Thursday, 31 March 2011

Game Review - Shadow Complex

Genre: Side-Scrolling Shooter 
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade (1200 Points)
Developer: Chair Entertainment Group

I've made so many references to this game over the past few Blogs, that it was inevitable that I base a review on it. 

"Press Start!"

When you first begin to play Shadow Complex, you will notice similarities to classic games like Super Metroid, Castlevania: SOTN and a hint of stealth à la mode of Metal Gear Solid.

Its is by no means derivative in its imitation of these great games. 
Chair have taken the model and pushed it further. Even the story is compelling. 
Developed by Peter David (who writes Marvel's Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, X-factor and also wrote on Star Trekand based on the work of author Orson Scott Card, Shadow Complex runs parallel to his novel "Empire".

You play as Jason Fleming -

Who? Me?
What? No! 

Not Jason Flemyng! Jason FleMING

Featuring the voice talents of Nolan North
A capable protagonist forced to infiltrating a hidden base in the rocky American wilderness to rescue his new girlfriend Claire (talk about a bad first date) from the clutches of 'The Restoration', a secret rebel Military group. 

It soon becomes clear that Jason is a bit more than your average joe, taking out armed guards with a flurry of fists and kicks. 

"Eat boot, Evil dooer!"

Although he starts the game armed only with climbing gear and a flashlight as soon as he gets his hands on a weapon we are treated to a cut-scene explaining why he is so tough. 
I won't spoil the plot for everyone. Buy the game! 

Originally I played the game to completion in August, 2009. 
I had another play through this month just to familiarize myself with what impressed me so much about this ambitious 'Xbox Live Arcade' game. 

"Extreme jump!"

By no means is it perfect, there is clipping on some areas of scenery and I have died in some interesting and amusing ways. 
But it has always been fun. I have never been frustrated by the challenges and have never become bored by the level of difficulty. 

When you break it down, the challenge of the game really is how fast you can get the drop on your opponents, whether by stealth or firepower. 

But that statement really doesn't do Shadow Complex justice. There is a set path, but there are so many avenues to take. You may enter the same room through an entirely different route, via air-vents or across the ceiling by the means of the 'Hook' attachment. 

The Mechs act as Boss Fights

And you will find yourself exploring these routes obsessively to obtain the 'Omega Armour
(sounds good, right?). As long as your into back tracking ;D

The map of the complex is huge!

There are also several types of items to collect to improve your odds against your enemies. 

These range from weapons, health and armour upgrades, to gold bars and key cards.

Each weapon upgrade is assigned a specific colour which denotes the areas of scenery it can be used upon. But the catch is that they can only be seen with the flashlight.

The 12 key cards allow you to access the vault containing the aforementioned 'Omega Armour'. 

Each Key Card disables a laser field obstructing Jason from his prize

The Omega Armour! Da Da Daaaaa!
The overall pacing of the game is well tuned and never hinders your curiosity to explore the map. 
The controls are simple to grasp and feel very responsive. Although sometimes a prompt to melee can be missed and you occasionally get caught ledge-hanging in the midst of a firefight these blips never detract from the whole enjoyment of playing.

The transition from ground to water is well polished, not surprising when you consider Chair's earlier 'XBLA' release 'Undertow

(Here is a review for Undertow)

One additional feature Shadow complex has is the inclusion of a 'Proving Grounds', where players can test out the entire control system, weapon selection and environment quirks before even attempting the actual campaign. 

Rendered in a white box styled series of levels, it has a certain affinity with the 'VR Training' from 'Metal Gear Solid' but its charm wins out

Without giving away too much of the storyline the scale of your opponents is ever increasing. And the method in which you effectively dispatch them is attuned to your latest acquisition. 
How you choose to combine all theses newly acquired items is up to you.

I hope that was vague enough not to spoil the game for those who have yet to play it :)


I don't believe in rating games, simply for the fact that what I like might put others off. 
It is all subjective.
All I can say is that I enjoyed this game to its end and far longer afterwards. It is one of, if not the best 'XBLA' game to date. 
And in my opinion, was a strong rival for 'AAA' titles in the summer of 2009.

So that is a 9.9 \{>.<}/ if you were wondering.

Thanks for reading!


Here are a few Bonus Features

Author Orson Scott Card commenting on Shadow Complex

Creative Director Donald Mustard interview at the GDC 2010

Shadow Complex Wallpaper 1920 x 1200
The prototype map plotted out by the Chair's creative team

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Elements of Game Design Part 1

Gameplay is all fundamentally linked to how the main character (whether it is a person or vehicle) interacts with the environment or world setting. 
(Or how it adheres to the rules of that world i.e. the Game Mechanics).

How high a ledge is set is all based upon the reach of the character. The pace of the game is set by the speed at which the character travels. 
We tend to impart feeling in describing our gameplay experience. 
"The character feels sluggish" or "feels like I'm weightless, no gravity" 

These things can really ruin a game for me. The more the character feels like they are a part of the world the better the gameplay. 
Daft things like not being able to jump over a 3ft wall break the sense of immersion in a game. 
You feel like you've been tethered to the ground! 

Whether it is Monopoly, Cluedo, Tetris, Final Fantasy or Call of Duty, gameplay is how you interact within the game. 

Games are rarely the product of one mind. 
Mostly they are an idea on a theme, say "Rabbit Detective" which is then fleshed out amongst the team tasked with the project or IP (Intellectual Property). 

"Rabbit Detective"

The game may not even reflect the original concept by the end. 

Programmers involved in the development, may point out to designers that if they shifted an idea in a different direction it may overcome some limitations in their concept.
These changes could also alter the genre of the game, depending on how the gameplay is ultimately affected. 

Some games are developed purely to show off a new piece of technology, for instance the current Kinect games for Xbox 360 - 

So far most of these games look rubbish
(This is the only game I have come across, so far, that looks compelling) 

Or the CryEngine 3 used in Crysis 2. This lets Crytek port their games onto any platform with relative ease.


When discussing game 'genres' it comes down to your personal interpretation. 
If the game is a 'Fantasy RPG', yet features 'Action' gameplay, is it one or the other? Is it both? 

These early classifications are now becoming blurred, with games featuring multiple genre defining characteristics. 

Fable 1,2 and 3 all feature 'Action, Adventure, Puzzles, Fantasy with a dash of 'RPG' 

Because we demand so much in regard to entertainment these days, it makes sense that games have more than one objective or design. 

One other reason for this approach is to deliberately avoid being derivative and unimaginative.

I used to happily blaze through a 'Side-Scroller' or 'Platformer' but now I find that these
new distractions featured in-game, can take up as much of my time playing as the entirety of the game itself. :D

This is simply because they are fun to play. 

Good games are fun. Bad games are no fun. This can be subjective to the player, of course. 
And whether you like just playing 'RPG's', 'FPS' or 'Racing' games, there are usually a few sub-genres in there, if you fancy a little something different.

I thought I'd run-off a list of the current big names in Games Design - 

Shigeru Miyamoto - Nintendo's golden goose.

Hideo Kojima - The Conscientious Director.

Shinji Mikami - George A. Romero of Video Games.,47337/

Richard Lemarchand - No stranger to an Adventure game.,20070/

Hironobu Sakaguchi - Saviour of Square (Now Square-Enix)

Clifford Michael "Cliff" Bleszinski - The Cog in The Unreal Engine.

Peter Douglas Molyneux - Composer of Falsehoods (Fable, 2, 3)

Christian Allen - War Games Extraordinaire.


This website lists the Top 10 Developers leading the way forward -


Here are a few interesting articles published by Designers -

An interview with Gameplay Designer Christina Norman of Bioware - 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Crazy Inventions

Scorpion EXO-900 transforming helmet

This is truly 'off the pages of Manga'. Amazing! 

Lego is an amazing invention - 

LEGO Godzilla for sale on Yahoo! Japan Auctions
Submitted by zillastyle


And now introducing.............


V for Vendetta LEGO CubeDude |

via inspiracao

These are the offspring of Angus MacLane of PIXAR
Apparently LEGO commissioned him to do something different with their kits! 
What a revelation :)

'Putting On' Your Game Face

(These observations are like liquid and will probably change over time)

I wonder if most writers, at present, write about this gaming culture because they are trying to justify it? Or because they love it so much? 

I often find myself having to convince other people why I believe games are so important to our culture. We have to have that pressure valve. That form of release, that doesn't involve actual physical injury (maybe in just a few cases). 
If we didn't have the distraction, we would go mad or sink into depression. 
Games provide a sense of achievement through wish fulfilment. Even when life is becoming a grind. You still can get a little back by defeating a particularly difficult Boss or Stage. 

To some this might seem like an even greater waste of time but it is the accomplishment that gives the gamer back control. Even if it is just in his own mind. Isn't that where we all really live? 
In our own head-space. 
We perceive the world through our own rationalizations. 

The following morning a person might feel like they are back in the saddle again, steering their own path. 
Games do give a lot back to a player's state of mind. It's what the person does with the realization that is important in this life. 
Should they take the feeling and bolster their confidence, apply themselves that little bit extra because they have renewed appreciation of their abilities?

Or will they just over-indulge and get really fat? 

Games are there to be enjoyed. By the same token, they are not a replacement for your life. 

It may appear that I have over emphasized the importance a little. But they do have a big psychological impact on us. 
We have always had games, in their many different forms, we always will. 
Because we need them. They stimulate our minds. Increase our capacity to solve puzzles, read maps, encouraging us to think and engage our imaginations.

Even the best and most enjoyable game is a distraction and should not be abused. It's purpose is to grant a few hours of fun and escapism. Any more than that and you rob the game of it's magic. It becomes dull and boring. And so, in turn, does the player. 

I guess my point, at long last, is that they are necessary to us, to our culture. 

Now, reviewing a game. That is strange to me. Surely everyone's experience of a game is decidedly different? 
You would have to know that person well to gauge whether you would take as much from a game as they do. Or their writing should at least reflect themselves as completely and honestly as possible. 


Magazine publication has been on a decline recently, due to immeasurable amount of coverage on the internet. 
Its faster, cheaper and more convenient. 
That is not to say it is entirely better. 
Some online game reviews are just as guilty of generating hype for an upcoming release. 
No doubt funded by the game's publisher to get our mouth's watering.
This is a practice as old as the circus. 

I myself prefer to read printed magazines but this can be costly. 
Recently I have registered with (mainly to get access to their game walkthroughs) but also because they offer fairly decent reviews of games. Or at least lengthy :)

They come in a range of different formats, text, video, screenshots, the whole lot! 
So you can judge in your own mind, if what you are seeing is a clanger or not. 

I thought to mention this writer's review of GHOSTBUSTERS: The Video Game. 
He has a personal stake in this game being good, because he is a massive fan of the movie. 
Is he biased? Overall I felt he gave a balanced review. 
And this game has a very targeted audience. 

I would say that even if I personally didn't agree with the opinions of a New Games Journalist, 
I would trust their writing more. After all  they are not trying to sell me anything. They're just recollecting exploits in context to the form. 
They loved a game and want to share that experience -

I have always wanted to play SYSTEM SHOCK, even more so after reading this article 
(above link)
When I think of my own journey playing BIOSHOCK, I see the similarities between the games. 
The continuation of a theme. 

BioShock box art containing a Big Daddy

You are an altered human, pressed onwards to your goal by a disembodied voice. You are merely a pawn. Manipulated to suit their vile deeds. Ultimately you must face them to gain your freedom. 

The similarities of these games and the works of Ayn Rand are well reported.
Half-length monochrome portrait photo of Ayn Rand, seated, holding a cigarette
Andrew Ryan.png

Ayn Rand = Andrew Ryan? Polar opposites maybe?

From what I have read online, there doesn't appear to be a fixed rate of pay for writing reviews for games but I consistently read that writers supplement their income with other work. 
So it can't be paying out that well.


One of the main pitfalls of being a Game Reviewer is time. You cannot hope to keep up with the flood of continuing releases. 
Some games, especially RPG's, require 50+ hours of gameplay to fully explore their hidden realms. 
And to give an accurate account,under such close scrutiny, is a very unnerving prospect. 

For example:-

Whether it is by the publishers - Often paying for advertising space, on paper or cyberspace as guarantee of a positive assessment of their new game.  

Or by the fans themselves - They will know when they read a poor review and if the writer has been entirely honest in his critique. And they are blisteringly unmerciful to the culprit. 

A great example, which also forms another type of game writing is the webcomic - 
Penny Arcade
Arms Aren't Even That Cool

If you follow the link above Mike Krahulik aka: "Gabe" reveals a stinker of a review. 
Which is then parodied in their web-comic. 

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins are about the only success story I can find regarding Game Journalism. 
Originally PENNY ARCADE was funded solely by donations. After some great advice by their business manager Robert Khoo their income comes from a combination of advertising and merchandise. 


I realize the pressures facing a game reviewer. If you want to earn money, your going to have to peddle their wares. 
We, as consumers, need to know that we're getting our money's worth. The crux is whether that information is entirely accurate. Or objective.
 A ranking system makes sense, as a gauge of quality, but it often doesn't match what the reviewer is saying about the product. 
So it leaves you (the consumer) in limbo. 

I have to say that reviews of games, I have played recently, have had very confusing ratings. 

The reviewer picks the game apart to then to give it a 8.0?! 

What is this rating system for? It seems rather arbitrary. 
Maybe their palm was crossed with silver. 

I can see why some gamers find sequels repetitive but when it is a continuation of a story, it would be pretty insane to change everything half-way through it. 

At the end of the day we all interpret games in different ways. So its very subjective. 
I tend to ignore film reviews and prefer to make my own mind up, now with games, I'm favouring that opinion even more. 
It is better to make your own decisions based on your own experience. 

Try it yourself, you might like it?


(I knew I'd forget something)

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

Also a published writer, he gives the most cutting reviews I have ever heard. 
More often than not, hilarious and acerbic insults are born here.