Shadow Complex still thrills in its new remaster
Just before almost everything was a roguelike, almost everything was a Metroidvania, and Shadow Complex Remastered is here to return you, rather perfectly, to that exciting era.
It seems terribly wrong to think of August 2009 as being a long time ago, but it is a long time ago for games, and to prove it, Chair's elegant action game offers a cross-section of almost everything that seemed so new and exciting back then. Achievement pop-ups! Nolan North everyman heroes! Breadcrumb trails leading you across pretzeled maps. I was a bit nervous about returning to Shadow Complex - a game I remember really enjoying - after tastes have changed so much. I needn't have worried. Shadow Complex is filled with elements that allow players to date it fairly precisely, but it holds up well all the same. Shadow Complex has class.
You can feel this most keenly in the pacing. Shadow Complex moves along at a crazy clip, but it brings you with it all the way. Here's a list of things that happen in the first three minutes: You save the vice president of the USA. You shoot down a chopper. You're betrayed and killed. It turns out you didn't save the vice president of the USA after all. You're an everyman hero going for a ramble in the woods with a girl you've just met. The girl you've just met is captured by a ghastly left-wing militia and taken to their underground base. You learn to crouch!
Amazingly, none of this feels rushed. Sure, the plot is right-wing madness and the characterisations are almost subversively wooden, but all of that is probably the fault of Orson Scott Card, who was on scripting duties, if memory serves. Everything Chair handles, it handles with panache: a zippy firefight in Washington, a wonderfully evocative spelunk through pines and dripping caves, a sense of dark awe as the forces you're up against become apparent. Silly as it is, this is still a thrilling opening to a game.
And then the drip-feeding begins. Much was made at the time of the fact that Shadow Complex leads players through its clever mazes by a bright blue line on the map. In truth, though, this works so well because the game's brilliant at tempting you with reasons to deviate from your course. Gear-gating and optional asides are a staple of this kind of adventure, of course, but they're rarely implemented quite as well as they are here. It's always a pleasure rather than a faff to go back-tracking for trinkets, while even the simplest of upgrades - a gun and sticky grenades being the first and second - bring with them a sense of promise of the fun to come.
The remastering seems to be quite good to my eyes: everything's sharp and moves at a decent frame-rate, but the slightly wooden animations that give the game a sense of its place in history have remained intact. You wouldn't mistake this for a 2015 game, and nor should you. Shadow Complex belongs to history now.
Shadow Complex Remastered is free on PC for the time being, and it will be popping up on Xbox One and PS4 early next year, apparently. I'm an hour or so in, and I'm going to see it through again. That surprised me, but it's the best kind of surprise: a hyped crowd-pleaser from yesteryear remains a crowd-pleaser long after the hype has dispersed.