Shadow Complex: Classic gaming bliss in two-and-a-half dimensions

Shadow Complex reinvents a classic gaming genre.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Jeff Bakalar
Scott Stein
3 min read

CNET editors Jeff Bakalar and Scott Stein take a look at the highly anticipated Xbox Live Arcade side-scrolling action platformer from Chair Entertainment and Epic Games, Shadow Complex.

Shadow Complex may look like your typical side-scrolling action game, but it does a lot of things that separates it from most platform exploration titles. The unique "2.5D" style takes a bit of getting used to, but you'll soon realize the genius behind the design.

Shadow Complex takes you through an intricate underground military facility where you must rescue your girlfriend who's been kidnapped during a camping trip. With a grid map as your only companion, you must explore the complex all while finding secret items and passageways. You'll also gradually unlock new weapons and ammo and upgrade your character's health in order to fight the mysterious regime.

We fully embrace the developer's choice to build Shadow Complex in such a way. Not only is it a tip of the hat to classic 2D games like the Metroid and Castlevania franchises, but introduces the genre to an entire generation of gamers who may not have been fortunate to play such titles.

With this 3D twist on a classic 2D genre, you're able to shoot at enemies in the background and foreground even though you cannot physically go there. The 360-degree aiming mechanic will automatically target your enemies who aren't necessarily in the same plane that your character is only able to navigate through.

Shadow Complex is truly a unique take on an older genre that will appeal to gamers young and old. It's available now for 1,200 MS Points (or $15) exclusively on Xbox Live Arcade.

One of the best trends in all of gaming has to be the rise of low-cost original downloadables, and Shadow Complex is a great example of why it works. It's not the most original or the best game, but it's unique because it's new and it's made by a major studio. The term being thrown around all week long is "Metroidvania," but ignoring that, I'll simply say for the less gaming hardcore that it feels like a late-'80s arcade game reinvented and lifted into the next-gen universe.

The story, full of espionage and supersecret robot weaponry, feels like an '80s movie in itself. The 2D-style platform mixes with smart 3D graphics and an interface that becomes very easy to use. In fact, Epic's use of context-sensitive button moves reminded me of the way Gears of War made serious gaming a lot less complicated. You don't need a manual for this one, but it helps to pay attention to onscreen tutorials.

At $15, it's a really good buy. Maybe I'm a little spoiled, but I'd even like to see games like this slide to $10, where the decision to purchase would be nearly unconscious. As it is, however, it's a great retro tribute to side-scrolling action/adventure that doesn't get too retro for its own good--in other words, you don't need to have grown up in the late '80s in order to appreciate this game.

I'd stop short of drooling all over Shadow Complex's boots, but if your question to me was, "Scott, did you have fun playing this?" I'd say "Yes, certainly, and I'd like to play some more." Let's hope the trend continues--I'm sure it will.