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Wot I Think: Shadow Complex - Remastered

Shadows are rather simple, actually

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.

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