Indeed, the writing takes the opposite approach to People Can Fly’s shooter, written with a tongue-in-cheek severity. At least, I think it’s tongue-in-cheek. Some of the lines are so utterly abysmal it’s difficult to tell whether they were written purposefully that way or not. Either way, the broader tone fits the game well, its failure to be serious far less damaging to it than a failure to be funny would have been.
While Shadow Complex aims to deliver simple pleasures, the methods it uses to do so are surprisingly clever. The environments are laid out in a Metroidvania fashion, comprising a single, large level with multiple pathways that you unlock gradually as you progress through the game. But Shadow Complex isn’t content with you opening doors using keys, oh no. At the very least, you need to shoot open a vent and sneak your way through. Other methods of access include grenades, rocket launchers, and the splendid Foam Gun, which shoots a substance that expands upon impact, freezing enemies in place and shattering environmental objects like fans and motion scanners.
The complex itself is a vast, labyrinthine place that offers surprisingly diverse environments to explore filled with secrets, upgrades and so forth, and you’re encouraged to backtrack and collect these upgrades in order to ease progression. This may sound onerous, but in reality, there’s little need to backtrack through areas which you don’t need to return through anyway.
Even when you do need to run through an area a second time, Shadow Complex finds inventive ways of avoiding repetition. A fantastic example involves a fight with one of those aforementioned spider-bots, which is defeated by flooding the room it’s in. Yet doing so actually floods an entire section of the complex. So when you head back through this area afterward, it's by swimming through the wreckage rather than simply wandering through the same, unchanged area.
Shadow Complex is constantly doing this, offering dozens of little ideas that gradually amount to something really special. Even standard navigation quickly becomes entertaining. You don’t climb ladders, instead, you rocket-boost up them. You don’t swim through water, you super-sprint across the surface. You don’t jump down an elevator shaft, you power-slam down it, killing any enemies patrolling on the platform below. It’s one of those games that manages to make the moment-to-moment play consistently enjoyable, and that’s always a special thing.
Aside from the script, I’ve little to complain about regarding Shadow Complex itself. The Remaster, however, is disappointing. There’s a host of changes including up-rezzed character and environment models, added post-process effects, and support for high-resolutions, but despite these allegedly extensive alterations, it doesn't look massively different from the original. The remaster misses an opportunity to add the one thing that Shadow Complex lacked, a visual style. It’s not an ugly game, but it rather drab. The player character animations could have done with a little tweaking too. There's something of a glide in Jason's step, which makes the controls feel less precise than is ideal.
So the remaster doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the overall experience. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to. Being able to play Shadow Complex on PC is enough.Like the military base in which the game takes place, Shadow Complex is simple on the surface but smart underneath.