Xbox Live Arcade has a hot list of games this summer, and Shadow Complex--an impressive-looking 2D action platformer set in an expansive nonlinear 3D world--wraps things up right before the kids go back to school. Donald Mustard of Chair Entertainment, owned by Epic Games, came by to show us what a modern day Super Metroid/Castlevania-inspired game would look like with updated graphics using the Unreal Engine 3. We also had a chance to play with a preview build, and from our experience, Shadow Complex feels very much like an old-school side-scroller that lets you mess around with plenty of fancy high-tech gadgets and fun weapons.
The opening scene is a bit of a teaser because you play as a colonel in the US military who is trying to protect the vice president of the United States from terrorists. You're armed with a nice arsenal of weapons and protected by special armor that you stole from the enemy. This intense and chaotic opening sequence thrusts you into the midst of a gun fight, which gives you a chance to shoot some bad guys in the face and even take down a chopper before the scene ends. You'll immediately notice that even though you're playing a 2D side-scroller, you can shoot enemies on a 3D plane. A laser will help guide your aim, so you'll not only have to watch for enemies up ahead or behind you, but you'll also have to keep an eye out in the background. This brief opening will only give you a taste of what's to come because, unfortunately, you're not going to start the game with missiles and a special suit of armor.
Shadow Complex is set in Orson Scott Card's Empire universe, and the script is penned by comic book author Peter David (Spider-Man, Star Trek). The story follows Jason Fleming, a hiker who happened to stumble upon an underground terrorist facility while out exploring with his girlfriend, Claire. Unfortunately, Claire gets snatched up by this rogue paramilitary group, which is known as the Restoration. As the story unfolds, your primary goal is to, obviously, go rescue Claire, but as you navigate deeper into the enemy's base and overhear top-secret conversations, you'll learn that this fanatical group is intent on setting up a chain of events that will cause the United States to collapse into a civil war. On the bright side, though, these terrorists have a ton of cool gear that you can try to steal.
Finding all 120 power-ups in the game is going to be a challenge, but each item you do find will increase your abilities by either making you stronger or faster. We didn't get very far in the game on our own, but Donald showed us some of the fun stuff that you'll come across later. One piece of gear that we were just dying to get a hold of was hyper speed boots, which will let you run so fast that you can cruise right over water and run up walls and ceilings. As long as you keep your momentum, you'll continue running. The terrorists have somehow managed to build an incredibly elaborate labyrinth in the woods, so there are plenty of places for you to explore by running, jumping, or swimming. We saw the foam gun in action at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, but it was fun to see the different ways you can utilize foam. You can use it to create a platform for yourself or freeze enemies with it and then detonate them with a grenade. A hook shot and thrust pack were just some of the other useful pieces of equipment we saw that would enable Jason to climb to hard-to-reach areas. Even with all these gadgets, some acrobatics are required on your part to make these difficult climbs.
Initially, you don't start off with very much. You're armed with a flashlight until you find Claire's backpack, which will immediately give you the ability to wall jump, so you can nimbly pounce from one ledge to another. As you progress, you'll come across various weapons that will help you break down doors and access areas that would be otherwise unreachable. You'll gain experience point by doing just about anything. Each time you enter a new room, kill an enemy, or pick up a power-up, you'll gain XP. Giant mechanical bosses will periodically come after you, and if you can exploit their weaknesses, you'll earn more XP than you would by using your handgun and plinking them to death. As you level, your character will grow stronger, so it's a good idea to explore every nook and cranny to try to find those hidden power-ups. There are also 12 gold bars in the game, and we were told that if you can find them all, something "very cool" will happen.
There will be a lot of backtracking, but at least you'll be armed with a map that will highlight the areas you've explored. In our demo, Donald zoomed out of his almost-complete map, and the layout of the place was huge. Luckily, there will be enough variety to the place so that you won't feel like you're only exploring an underground warehouse or tech lab. We got a brief glimpse at the obligatory mine cart level in which you can jump in and ride carts from one end of the area to the other. Gameplay should last anywhere from 10 to 12 hours on your first play-through, but chances are, you probably won't be able to find everything on the first try. After you've gone two-thirds of the way through the game, you should have acquired some sweet upgrades, so you can spend a good amount of time storming the facilities like you own the place and just have fun with it. Later in the game, the shotgun will send people flailing across the screen, so we're looking forward to getting our hands on that fine piece of machinery.
Donald emphasized that the game is really about exploration, punctuated by combat. With no real loading times--except for in the beginning--you're basically free to explore this 3D world in a 2D way. At 1,200 Microsoft points, it looks like Shadow Complex could be a great way to end the summer. Be sure to check back next month for our full review when the game is released on August 19.