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Shadow Complex
Shadow Complex cover.jpg
Developer(s) Chair Entertainment, Epic Games
Publisher(s) Microsoft Game Studios
Writer(s) Peter David[1][2]
Engine Unreal Engine 3
Platform(s) Xbox Live Arcade
Release date(s) August 19, 2009
Genre(s) Action-adventure
Mode(s) Single-player
Rating(s) ESRB: T
Media Digital distribution

Shadow Complex is a platform-adventure video game developed by Chair Entertainment in association with Epic Games and published by Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox Live Arcade. The game is powered by Unreal Engine 3. The game's original script was written by comic book writer and Star Trek novelist Peter David.[1][2]



Shadow Complex uses a 2.5D design, with the player moving about levels like a side-scrolling video game but required to dispatch enemies in three dimensions.

Shadow Complex is presented in 2.5D format; the game world is fully three-dimensional, but the player can only move in two dimensions, simulating the environment of a classic side-scrolling video game. Enemies can, however, move in any direction, and auto-aim is utilized to allow the player to fire at nearby enemies or objects both inside and outside of the 2D plane. The player can use the right control stick to aim with a laser sight. Gameplay in Shadow Complex was inspired by Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The gameplay takes many cues from Metroid: the player can move freely throughout the expansive game world, defeating enemies with a variety of weapons, and as they overcome challenges, they gain new abilities and weapons which allow them to reach new areas.

The game rewards the player with experience points as they complete objectives and defeat enemies. The player can gain up to fifty experience levels, each level boosting basic attributes of the character. These experience levels grant the player skills such as improved gunfire precision or damage resistance. Special rewards such as revealing the full map and unlimited special ammo are granted at specific levels. When the player starts a new game, they will lose all the weapons and items that they have acquired, but will keep the character's experience level and any benefits they have already received from that experience.

In addition to the main campaign, a number of challenge levels, called "Proving Grounds", are available, generally requiring the player to make it to the exit of a room using a limited set of items and health. Players are ranked based on time of completion and any scoring objectives when they complete the level. Scores and other statistics from the main campaign and the training group are tracked via online leaderboards.


Cliff Bleszinski, design consultant at Epic Games for Shadow Complex, indicated during an E3 interview that the game runs parallel to the events in the Orson Scott Card novel, Empire, and that the game will dovetail with a sequel to the book, Hidden Empire, due out in late 2009. Empire is a Chair-owned IP that was licensed to Orson Scott Card to create a series of novels.

Jason Flemming (voiced by Nolan North[3]) and his new girlfriend Claire (voiced by Eliza Jane Schneider) are backpacking in the Pacific Northwest when they come across some caverns. Claire opts to explore them, saying she used to come there as a child, but when she does not respond to Jason's calls, he follows her. He comes across a massive underground complex manned by numerous soldiers with high-end technology. He manages to follow men dragging Claire through the complex and is able to rescue her. However, both have heard discussion among the soldiers about their group, the Progressive Restoration, which appears to be ready to launch attacks across the United States. Jason escorts Claire to the entrance to allow her to contact authorities, while Jason uses the high-tech devices to further infiltrate the complex and learn more. He comes to meet Lucius, the leader of the Restoration, who reveals a long-term goal of inciting a civil war in the United States, allowing their group to take control; Lucius further reveals that they have already killed the Vice President of the United States earlier that day and are now planning to launch an airship to attack San Francisco, California. Jason is able to destroy the airship with the complex's own missiles, and corners Lucius before he can escape. Lucius attempts to plead while held at gunpoint by Jason, who becomes hesitant to shoot him. Suddenly Lucius is shot in the head by Claire, who has arrived by a helicopter. Claire reveals to Jason she is with the National Security Agency that was investigating the Restoration, and had gotten romantically close with Jason after identifying him as a person capable of completing the infiltration of the base. Jason departs the area with Claire. The story is continued in the novel Empire in which the President of the United States is dead hours after the vice president and the plans of civil war were about to start.

A non-canonical ending is available midway through the game, where Jason can escape the complex and leave Claire to her fate. Jason is seen driving away in the Jeep and commenting "Eh, plenty of fish in the sea."


Chair Entertainment's creative director Donald Mustard stated that much of Shadow Complex is based around the gameplay of Super Metroid, a game he considers "the pinnacle of 2D game design".[4] Much of their effort was in creating the Metroid-style of gameplay, a first for their company. The first month of development was spent having the team replaying the various Metroid games in order to establish the language and concepts of such games for development in order to expand on enjoyable sections while avoiding the mistakes of these games. Chair's design process started by drawing out the game's world on graph paper, using the concepts of tile-based games to craft out the world, despite the final game not being tile-based. This process set certain rules, such as how high the character may jump with the various upgrades or how far the character must run before a certain power would activate. They then played out the game on this paper map to make sure that all parts of the game were possible to complete. Such a map was also used to help with the game's pacing, making sure that the player's interest in the game would remain despite the acquisition of more and more powerups. At one point, about six months into development, they recognized that their initial selected jump height was too large and did not fit with the game, forcing the team to redesign the map with a smaller jump height; Mustard noted this was one of the few changes they made that "hurt" but was caught early enough in the process to be repaired.[5] The team also had to consider the impact of the variety of power-ups they wanted to include, made more complex by their desire to have the power-ups usable anywhere. For example, while other games would specifically limit the use of a hookshot to specific surfaces, Chair's developers sought to have their tool usable on any surface, and had to consider all the potentially game-breaking routes that would be created by introducing the tool too early.[5] Several iterations of this paper map were performed, though Mustard noted that about 85% of their original design remained in the final map.[6] With a brush stroke tool within the Unreal Engine, they were then able to quickly build out their drawn map into the 3D computer engine, using a cylinder to represent the player. After working on tightening the feel of the player's movement controls with the simplistic map, they then began prototyping the rest of the game.[4]

The developers at Chair used iterations on hand-drawn maps to plot out the world that the player would explore in Shadow Complex.

Though the game is directly influenced by Metroid, the development team had to alter some of the series' principles due to the non-tile nature of the game. Mustard noted that many players in the Metroid games would "bomb every square" to discover secret areas, but this would not translate to Shadow Complex. Instead, they relied on the use of lighting to focus the player's attention on certain areas, and created the flashlight tool in the game in order to highlight such secrets when illuminated. They further used lighting and a low depth of field to reduce the amount of perspective in the game's 3D view to allow key features of the game world to stand out for the player without sacrificing the 3D nature of the game.[4]

Much the of game's 18-month development time was focused on the game's controls and making sure they worked, as Mustard believed that without controls that "feel sweet", the game would have been poorly received. This included the incorporation of weapon aiming through the right thumbstick and other tactical elements such as firing from cover from games such as Gears of War. With the game being published by Microsoft Game Studios, the development team had access to the Microsoft play testers, who helped to identify other problem areas with their original level design. This also led to the development of the option to show a blue line on the game's map that would show the player where to go next. Mustard realized there was both a benefit and downside to this feature, as it would help guide players that were stuck, but at the same time, players could become too dependent on the line and follow it exactly, giving them no challenge in exploring the game's world. To counter this, they had the line show the general path that needed to be taken but included parts of their world where the player would be forced to deviate from the suggested path in order to work around an obstacle or collect a required power-up.[4]

Mustard believed the minimalistic story approach in Super Metroid to be ideal, and while he considered the narrative story presented in Metroid Fusion to be an obvious extension, felt it was too detailed. Thus, the development team chose to use minimal dialog, aiming to allow the story to be pushed forward through the setting and design of the game. Shadow Complex's story arose from the development team's common love of the cartoon G.I. Joe, pitting heroes against enemies with advanced technology. As Mustard and others on Chair had worked with Orson Scott Card during the development of Advent Rising, they approached him about a story for their game as to avoid simply copying the G.I. Joe concept. Card offered the idea of a faction of the United States that wanted to create a more imperialistic government, which fit well with Chair's concept. Card, enthralled with the idea, proceeded to write Empire, fleshing out the full story beyond the framework that Shadow Complex would fit in, while Chair completed work on its previous game Undertow. Once Chair was ready to resume work on Shadow Complex, they approached comic book writer Peter David to help match up Card's novel with their game. Mustard cited David's ability to remain creative when certain events were already scripted—in this case, the events of Empire and its sequel Hidden Empire—as a key asset towards the game's story.[4]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 89.86%[7]
Metacritic 89/100[8]
Review scores
Publication Score B[9]
Edge 7/10[10]
Eurogamer 9/10[11]
GamePro 4.5/5 stars[12]
GameSpot 8.5/10[13]
GameSpy 5/5 stars[14]
GameTrailers 8.8/10[15]
IGN 9.4/10[16]
Official Xbox Magazine 9.0/10[17]
TeamXbox 9.4/10[18]
X-Play 5/5 stars[19]
Giant Bomb 5/5 stars[20]

Shadow Complex has been met with unanimously positive reviews and has received more than 25 E3 and Editor's Choice Awards. IGN has given the game a 9.4 out of 10, stating it to be one of the best games of the year, specifically praising its lasting appeal and graphics, though having minor issue with the sometimes "frustrating" aiming.[21] Ars Technica gave it the verdict "Buy," stating that Shadow Complex "may be one of the best games of the season" and that it "is a must-play for those looking for a classic twist on a fresh challenge."[22] Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann has given the game 5 stars out of 5, writing "the quality of Shadow Complex makes it well worth its $15 price tag."[23] The publication later named the game as its Xbox 360 game of the year.[24]

X-Play has also given the game a 5 out of 5. GamePro gave the game 4.5 stars out of 5, calling the game proof "that DLC doesn't have to stand for 'disappointingly little content.'"[25] TeamXbox have given the game 9.4 out of 10, mentioning that "... it is great, truly great even. One of the best new games you’re going to play on your Xbox 360 this year, hands down..."[26] Resolution Magazine has awarded the game 94%, the highest score the site has awarded so far this year,[27] describing it as "the greatest game in XBLA [Xbox Live Arcade] history."[28] Eurogamer awarded the game 9 out of 10, commenting that "its significance might just be unfathomable."[29]

Shadow Complex was the top selling Xbox Live Arcade game for the week within its release, and furthermore was one of the top ten played titles for all of Xbox Live.[30] It also broke all sales records for Xbox Live Arcade titles, selling over 200,000 units within the first week of release.[31]

At the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards, Shadow Complex was awarded the Best Downloadable Game award. The game has been nominated for the "Action Game of the Year" Interactive Achievement Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences[32] and "Best Downloadable Game" in the Game Developers Choice Awards.[33]


Shortly before the game's release, some gamers considered calling for a boycott of Shadow Complex due to Orson Scott Card's views on homosexuality.[34][35] The game itself does not contain any references to homosexuality.[30] Card did not work on the game itself, but licensed the rights from Chair to create novels based on the developer's Empire IP.


  1. ^ a b McWhertor, Michael (2009-07-16). "Shadow Complex Has Peter David Written All Over It". Kotaku. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  2. ^ a b Peter David. "…and boy, are my arms tired."; July 29, 2009
  3. ^ Frustic, Russ (2009-06-16). "Nathan Drake And 'Shadow Complex' Hero Separated At Birth?". MTV. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Nutt, Christan (2009-08-28). "Making Shadow Complex: Donald Mustard Speaks". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  5. ^ a b Reiner, Andrew (2009-11-09). "Shadow Complex Creator Explores New Projects, Talks Fantasy". Game Informer. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  6. ^ Frushtick, Russ (2009-10-13). "EXCLUSIVE: 'Shadow Complex' Prototype Map Revealed". MTV Multiplayer. Retrieved 2009-10-13. 
  7. ^ "ShadowComplex review rankings". Gamerankings. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 
  8. ^ "ShadowComplex review rankings". Metacritic. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  9. ^ Parish, Jeremy. "1up review". 1up. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  10. ^ "Edge review". Edge Magazine. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  11. ^ Parkin, simon. "EuroGamer review". EuroGamer. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  12. ^ Kim, Tae K.. "GamePro review". GamePro. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  13. ^ Anderson, Lark. "GameSpot review". GameSpot.;read-review. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  14. ^ Tuttle, Will. "GameSpy review". GameSpy. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  15. ^ "GameTrailers review". GameRankings. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  16. ^ Brudvig, Erik. "IGN review". IGN. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  17. ^ Reyes, Francesca. "Official Xbox Magazine review". Official Xbox Magazine. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  18. ^ Price, Tom. "TeamXbox review". TeamXbox. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  19. ^ Sessler, Adam. "XPlay review". G4TV. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  20. ^ "GiantBomb review". GiantBomb. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ Kuchera, Ben (2009-08-17). "Classic gameplay for a modern age: Ars reviews Shadow Complex". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  23. ^ "Shadow Complex Review". Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  24. ^ "Giant Bomb Xbox 360 game of the year". Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  25. ^ Kim, Tae K. (2009-08-17). "Review : Shadow Complex [Xbox 360] - from". Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  26. ^ "Shadow Complex Review (Xbox 360)". 2009-08-17. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  27. ^ "Twitter / Resolution Magazine: Shadow Complex review - bi". Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  28. ^ "Shadow Complex review (Xbox360)". Resolution Magazine. 2009-08-18. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  29. ^ Simon Parkin (2009-08-17). "Shadow Complex Review | Xbox 360". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  30. ^ a b Steen, Patrick (2009-08-25). "The Shadow Complex boycott didn't work". Gamezine.$1321205.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 
  31. ^ Watts, Steve (2009-08-31). "Shadow Complex Sets Sales Record". Retrieved 2009-08-31. 
  32. ^ "13th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards Finalists" (PDF). Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  33. ^ "Uncharted 2, Flower, Assassin's Creed II Lead Finalists for the Tenth Annual Game Developers Choice Awards". PR Newswire. 2010-01-19. Retrieved 2010-01-24. 
  34. ^ Tolito, Stephan (2009-08-22). "In Moral Debate About Shadow Complex, Both Sides Have Their Say". Kotaku. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 
  35. ^ Nutt, Christen (2009-08-21). "Opinion: The Complex Question". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 

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Shadow Complex
Box artwork for Shadow Complex.
Developer(s) Chair Entertainment
Publisher(s) Epic Games, Microsoft Game Studios
Engine Unreal Engine 3
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Action-adventure
System(s) Xbox Live Arcade
Mode(s) Single player
ESRB: Teen

Shadow Complex is a platform action-adventure game developed by Chair Entertainment and published by Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox Live Arcade. The game uses the Unreal Engine 3. Cliff Bleszinski, a representative of the game's publisher Epic Games, indicated during an E3 interview that the game is based on the Orson Scott Card novel, Empire, and that the game dovetails with a sequel to the book, Hidden Empire, due out in late 2009.

The game's script was written by comic book writer and Star Trek novelist Peter David.

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