Shadow Complex is the combat. The combat is almost all gunplay. As someone who doesn’t typically like violence in games, I found this to be a huge disappointment. Also, there really is a risk-reward to using a sword or a whip in most Metroidvanias. So the closer you get to your enemies, the more likely they are to hit you, although you need to get close to strike with one of the aforementioned weapons. In Shadow Complex, however, you walk into a room with three bad guys and you shoot them all (or throw grenades) from a distance. It isn’t fun. You get upgrades as you play, including better guns and armor, but the gunplay is so bad that it doesn’t feel like progress. The cheesy story line, with unlikable thirty-something characters who flirt with each other (“You were hitting on me at the bar!”), doesn’t help. The story and the combat are utter fails, but the exploration is fun.
As is typical, I reserve the fourth paragraph for talking about graphics. They are serviceable without being outstanding. This is an Xbox 360-era game, and the character models are a little basic when you consider that. If you look at how much mileage Bungie got with their Halo games on this platform, the graphics here leave something to be desired. The environmental detail, however, is quite good. Sadly the game has almost no music, which is hugely disappointing. No music in games is a trend that started around the Xbox 360, and I’m not fond of the idea. Something jazzy and catchy to keep me going in the levels would have been better than the constant sound of doors opening and gunshots.
Shadow Complex for Xbox 360 came at a time when professionally made Metroidvania games were kind of rare, and for that, it received high praise across most review outlets. Now, we have an embarrassment of riches in the Metroidvania genre, and Shadow Complex brings up the rear, with shallow gunplay, a dull plot, and too much silence. The game has been remastered with extra content, and re-released on PC, but based on what I’ve seen, there’s not enough new to justify giving it your time. If you’re a Metroidvania super-fan, check out Shadow Complex. If you’re like me, the game was exciting near launch, but boring by modern standards. Skip it.