by Epic and Chair Entertainment games is out on the 19th of August for download on the Xbox 360 over XBLA. It will set you back 1200 points, or a tenner in good honest money. So, you'd be right to expect something suitably impressive for that cash. Whether it is well spent on Shadow Complex
is debatable, but your hard drive will certainly feel the weight of its 800+ MBs, if that's how you'd choose to calculate value.
Vintage has been 'in' for a long time now. So 'in' it's on the verge of going out, as any hipster douche knows. However, as time marches relentlessly on, so does what is retro. A couple of years ago, 1995 was well hip and rad. Now, it would seem, 1997 is the place to be, except, like all good retro, it's the stuff 1997-ites would have wept into their minidiscs for, marvelling at Unreal's graphics which, even now, are better than ITV's.
The complex that is shadowy in both literal and metaphorical terms is investigated by our plucky hero after he agrees to go pot-holing with a sylph-like chick he met in a bar the night before. Claire, for that is her name, challenges him to a race to the bottom. A race he is destined to lose. One that will end in her capture, torture and kidnapping by a nefarious group of Lycra-clad villains who believe she is a government spy. Is she? Who can say? Certainly not our sweet but thick hero, plunging blindly through underground streams, machine gunning turrets, springing up walls and crawling through air vents in order to crack the various rooms of the underground fortress, get the girl, save the country and make his dead dad proud, or something.
On dropping into the murky lair our hero gains a torch with the remarkable ability to highlight areas of interest in different colours coded to indicate which weapon to use to explode them with. This dual purpose technique allows you to save on ammo by not having to try everything before achieving entry to that area. It also hooks you into wanting the next weapon as initially only a pistol is given, allowing you only into orange-sealed air vents and such; then grenades are found that blow up green rocky areas and hatch doors. This is followed by foam blasters (purple), missiles(red) and a friction dampener (blue).
This reluctance to dish out weapons does mean that large portions of the map have to be gone through repeatedly to pick up all the items and power ups ? not that they are all necessary, but who's going to leave gold bullion, health increases or extra grenade holding capacity behind, especially when there's a 100% coverage achievement to get? Even if you don't feel a sense of satisfaction from getting all the items, just to keep you on your toes, the storyline will send you back on yourself a fair few times, towards spandex-coated henchmen and turrets of all types who spawn again as soon as you're out of their territory. So, going back for items isn't exactly the walk in the park our flirty one-night-stand promised us earlier in the game. The misadventurous cow.
While I'm on the subject of repeated killing of the same characters, which I am, the pistol aiming system is ridiculous. It strains against the 2D scrolling and requires more luck than technique, as pressing the trigger invariably sends your left thumb off in random directions, meaning walls and crates receive as many bullets as the baddies. Lucky then that gun ammo is unlimited, the developers are more than generous with the 'nades and any enemies on the Z-axis are automatically aimed at.
Despite the transparent plot, unbreakable legs, tediously stupid enemies, tiresome trudging around an expensive-looking underworld ? and despite my gratitude for the evolution of gaming - it's a game which hooks you in straight away and keeps you going with nicely paced upgrades and plot. It is frustrating in places, boring in others, but still manages to be entertaining enough for a cold summer's day.
If you're over 20 it'll make you hark back to halcyon days of computer games when GoldenEye was the future and Wet Wet Wet were always in the charts. You'll get all misty eyed and be hooked for hours. If you were merely a burbling, red-faced and pastel-swaddled tot in the 90s, be prepared to be doubly-bored by the game and your dad whuffling on about his bachelorhood and how he should damp-proof the cellar so the two of you can have a games room and eat Wotsits on beanbags without your mum disturbing you.
SPOnG Score: 65%