Fortnite's superspy update is probably the closest I'll get to a cancelled game I always wanted to play
Before I got properly into it, I was going to say that Fortnite's new superspy update is the closest we'll likely get to a Shadow Complex sequel. You know: you infiltrate an HQ or two, taking out enemy agents. There are vents and ductwork and complex door locks. It sort of fits.
But then I got properly into it. Oh man. The thing that oriented me, I think, the thing that got me playing in the right direction, is the voices. The latest addition to Fortnite plonks a bunch of spy HQs down at various points on the map. They're all beautiful bits of design, and they all have a vault packed with treasures that you can get into if you kill a boss and pinch their key card and manage to get it to the vault door without being taken out. There are disguises and mounted turrets and door scanners that you can bypass in various clever ways. It's all very tense and vivid.
But the enemy agent voices! Oh man. Baddies all have the classic espionage punctuation over their heads to tell you whether you've been spotted or not, but they also talk to each other. And the way they talk: it's just magical. It's every movie heavy in cinema reduced to grunts and muttering and the kind of noises you might make when you're moving a sofa. It's really charming and funny, and that's before I realised that one of them sounds like someone doing a Stallone impression, while another has a hint of Arnie to it.
Two things here. One of them is that this is a huge part of why you can chuck so many different things into Fortnite and they always work: the art style and the sense of the place is theme park, Saturday cartoon, squishy faces comedy, and you can do anything with that in a way that must be really frustrating to other games that have chosen fantasy or military or a dozen other themes that aren't as flexible.
The second is that, if this isn't Shadow Complex, why does it give me such a feeling of nostalgia? Just now, I broke into the vault on Shark HQ, right as the storm was sweeping through, and against all my expectations I managed to make an incredible higgledy-piggledy escape to safety with everything I found in there. Spies on the run! Colourful, stylised spies on the run.
And it suddenly hit me: The Agency! The SOE MMO which sadly never made it to full release. Back in the day it looked just beautiful, a globe-trotting, Martini-shaking, narrow-escaping lark of a game filled with colour and wit. This is probably the closest I'll ever get to living The Agency dream, because here's the same humour, the same awareness that what's cool about spies is also the same stuff that makes them kind of silly.