Is that… Nolan North?
Like the movie industry, the video game industry has become increasingly fond of reboots, remakes, and re-engineering established franchises for current generations. At its best, this can be seen as a "if it ain't broke" approach to game design or as an homage to a classic franchise. At its worst (and unfortunately, most common), a "remastered" video game is a spit-and-polish effort to capitalize on brand recognition in order to feed the bottom line. Shadow Complex: Remastered for Xbox One is the latest victim of publishers using cut-and-paste remasters to gauge consumer interest. While celebrated back in 2009 for its solid, albeit heavily borrowed, gameplay and story, this version of Shadow Complex wears its makeup a little heavy, showing just how far we've come in seven years.
Shadow Complex is a 2D/3D “Metroidvania” action-platformer where you run around shooting at the bad things shooting at you, all while trying to find boots that let you double jump and weapons that let you open color-coded doors. You play as Jason, a generic twenty-something white dude who finds himself trying to save a girl he just met from the clutches of a secret organization hiding in an underground cave.
While video games are still struggling with telling effective stories, Shadow Complex is quick to remind the player that it used to be much, much worse. The premise is almost offensive by today’s standards, reeking of male machismo and stereotypical gender roles. Even the original Metroid, from which this game borrows heavily, eschewed the norm by having a female lead who could fend for herself. It’s only by the grace of Nolan North that players can stomach what little story there is and enjoy the real meat of Shadow Complex: the gameplay.
Playing Shadow Complex is fun. Good, solid, video game fun. Those who love to explore every inch of the map will find a lot to love here, as almost every room houses secrets begging to be unlocked. Progression is superbly paced, as players will unlock new weapons and upgrades at a consistent rate. Every time I found a new weapon upgrade, I immediately went to the map to see what rooms I could open with my newfound equipment. It’s a shame that even the remastered version failed to add a teleport/fast travel system, because backtracking can be a pain.
Combat in Shadow Complex is also fun, if only serving as a distraction from exploration. There is very little in the ways of enemy variation, and I found that launching a few grenades could clear just about any room with minimal effort. In fact, I had no idea that some of my encounters were designated as boss fights until after I looked up a guide. Some rooms will have a turret in place which upon activation gives the player full 3D control to mow down waves of enemies. The shift in perspective was neat and, thankfully, infrequently used. Players also have access to melee takedowns that have been expanded upon in the remastered release, but don’t be surprised if you fail to notice.
While the original Shadow Complex was hailed for its use of the Unreal 3 Engine back in 2009, the upgrade to 1080p brings its limitations to light. Faces in particular stand out as ugly, blurred messes (which is probably why all of the enemies wear face-covering helmets). In fact, even an extensive remake couldn’t hide the game’s bland art design. There’s very little to distinguish one room from another, except perhaps the lighting. Enemies look like they all showed up for a Metal Gear Solid convention cosplaying as the ninja. Even the robot designs look like MGS cutting room floor scraps, which makes me wonder why the original game received so much praise when it so clearly “borrowed” from bigger, better properties.
At the end of the day, this remaster ends up being little more than an up-rezzed 360 game. Had this been offered as a free upgrade for previous Shadow Complex owners (a la Castle Crashers, another Xbox Live Arcade alumni), it could be forgiven. As a product asking full retail price from players new and old, it’s a little insulting to fans of the original game.
Those fans are better off utilizing the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility to go back and play again. Those curious about what the fuss was all about back in the day will get something more out of it. Gameplay is where it counts, and regardless of its bland design and extensive hodge-podging from other properties, Shadow Complex Remastered is a fun game that will reward your time spent with it.