When Epic stepped out onto the stage at Microsoft's E3 2009 Xbox 360 media briefing in June and announced an Xbox LIVE exclusive platformer, many gamers probably brushed it off. Indeed, the entire conference was bursting with major franchises that an IP like Shadow Complex eluded the spotlight and ensuing Internet chatter.
While Shadow Complex was available for preview at E3, we didn't catch up with Microsoft until last week at Comic-Con, during which we were able to sit down with industry couple Donald and Laura Mustard on the 19th floor of the Omni Hotel, overlooking the San Diego convention center. Donald, lead designer for Shadow Complex at Epic Games, demoed the release build for a small group of press and professionals, joking that because this was the retail version, he couldn't use any cheats to show us later stages, weapons, and other late-game perks. So we made due with checking out the beginning of the game, setting precedent for the overall plot, what drives our hero Jason Fleming to don armor and fly around with quirky weapons. Laura, Chair Entertainment PR, provided excellent commentary, keeping the mood light.
Shadow Complex takes place in a world constructed by Orson Scott Card (Ender's Game) for his best-selling novel, Empire. The game's original story was penned by comic book author Peter David, known for his work on Star Trek, Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Factor and more.
In this alternate universe, Jason and his girlfriend, Claire, are on a hiking date when they get separated, and we wind up with a very confused man searching for his damsel in distress. While snooping around, Jason discovers this "rogue paramilitary group," affectionately named "Restoration," and soon learns of their plans to overthrow the government and consume America in civil war. Let this be a lesson to you gamers -- never take your cheeky girlfriend hiking in the woods because a technologically advanced anarchy group will invariably kidnap her.
Donald doesn't bother trying to conceal his love for this genre, asking why no one is making more platformers today. When asked his inspiration, Donald initially fudges, then admits he couldn't help but draw upon his admiration for the Metroid and Castlevania games. Referring to the "Metroid ideal," he explains some of the principles found in Shadow Complex are drawn from very basic ideas first seen in old-school titles, like starting out with very little, then becoming more and more powerful by collecting gear, power-ups, and other items.
Not that we should be expecting a clone here; as he puts it, the game is about "exploration punctuated by moments of intense combat," a different kind of 3D world side-scroller. He laughs that he hopes other developers, like those behind Metroid and Castlevania, will see Shadow Complex and be inspired to one-up Epic / Chair with another masterpiece.
A major bonus we saw during the demo was an extra play mode called "Challenge Packs," or separate missions where the player is equipped with preset gear to solve puzzles with. In the release build shown to us, Donald had three challenge packs available, and he states these will be fully unlocked as soon as you start the game. Reasoning behind this? Some of these challenges are just too damn difficult that forcing the player to unlock them over time is rather unfair. When he demonstrated some of the challenge stages, Donald noted that even he found some of these impossible.
It was an excellent way of previewing the unique gameplay Shadow Complex had to offer, seeing as how our gracious demonstrator could not circumvent with cheats. We saw the interactive environment in play, being able to break down the environment to get around, making use of some peculiar weapons like the "foam gun" -- here's a pretty good example. Our protagonist finds himself at the edge of a put, with empty space in the ceiling above it. There's no way to get around this, so Donald creates a bridge of foam, then attaches a grenade to blow a hole in the ceiling. In order to get to the hole and hop through, he uses the gun to form another bridge leading up to it, letting him hop through.
If you think Challenge Packs sound like DLC material, you may be right. If players express greater interest in seeing more of these, Epic and Chair are not above releasing other Challenge Packs in the future. There will also be online leaderboards for the competitively inclined, of course.
He managed to beat one of the more difficult challenges for the first time at that moment. And who better to witness such an accomplishment than a buncha' video game journalists?
- Original single-player experience inspired by classic side-scrolling genre.
- Open game world that evolves as you explore and progress through the game.
- Huge, mysterious game world populated with legions of enemies, challenges, and jaw-dropping boss battles.
- Many unique game altering power-ups and more than 100 additional items and enhancements to discover.
- Extensive campaign mode of 10+ hours with engaging scenarios and fiction – more in-depth than any other downloadable game on Xbox LIVE Arcade to date.
- Incredible graphics with robust physics, made possible by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3.
- Created by the developers of the XBLA Game of the Year, Undertow, and the producers of Gears of War.
Shadow Complex will be available for download via Xbox LIVE on August 19, wrapping up Microsoft's "Summer of Arcade" LIVE event. Make sure you've got 1200 Microsoft Points handy.