Today, independent and digital titles sit fairly comfortably alongside big budget games in terms of critical reception and public acceptance, but when Shadow Complex was released in 2009, it was customary to finish any sentence that started "It's great..." with a phrase like "...for a downloadable game". Shadow Complex Remastered gives PlayStation owners their first opportunity to play one of the early success stories of XBLA from the last generation, and gives one of the first console downloadable games a chance to shine in a less discriminating marketplace.
The game begins with Jason – seemingly distinctly average in every way – out on a date in the woods with a girl named Claire. The date is going pretty well as far as romantic hikes go, but all goes a little bit pear shaped when the love-birds stumble upon a hidden para-military base, and terrorists drag Claire away kicking and screaming. The lesson: be wary of anyone on Tinder that wants to take you to the woods. Jason decides that he's seen enough, and thanks to weapons training passed down to him by his CIA father, he's got just enough moxie to be a fly in the ointment and save the day.
Okay, so the story is ludicrous. But there's something charming about it all in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. The villains bear more than a passing resemblance to Cobra from GI Joe, and their plan is just as bonkers as anything the famously misguided Commander Cobra could have cooked up. It's all very cheesy, and all very silly, and anybody who looks back fondly at a time when The A-Team was the highlight of their weekend should feel right at home.
After the short intro, Shadow Complex wisely keeps the narrative in the background and focuses on gameplay. As Jason, your first task is to locate Claire within the complex. To do that you'll need to run, jump, and fight your way through numerous screens in a Metroidvania style, 2.5D setting.
At first, Jason has only his wits and his fists at his disposal, but soon into his adventure he finds a gun. Guns are primarily used for shooting people in the face, but they're also handy for shooting the covers off air vents, allowing Jason access. Sometimes these vents are required passage in order for the story to progress, but sometimes they lead to secrets or power-ups. The game does a nice job of letting you know that there's something hidden in the area you're in by displaying a question mark on the map. Often you'll be able to see the hidden extra on the screen, but it'll be trapped behind some sort of security system that you won't be able to access until you have the appropriate weapon. Later in the game, you'll have access to grenades and a few more skills, all of which will allow you to access more areas of the map, and to get your hands on valuable upgrades.
Graphically, the game is presented in 3D, but movement is restricted to left and right, up and down. Interestingly, enemies can appear both in the same two dimensional plane as Jason, and in the background. This seems impressive at first, but once more than a couple of enemies begin to appear in the Z-axis, aiming at them proves more than a little hit and miss. This would probably be incredibly frustrating if the game were more challenging, but since it's fairly forgiving, especially for the genre, these aiming mishaps are little more than an occasional annoyance.
The difficulty of the game is perhaps its biggest weakness. Shadow Complex rarely presents the player with much of a challenge, and you could probably have the game finished in one sitting without much trouble. Enemies go down easily, puzzles are usually straightforward, and the map eliminates the need for the memorisation of item locations that is generally required within the Metroidvania genre. Boss battles are sometimes confusingly designed, and it's not always clear what you're supposed to do, but if in doubt, shooting rockets at the thing and staying close to health packs will be all the tactical cunning you'll need to get by.
Shadow Complex Remastered is, in many ways, a perfect gateway drug for the Metroidvania genre. It's accessible and straightforward, and the story features just the right mix of swashbuckling heroics and moustache twirling pantomime villainy. It's perhaps too easy for seasoned veterans of the genre, and some aiming issues and questionably designed boss encounters sour the package a little, but if you've got a few hours to kill and you're waiting for another proper Metroid game, then you could do a lot worse than Shadow Complex.