Shadow Complex is Super Metroid for the Gears of War generation. Its 2D action mechanics are pretty much lifted straight out of the 1994 Nintendo classic, but it’s unequivocally modern with production values breaching the stratosphere and spiralling off into space.
Created by Epic Games' Chair Entertainment, Shadow Complex is, in fact, a huge underground base, home to the Progressive Restoration, a fanatical terrorist organisation hell-bent on “liberating” San Francisco. You tumble into its innards accidentally. Jason Fleming (voiced by Nolan North, aka Nathan Drake) is enjoying the great outdoors with his girlfriend when she is captured by stormtrooper-esque bad guys. Armed only with a flashlight, Jason heads deep underground, braving flooded caves, monstrous mechs and an endless army of gun-toting goons as he desperately tries to rescue his princess and unravel the motivations behind the mysterious organisation’s nefarious plans.
Shadow Complex’s mechanics are old-school 2D in the extreme, but the game world is rendered in 3D and the animations are super slick. As is current de rigueur, a 2.5D approach has been taken, the gorgeous Unreal Engine-powered graphics providing some stunning backgrounds both over ground and underground, with eye-catching explosions rocking enemies and crates in all dimensions.
You’re able to shoot left and right and up and down and anywhere in between, but you’re also able to shoot into the background at enemies who appear in the distance. This takes some getting used to at first. Jason’s movement is governed by the left thumb stick, but his weapons are aimed more precisely with the right thumb stick. Think Geometry Wars – you’re able to move left while shooting right, jump up while shooting down.
Jason’s agile. Really, really, agile. He’s able to leap, wall jump and pull himself up ledges like a man-sized fly – all this with only the game’s first discoverable item: his girlfriend’s climbing gear. Item gathering proves to be Shadow Complex’s main hook – the deeper down the rabbit hole you explore the more power-ups you discover and the more previously inaccessible areas become accessible.
Normal guns, for example, destroy orange grates. When you get grenades, however, you’re able to destroy green grates and rocks. Red doors and rock surfaces can be destroyed with missiles, and purple objects, like ventilation fans, can be destroyed with the Foam Gun (a hugely fun weapon that shoots small blocs of foam that expand to form platforms or stick enemies in place).
It’s not just Jason’s weaponry that expands – early on he finds a piece of an advanced suit of armour that eventually leads him to transform into a super-powered cyborg. At first the upgrades are slight – thrust boosts for a double boost jump and damage reduction come in very handy, but then even more powerful armour pieces are found – breathing apparatus for underwater diving and the hook shot for Spider-Man-style swinging to name only two. The Friction Dampener, which enables you to run at hyper speed, lets you bulldozer your way through blue obstacles. By the end of the game you’re motivated more by hunting down every single piece of armour than you are to save your poor old better half. The pursuit of 100 per cent completion is paramount.