Wot I Think: Shadow Complex – Remastered

Shadow Complex [official site] originally came out on the Xbox 360 in 2009. Then after a little six year pause, a so-called “Remastered” edition was released, for free, to try to push Epic’s “Epic Games” downloader that I’ve never heard a single person mention since. It has been released again, yesterday, on Steam, this time for money. About ten monies. Which is, oddly, fewer monies than it now costs on Epic’s entirely unused launcher. Anyway, here’s wot I think:

I originally played Shadow Complex soon after release on 360 and remember enjoying it. Well-crafted Metroid-likes are few and far between, and it did a good job of having me run back and forth as new abilities opened new areas, along with some nice enough analogue-stick-focused combat. I also remember finding the story dreadful, and being particularly disappointed that it came down to “military shooty man rescues the princess”. It didn’t change my life, but it was an entertaining distraction. And yet, for reasons that elude me, it became something of a 360 darling.

Shadow Complex is essentially the story of a poor man trapped in a 2D plane within a 3D world, in which enemies can run around and back and forth, while he slides inexorably to the left or right, up or down, mystified by their dimensional traversal. Also his girlfriend, with whom he was going hiking in the woods, has been captured by some sort of military organisation after the couple stumbled on a secret underground base beneath the trees. The narrative is a clodding arse of embarrassing drivel.

So you must dart about, shooting at the faces of respawning enemies, looking for secrets and finding new skills, in order to rescue her. (This is a game that is so hilariously determined to remove any agency from the female lead that at one point she’s literally paralysed, requiring our hero to drag her body and hide it behind some crates.)

It’s mostly still fun, but it really hasn’t aged well. And it certainly doesn’t help that I spent much of the last week replaying the exquisite Ori & The Blind Forest, which does the genre approximately 23 times better. Shadow Complex feels clumsy, especially the jumping – the wall jumping is completely abysmal, for instance. Which strikes me as odd, as it was dreadful six years ago too. Isn’t this a remaster?

In fact, it’s hard to get to grips with what has been “remastered”. It’s been ported to the latest version of the Unreal engine, but it certainly doesn’t look like it was built with it. The animations are still clunky. The voice acting still sounds like pantomime. And the game’s most frustrating mistake – the map failing to mark half the coloured indicators of blocked exits – still remains in place. In a game dependent upon retracing your steps to access previously inaccessible areas, this last issue is hugely annoying. Doors blocked by, say, red or purple gating, are incorrectly marked as accessible. But nah, they didn’t bother fixing that.

Enemies still clip through scenery, drops get stuck floating in midair, I still managed to fall through the bottom of a lift. If anything, this feels like a straight port, with almost no hints of improvement.

So, yeah, bit of an odd spot, in the end. It was free for a bit last year, which makes it strange that it now costs over a tenner. It is definitely visually improved, but still looks very dated. And the remastering apparently didn’t include addressing the game’s many issues. But at the same time, this is still Shadow Complex, well loved, and definitely a decent time. Just a decent time from six years ago and looking and feeling like it.


  1. vorador says:

    Shadow Complex: RePorted should have been a more honest title.

    While a fully honest title would be along the lines of Epic Games Account Installer: Free Game Inside!!

    I enjoyed the game on it’s time, even though the story was utter bollocks. But i’m not particularly interested now since i have far better Metroid-style games in my library to get into.

    • kaer says:

      Share their names, please?
      On topic; I had fun with Shadow Complex, but it was free, and I doubt I’ll play again. But it did fulfill that empowering sense of progress that makes me love metroidvanias.

      • vorador says:

        For example

        Axiom Verge
        Ori and the Blind Forest
        Child of Light
        Odallus the Dark Call
        La Mulana (CAUTION, play with walktrough, otherwise i cannot be hold accountable for any loss of sanity)
        Shantae Risky Revenge
        Abyss Odissey
        Valdis Story
        Rogue Legacy
        The Swapper
        Dust: An Elysian Tail

        And many more.

        • kaer says:

          Thanks! I’ve played about half of those. Will go read about the others.

        • Sir_Brizz says:

          Did any of those games come out before Shadow Complex? I’m pretty sure that entire list came out in the past ~4 years.

  2. kwyjibo says:

    I’ve got this on my wishlist.

    I saw it for free earlier, but I would rather pay than sign up to yet another fucking service with another fucking launcher.

    • suibhne says:

      Bummer for you, then. It’s an incredibly non-intrusive launcher – ridiculously easy to shove out of the way until you want to play Shadow Complex or the UT alpha. My biggest issue is that I forget it’s installed and can actually play those games (but to be fair, that also means the games are pretty damn forgettable).

  3. a very affectionate parrot says:

    I remember enjoying the game when I got it for free and I literally remember nothing of the story, it’s so nonexistent they might as well have an option in the menu to just turn it off and let you metroid it up without being bothered by the damsel cliche shit.

  4. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    This is also how I felt when I grabbed it during that giveaway. That it looks and controls like shit. Sure, it’s an old game, but you know what games are even older? 2D Castlevania and Metroid games, and they all look and feel much better.

  5. Romeric says:

    Another case of the memory being better than the reality. Playing games for the sake of nostalgia (or just playing remastered games full-stop) can often be dangerous if you ask me. I’d rather keep the fond memories than play something dated by today’s standards. Nice review, John.

  6. Brotoles says:

    Mr. Walker, how did you calculate how many times Ori is better than Shadow Complex? :-)

    (BTW I love Ori and the Blind Forest, and I think it’s 59 times better than SC)

  7. drygear says:

    I got it when it came out on the 360 and felt like I was the only one who didn’t like it much. I had fun with it for a while I guess. I hated the story.

    The game was a tie-in to an Orson Scott Card book about an American civil war between liberals and conservatives. The military organization you stumble upon in the game is the evil liberals who want to take over (this was made during the Bush years). That’s a large part of why I disliked it.

  8. Sir_Brizz says:

    Just to correct something in this article, Shadow Complex Remastered is still an Unreal Engine 3 game. The only real changes they made were to increase the resolution on most things so they would look better at 4K native (as opposed to upscaled 1080p on the 360) and added some animations. The game is literally identical outside of the 5 things mentioned on the Steam store page:

    Updated Features:
    – Up-rezzed characters, enemies, environments, and interface
    – Updated lighting, post-processing, and visual effects
    – New contextual melee take-downs
    – New Achievements and Master Challenges
    – Supports keyboard/mouse and PC controller with customizable controller and key bindings, and up to 4K resolution support

    It objectively looks better than the original game, but gameplay wise it is 99.9% identical. It’s still very much a 7 year old game designed by an indie in many ways.

    I still think the game is incredible but it’s not at all surprising that other games have surpassed it in some way. That being said, I don’t really agree that Ori has surpassed it despite being a better overall game. Ori is a much smaller game than Shadow Complex is in terms of complexity and the difference between what you start as and what you end as in Ori is a much smaller gap than in Shadow Complex.

    Regardless of how you feel about that, though, the main thing is that Shadow Complex was really the first of a more modern generation of Metroidvania games. At the time, there were very few, if any, games like it available. Honestly, it could have had no story and been just fine, though I didn’t mind the story myself.