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E3: Can  Shadow Complex  Modernize The Old School?

E3: Can Shadow Complex Modernize The Old School?

June 4, 2009 | By Kris Graft

June 4, 2009 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, E3

At first glance, Chair Entertainment's upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game Shadow Complex looks like a 3D-rendered side-scrolling run and gun game in the vein of Contra.

But in a one-on-one with Chair's Donald Mustard during E3, he showed a game that is more akin to Super Metroid and more recent Castlevania games, as Shadow Complex's primary focus is exploration, broken up with hi-po combat.

It's an exciting imagining of 2D gameplay, a style of play that gamers and game developers refuse to completely abandon, even in an industry where immersive 3D environments are common. Shadow Complex wears its "old school" badge proudly.

"I think we come back to 2D partly because of nostalgia," said Mustard, "but I also think that this design works so well with exploration, where you're kind of peeling back these onion layers of the game. I don't know how well it really works in 3D. I think there's something very particular about this design that's so fun and compelling that it just works a lot better with this camera perspective. This can be immersive in its own, different, unique way."

Mustard showed a demo in which the lead character, Jason Fleming, loses track of his girlfriend while exploring caves. He then finds that sinister soldiers have kidnapped her. As the game progresses, the gamer will be able to acquire new abilities and weapons, much like Metroid, whose influence is clear.

A cross-section map for the game's first level is highly-reminiscent of the large map screens in 2D Metroid and Castlevania games in terms of scope. "It's huge and non-linear," Mustard said.

Size-wise, Mustard expects the game to be about a 1GB download, due in large part to Microsoft localizing the game in full audio in 13 languages. The production value of the game is top-notch, running smoothly on Epic's Unreal Engine 3, with 3D-rendered cut scenes to move the story along.

Asked if 2D-styled games are relegated to downloads instead of physical retail, Mustard said, "I don't think so. One of our goals was to blur the line between what a downloadable game is. Just look at Microsoft announcing Games On Demand. We're getting to where, whether you buy a game online or at the store, it isn't really an issue where you get your media from. It was a strategic decision we made to release it through Live Arcade."

Working closely on the game with Chair is Epic Games, which acquired Chair in 2008. Gears of War figurehead Cliff Bleszinski appeared alongside Mustard on stage when Chair debuted the game at Microsoft's pre-E3 press briefing earlier this week.

"It's amazing having access to all their resources," Mustard said. "Cliff Bleszinski has been a huge help. They have such an innate understanding of good, modern design."

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