Save your girlfriend from the clutches of a terrorist organization.
PC Release: December 3, 2015
By Ian Coppock
What is it about spy flicks that makes them so endearing? Is it the mystery of uncovering a terrorist’s evil plot, or is it the thrill of watching a fluidly choreographed action sequence? Both elements have driven such film franchises as Mission: Impossible and James Bond to fantastic (financial) heights. Despite doing well on the big screen, spy thrillers have become disappointingly rare in the world of video games. They’re not extinct, though, as evidenced by Shadow Complex Remastered.
Shadow Complex Remastered is a platformer developed by Chair Entertainment, a Utah-based studio best-known for making the Infinity Blade trilogy. Shadow Complex was originally released as a digital exclusive for the Xbox 360 back in 2009 and, to the delight of many fans, was re-released on PC as a free digital download in 2015. The full re-release, Shadow Complex Remastered, launched on Steam the following spring with a variety of touched-up visuals and added content for the die-hard Shadow Complex fan.
Shadow Complex Remastered is a side-scrolling shooter that places itself firmly in the “Metroidvania” sub-genre of platformers. Key characteristics of that sub-genre include lots of hidden rooms to explore and backtracking through previously visited areas once armed with new equipment. Shadow Complex Remastered has both of these things in spades, as well as a story that wouldn’t look out of place in a lineup of Mission: Impossible films.
Shadow Complex Remastered stars Jason Flemming, a charming every-man whose sarcastic jokes and dry observations are given life by the voice of Nolan North (is that guy in everything?) Jason and his new girlfriend Claire stumble upon a cave while out hiking, and when Jason follows her inside, he finds himself on the doorstep of a secret base. Claire is captured by the base’s well-armed occupants, forcing Jason to launch a rescue mission all while discovering who this organization is.
Luckily for Claire, Jason happens to be an expert marksman, trained by his father for a military career he was never interested in. Reluctant to incite violence but even more reluctant to let Claire die, Jason picks up a pistol and ventures into an ever-larger military complex in pursuit of his girlfriend. The foes he’s up against sport futuristic technology like robots and laser guns, and what they plan to use these weapons for might be even more alarming.
As Jason, it’s up to players to explore the enemy base and defeat foes wherever they can be found. Jason has an infinite amount of ammunition but must reload frequently, making crouching behind barriers a must for surviving combat. Jason starts out with a pistol but acquires larger guns as he gets deeper into the base. Players can also take advantage of an expansive arsenal of secondary weapons, including grenades, rockets, and purple foam that can turn enemies into silly string snowmen.
In true Metroidvania style, players will often be unable to access certain areas until they can come back with the proper tools to do so. Shadow Complex Remastered revels in re-contextualizing areas that players have already explored. Can’t open that grate? Come back when Jason has the right weapon. Shadow Complex‘s map is presented as a series of grid squares, and many of those squares have hidden secrets for players to find. Players up for a bit of exploring can find hidden health and ammo extenders, and can also level up to gain access to automatic perks like bonus damage.
A good Metroidvania can only pull off all of this backtracking and hidden rooms with decent level design, and Shadow Complex Remastered accomplishes that brilliantly. The game’s world is an intricately connected labyrinth of rooms whose arrangement is fluid; so fluid that players will have little trouble traversing from one end of the base to another. Even though Shadow Complex‘s grid is both vertical and horizontal, players can easily backtrack to previously explored areas and find secret rooms.
It’s because of its secret rooms that Shadow Complex Remastered is a delight for explorers. It’s fun to ransack the base in search of hidden alcoves and vents, most of which lead to handy dandy upgrades. Shadow Complex Remastered‘s map marks secrets with a question mark so that players can have some idea of which rooms pack hidden goodies. Like in all of the great Metroidvania games, players can highlight what material a locked door is made of and come back once they’ve got the weapon to blow it open.
Exploring the world of Shadow Complex Remastered is all the more fun for how well its gameplay is implemented. The game encourages exploration by making Jason immune to fall damage, but balances that out with punishing enemy attacks. Shadow Complex Remastered also shakes up its traveling by introducing mysterious underwater environments (bring a swimsuit). In addition to finding more sophisticated weapons, Jason also gains access to some cool spy gadgets to make getting around Shadow Complex Remastered more fun (yes, that includes a jetpack).
Though gadgets are fun to find and use, some of them could stand better gameplay implementation. The grappling hook is a particularly finicky device that does a poor job of indicating to players which ledges are close enough to grapple and which ones are too far away. Same goes for the super-speed boots, whose controls for wall-jumping are basically nonexistent. These are small nicks in an otherwise solid core of gameplay, but they’re nicks that players would do well to watch out for.
Despite the subtitle “Remastered” Shadow Complex Remastered also has its struggles in the art department. The game’s character animations, a holdover from the design conventions of the late 2000’s, are quite shaky. Whether it’s during a cutscene or in actual gameplay, the characters often move as though they’ve got dozens of little earthquakes rocking their joints. The scene at the beginning of the game in which Jason’s arm spasms as he puts on a backpack is particularly painful to watch.
Having said that, Chair Entertainment did a great job of updating Shadow Complex‘s other design elements. The game’s textures look a lot sharper in the Remastered edition as opposed to the Xbox 360 original, and the lighting and shadow effects have much more volume to them. Facial animations, while still a bit stiff, look quite good. Shadow Complex Remastered also fixes numerous bugs that plagued the original edition, like enemy corpses suddenly careening off-screen. The game runs quite well even for a PC port of an older game and its options menu is… acceptable.
Shadow Complex Remastered shakes up the original game’s visuals and aversion to bugs, but one element that it leaves alone is the narrative. The story is a crisp, concisely written action-thriller driven almost solely by dialogue; it features just the right amount of exposition woven into conversations between characters and answers questions at an even pace. Neither the game’s concept of homegrown terrorists nor its notion of the novice hero is anything new, but Shadow Complex‘s neat writing and old-school Metroidvania vibe make both elements feel fresh and fun.
For his part, Nolan North does a good job voicing the character of Jason Flemming, whom he aptly brings to life as an everyday guy thrust into a bad situation (and whose name is almost certainly a shout-out to James Bond author Ian Flemming). The character of Flemming draws heavy inspiration from North’s previous projects; it’s no hyperbole to say that Flemming is basically one part the sarcasm of Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake and one part the bewilderment of Assassin’s Creed‘s Desmond Miles. The character’s quips and jokes reinforce the aforementioned everyday joe vibe pretty well.
Shadow Complex Remastered is a game that no platformer or shooter fan should miss. Its presentation aptly combines a well-paced story, pretty visuals, and some of the best Metroidvania level design of the last 10 years. Chair is to be commended for smoothly porting this title to PC (something most devs seem to have a lot of trouble doing these days) and the game plays fine with either a keyboard and mouse or a gamepad. Hopefully the game having been remastered is a sign that Chair is working on some kind of follow-up, because Shadow Complex Remastered contains a lot of what the gaming industry is missing these days: masterful level design, spy thrills, and, simply, fun.
You can buy Shadow Complex Remastered here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.