Another day, another old game getting a makeover. This time it’s Shadow Complex Remastered, which is bringing an upgraded version of the 2009 side-scrolling, sci-fi shooter Shadow Complex to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. But while it doesn’t add enough to make it worth a double dip, the game does hold up rather nicely, especially for fans of the Metroidvania genre.
Like the original, Shadow Complex Remastered casts you as a regular guy on a date who accidentally discovers an army hiding in a cave, and dammit, they took your girlfriend. But rather than alert the authorities like a responsible adult, you decide to explore the place in hopes of rescuing your gal. Who, by the way, knows you don’t have any military or police training, so she’d completely understand if you didn’t mount a rescue and instead went and got help. Just saying.
As for the gameplay, Shadow Complex Remastered is very much in the vein of CounterSpy, Rocketbirds 2, and other two-dimensional, side-scrolling shooters, albeit ones where you can use the right thumbstick to aim in any direction. There are, as usual, tons of different pathways to explore, collectibles to find (though ones that actually make you a better soldier, not just knickknacks), as well as a good mix of giant robots, auto turrets, and guards who aren’t good at paying attention, though they seem well trained when it comes to shooting intruders once they notice them.
But Shadow Complex Remastered also gets a bit more inventive, at least more than the games of this kind that came out back when your only option was 2D. For starters, as you progress, you earning experience points that will improve your stamina, you accuracy, and how many shots you can take to the chest before dying. You’re also rather nimble, and can not only jump from one ledge to another like Lara Croft, but you can also jump from one sheer rock face to another like Lara if she was a Persian princess. You can even duck for cover behind crates, though you need to remember that wooden boxes aren’t bulletproof.
Shadow Complex Remastered also has controls that are responsive and, for the most part, intuitive. Admittedly, I would’ve preferred if reloading your weapon used the “X” button on the Xbox One and the square button on PlayStation 4, like almost every other shooter, but then I’m old and stuck in my ways.
As for the improvements made to Shadow Complex Remastered, most are merely cosmetic. Sure, the graphics are a bit more detailed, but it obviously doesn’t impact the gameplay at all. It’s not like you couldn’t see things before but now you can.
They’ve also changed what happens when you smack an unsuspecting guard upside the head, and made these melee attacks more varied and, in some cases, more action movie-esque. Though, again, this doesn’t make this more fun. Or less fun, for that matter.
As a result of the improvements being just superficial, Shadow Complex Remastered isn’t worth getting if you’ve already played this game. Doubly so if you own an Xbox One, since the original Xbox 360 version is available via backwards compatibility, and is thus free if you owned it before.
The other downside of Shadow Complex Remastered just being just a better looking version of the original is that it has the same problems as the original. Though, admittedly, they’re hardly deal breakers. For starters, because the base’s architect was clearly not a big fan of well-lit spaces, your flashlight comes in handy. Or rather, it would if it didn’t have weird batteries that died after just a few minutes, but miraculously came back to life just as quickly. And while yes, I get that the developers did this to add an element of strategy to the game, it actually adds an element of frustration instead. Even stranger, your guns — which often have limited ammo in these kinds of games for similarly strategic reasons — they come with an endless supply of bullets. And not just the pistol you find at the beginning, either.
Shadow Complex Remastered has similar limitations when it comes to swimming. Either that or you suffer from asthma or COPD or some other medical condition that prevents you from holding your breath underwater for a reasonable amount of time. Which is weird given how you can fall off a really high cliff and not break your legs or die or anything, and can also take tons of shots to the chest without dying as well.
There’s also an issue with Shadow Complex Remastered that, again, won’t be a deal breaker for everyone. But it is worth mentioning. The game’s story was somewhat inspired by Ender’s Game writer Orson Scott Card, who then used it as the basis for his novel Empire. But while Card’s only involvement in the game was as an early advisor to the story — the game was actually written by comic book scribe Peter David (Halo: Hunters In The Dark) — when the original came out, some people called for a boycott because of Card’s views on homosexuality.
Whether this influences your decision to buy or not buy Shadow Complex Remastered is one you need to decide for yourself. What I will say is that while I do not agree with Card at all, his views did not lessen my enjoyment of the game, in part because there’s no mention of homosexuality in the game, and in part because I sent the Human Rights Campaign a donation as a way to offset the damage (and, admittedly, to appease my conscience). But, at the same time, if this stops you from wanting to play this game, I completely understand.
In the end, Shadow Complex Remastered isn’t worth getting if you’ve already played it. But for those who missed it on the Xbox 360, or really just anyone into Metroidvania games, it’s mix of taut controls, trigger happy enemies, and inventive new elements makes it a fun and challenging shooter.