Video Game: Shadow Complex

Shadow Complex is a 2009 Metroidvania action-adventure game for the Xbox 360 by Chair Entertainment, a subsidiary of Epic Games. It was released in August 2009 on Xbox LIVE Arcade. The game is part of Orson Scott Card's Empire universe.

A woman named Claire and the man interested in her, Jason, go on a date that involves spelunking. You think this would be a fun little date, right?

Nope. Claire is captured by black ops troopers, and Jason pursues her and her captors into an underground base, where a sinister organization called the Restoration is waiting to bring forth what it believes will be a new golden age for America and the world. Starting with only a pistol, a flashlight, and some climbing gear, Jason begins to tear the base apart looking for a way out...

Part of the Empire universe, by Orson Scott Card — the Empire novel was actually written for this game, not the other way around. The game was heavily promoted and released to near-universal acclaim during Xbox Live Arcade's first "Summer of Arcade" event. The gameplay is essentially just like that of a refined Super Metroid: the protagonist, Jason, runs, guns and jumps around a 2D base, gaining equipment, items, and levels as he explores more and more of the place and unravels the sinister plot that is about to be put into action. It uses the Unreal Engine 3 and notably introduces "2.5D" elements smoothly into classic Metroidvania gameplay, such as allowing Jason to shoot enemies in the background of the stage.

This game contains examples of:

  • 100% Completion: Required if you want the Completion achievement.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: A fairly prominent method of slipping through the complex, both to avoid combat and just to get around. Some of the vents are reinforced with plating that renders them resistant to everything short of a missile launcher.
  • AKA47: With the exception of the two made up weapons, this is almost painfully true. For the most part this consists of adding some zeros to the end of the name and switching out the real company for the fictional WhiteSands, in example: H&K MP5 becomes the WSMP50, the model is almost exactly the same as well.
  • A Taste of Power: The game starts you off with some Colonel guy in a stolen suit of power armor, armed with the game's second-best gun. Unfortunately, the bad guys have the cheat codes to disable that suit and they cut him off, following with what appears to be his death.
  • Bag of Spilling: Justified. The few skills you start the game with are lost due to the player character's death. The rest of the game is played using a different character.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: At the end of the game, it looks like Jason shoots Lucius in the head, but then the camera reveals Claire there, with the smoking gun. Particularly amusing if Jason has the Inertial Element, as he will look at his own gun with confusion as if he thinks he could've accidentally discharged it, but the Inertial Element fires like a shotgun and wouldn't hit Lucius with the single headshot he's downed by.
  • Beehive Barrier: The representation of energy shields, on the large walkers and from the Fusion Helmet.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: Finding all the Gold Bars grants you golden versions of all the weapons in the game.
  • Blown Across the Room: Meleeing soldiers in Power Armor is quite satisfying.
  • Boom, Headshot: You get an achievement for a certain number of these, and it deals more damage to the sturdier enemies.
  • Collapsing Lair: Lucius blows up the control room after Jason reaches it and they have a nice pleasant conversation.
    Jason: Oh, crap, crap, crapcrapcrap! [runs]
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Shining Jason's flashlights on destructible walls will reveal what tool he can use to destroy them: normal bullets, grenades, foam, missiles, or high-velocity collisions.
  • Cool Airship: The final boss, which appears to be an Airborne Aircraft Carrier.
  • Degraded Boss: Several of the mechs fought as bosses appear during the final battle as ordinary, if deadly, foes.
  • Difficult but Awesome: The shotguns found throughout the game deal excellent damage, but have small magazines and can't fire as quickly as automatic rifles or pistols. This forces the player to aim carefully.
  • Dramatic Irony: Jason runs into a Torture Technician who tells him "You don't look like a killer" in an attempt to psych him out. By this point in the game, the player has probably killed a few dozen Restoration goons, and a tank or two. Jason simply shoots the guy in the head from point blank range.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Almost the entire game takes place in an enormous underground lab.
  • Enemy Chatter: You can overhear mooks talk about this-and-that as you sneak around the base, sometimes about trivialities, sometimes about their plans for the United States.
  • Faceless Goons: The Restoration's entire membership all seem to enjoy wearing helmets that don't even possess a visor. Glowing lights on the side of the masks seem to indicate cameras of some sort. Interestingly, the hero can become faceless should he pick up the breathing mask or the fusion helmet. The Mooks don't even take their helmets off when they are sitting down to eat in the mess hall!
  • Fake Difficulty: The "difficulty" in shooting bad guys in the background or being shot by bad guys from offscreen.
  • Flunky Boss: The final boss is assisted by a small army, including a couple of mechas that had previously served as boss battles unto themselves.
  • Follow the Leader: The developers have eagerly admitted that they based the gameplay off Metroidvania styles. The game as a whole is very similar to Super Metroid.
  • Freeze Ray: The Foam Gun is effectively this, in that it's a weapon that instantly immobilizes enemies ala Harmless Freezing by covering them in rapidly-hardening plastic foam.
  • Gambit Roulette: Jason taking down the complex was all planned, and encouraged during the process, by his fiancée Claire.
  • Grappling-Hook Pistol: One of the gadgets Jason finds in the complex is a wrist-mounted grappling hook. It's called the hookshot.
  • Groin Attack: Once you get the Omega Armor, this is the default melee attack — the player can send enemies flying hundreds of feet away with a simple punch to the groin.
  • Infinite Supplies: The gun has unlimited ammo, with reloads. Later in the game, it's possible to earn infinite foam, grenades, and missiles, either through collecting power ups or simply reaching a high enough level.
  • Infinity–1 Sword: The inertial element can one-hit kill any minor enemy and do massive damage to bosses. On the other hand, it has the lowest rate of fire and one of the smallest clip sizes in the game, forcing you to actually aim rather than spread bullets willy-nilly.
  • Internet Backlash: A minor one. Thanks to some anti-homosexual themes in Empire, there was brief talk of a boycott of the game. It ultimately didn't matter since the story of the game and the book barely cross over.
  • It Gets Easier: At one point in the game, Jason notes with a chill that it's rather easy for him to shoot people now. In a bit of playing around with the trope, he wonders to himself whether that's a good or a bad thing...
    Jason: Killing's getting easier. Not sure if that's good or bad. [shaky breath] ...It's good.
  • Implacable Man: You, if you find the Fusion Helmet. As a bonus, the forcefield that allows this requires that you don't increase your movement speed beyond Unflinching Walk if you want it to stay active.
  • Kill Him Already: Subverted; in an early scene, Jason runs into the room where Mr. Sweet is preparing to torture Claire. Mr. Sweet starts advancing on Jason with a knife and, upon seeing the gun pointed at him by Jason, remarks in a patronizing tone that Jason doesn't "look like a killer". The moment the words leave his mouth, Jason shoots him dead without flinching.
  • Lost Forever: The Inertial Element is the only powerup that you can render completely un-collectible.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The final boss will counter with a massive missile salvo whenever you hit it.
  • Made of Iron: Even before he gets the Omega Armor, Jason can take a surprising amount of gunfire in only a shirt, compared to the armored guards he fights who can only take one or two shots.
  • Minimalist Run: The game acknowledges two different levels of this challenge - there is an Achievement for finishing the game with 13% or fewer items, and a 'Master Challenge' for only collecting four percent -he basic pistol is included in the 4%, as its required to advance (and presumably, to use the sub-weapons). However, if you've found all of the gold bars, you'll have access to the gold weapons, which don't count against you. So you can grab the best gun in the game, skip the pistol, grab the 3 sub-weapons, and an additional pickup along the way to complete the challenge.
  • Metroidvania: Shadow Complex is an action-adventure involving running, platforming, action and frequent backtracking as new abilities allow access to earlier inaccessible areas. In fact, the game was heavily inspired by both Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night; the first month of development was spent just playing those games!
  • Minecart Madness: One brief section of the game involves riding a mine cart over a cliff and jumping out, using the extra momentum to clear the jump. At the base of the complex, there is also an optional mine cart shortcut that you can use as much as you wish.
  • Mistaken for Spies: This is what happens to Claire and Jason in the beginning of the game, until the end, when it is revealed that Claire really is a spy.
  • Multiple Endings: If you go back to the jeep and press B, Jason will drive away, commenting that there's "plenty of fish in the sea."
  • New Game+: Automatic, and with permanent upgrades (both levels and collection bonuses) that make subsequent jaunts through the Complex much easier.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: You don't take damage from falls. Granted, this is pretty much the only way a Metroidvania can work, but it can feel a little silly sometimes when you can fall down a few stories without worrying.
  • Oh, Crap: Verbatim, and in excess, when Lucius blows up the room that Jason is in.
  • Olympic Swimmer: Presumably, Jason's pre-game fitness regimen included a lot of swimming.
  • The Only One: Halfway through the game, Jason stumbles into the Restoration's factory, and Claire basically says "Hey, since you're doing such a good job anyway, why don't you put looking for a way out on hold and single handedly destroy the enemies' supply line." Jason points out how silly that is, but does it anyway. Claire is actually surprised when he tells her what he's done.
  • The Other Rainforest: The setting of the game.
  • Oxygen Meter: The player is subject to one of these... until Jason picks up the SCHCA Mask.
  • Point of No Return: When Lucius blows up the central control room, you can no longer access a certain area without starting the final battle.
  • Powered Armor: You eventually come across the Omega Armor. It is deeply entertaining to use, especially when fully assembled. Several Heavily Armored Mooks have powered armor as well, though their version is much bulkier and more encumbering.
  • Railing Kill: You get an achievement for killing enemies by knocking them over railings 100 times!
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: Guards make more and more alarmed comments about how unusual it is that one intruder could possibly cause so much damage.
  • Scenery Porn: The forests of the U.S. Northwest are rendered in great detail, and the surface areas of the game aren't afraid to show them off.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: going back to the car in the beginning will have Jason simply drive off commenting that there are plenty of fish in the sea.
  • Sequence Breaking: The Foam allows this, with proper use. In fact, the game seems designed around encouraging sequence breaks, which is appropriate for the genre.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The third spider tank boss fight is an homage to the fight at the end of Ghost in the Shell. The design of the tanks themselves are pretty blatantly modeled after the GitS tank, as well.
  • One of the Master Achievements is called Jason Bailey, a reference to the "Justin Bailey" password from Metroid.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: The final weapon upgrade is a super-shotgun that can kill anything in one hit, at super-long range.
  • The Slow Walk: The final piece of your armor basically makes you Immune to Bullets as long as you do this.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Despite little music being present in the game, a calming piano piece plays when you have to navigate a base you flooded, complete with several still-drowning mooks.
  • Spider Tank
  • Story Breadcrumbs: Much of the plot can be gathered from guards who talk to one another when you're not killing them.
  • Super Speed: About halfway through the game you are given Friction Dampeners that triple your speed. A few of the more interesting power-up placements involve solving a few logic puzzles that can only be solved with the gravity-busting properties of the boots. Sadly, you cannot shinespark, but you can use a later triple-jump ability to abuse the boots' charge-up time.
  • Tempting Fate: In the opening sequence, the Player Character's armour locks up, via a security measure, after he beats all the bad guys attacking the Vice President. Then his Voice with an Internet Connection reveals he's actually working for the bad guys.
    Dallas: At least... At least the Vice President is safe.
    [black SUV explodes in the background]
    Voice: Oh, that Vice President?
  • Ten-Second Flashlight: The flashlight's batteries run out in just a few minutes, but they recharge quickly as well.
  • The Unfought: Lucius spends the entire climax standing in his observation tower while the player fights the final boss. He's shot in the head in a cutscene, by someone else no less.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: The soldiers scream when you send them flying (whether by uppercutting them with the Omega Armor, blowing them up with missiles or grenades, dive-bombing them with the Ground Pound, or plowing into them with the Friction Dampener), and there's an achievement for making a hundred of them scream.
  • Villain Ball: Lucius and the Restoration really should have read the Evil Overlord List to avoid things like Air-Vent Passageway escape and Just Between You and Me, but their biggest mistake has to be hovering their Airborne Aircraft Carrier over the nuclear missles to take out one guy instead of flying off to San Francisco.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Lucius has a pretty impressive one.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Jason asks this of Claire, when she tells him that she was using him as cover to get into the Shadow Complex.
    Claire: Not everything. You really do have nice eyes.