Shadow of a Colossus
Published in The Student, University of Edinburgh’s oldest student newspaper
Someone needs to fire the architect behind the Shadow Complex. There are unsecured man-sized air vents everywhere, purple security doors easily disabled by a purple foam gun and electric death rays that surely must breach some kind of health and safety regulations. Luckily, these hazards pose no threat to an armour-clad super soldier who eats electric death rays for breakfast and happens to own a purple foam gun. That’s you, by the way.
Architectural problems might make for a poor workplace, but they translate in a fantastic game. No downloadable game can match the sprawl of Shadow Complex: an enormous 10-hour adventure that channels the spirit of the classic Super Metroid while adding the kind of instant gratification and gung-ho action modern gamers demand. Allegedly based on a novel by Orson Scott Card (although I imagine the last book the target audience have read is a Gears of War strategy guide), the plot is paper-thin and more an excuse for the action than the scaffolding on which it depends. I can’t even remember the main character’s name, for crying out loud. However, this is a deliberate move; like Metroid, the real enjoyment comes from exploration, not plot exposition.
Playing as a young, virile chap (let’s just call him Clive) you must infiltrate an underground facility and rescue your girlfriend, stopping an insidious plot to stage a coup against the US Government. This naturally involves shooting a lot of men in the face, a task made much easier by the refined controls and intelligent auto-aiming. Although the environment is two dimensional, foes will open fire from the background: in some scenes, Clive can even mow them down in glorious 3D by jumping into a turret. Shadow Complex never fails to wear its publisher’s credentials on its sleeve, from the over-the-top explosions to the delightful ticker messages that show you many guards you’ve decapitated relative to your friends.
Initially, you are a mere man- albeit one who has undergone years of extensive military training- but as you progress through the game you obtain new weapons and abilities that allow Clive to traverse the previously insurmountable. Early in the game, combat involves hiding behind crates and taking pot shots with a lowly pistol. Later scenarios involve jet boosting over a guard, attaching to the roof with a grappling hook, entombing them in magic foam and then launching a missile if they haven’t already died of fright by this point. The superb level design ensures a constant stream of nooks and crannies, whose exploration always yields delicious goodies like improved weapons and armour. Shining your flashlight highlights areas of interest: green for grenades, blue for a hyperspeed tackle and so on. Although for some inexplicable reason, missile explosions can’t open grenade vulnerable areas and vice versa. That’s some impressive plastering.
Shadow Complex is a game that cherishes its old-school heritage while building on it in important ways: gentle guidance to your next objective in place of leafing through an old walkthrough held together by boiled sweets, subtle lighting hints in place of shooting every last pixel in search of a powerup, online leaderboards to replace the high scores of old. Epic’s bold reimagining of a genre populated with heavyweights like Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is also an ingenious one. They have created an adventure that deserves to be held in the same lofty regards as the classics it emulates.