Impressions: Shadow Complex

With just a little more than a month to go before the game hits the Xbox Live Marketplace, today we got a look at more of Chair Entertainment and Epic Games' love letter to Super Metroid, a.k.a Shadow Complex. We'd journeyed through some of the same in-game territory during E3, but this latest glimpse was geared more towards getting into gameplay we didn't really get a good look at then.

For starters, we witnessed several nods to the stealth-oriented gameplay of Metal Gear Solid (the game also draws on Kojima's classic series for artistic inspiration). In one area, designer Donald Mustard -- an avid fan of the 2D action-adventure who hopes his game kick-starts a new trend among his fellow developers -- guided his hero past moving floodlights and security cameras which, if not avoided, would have locked down the area requiring players to find an alternate path through. Stealth kills have also made their way into the game and even work on smaller robots, who, like human enemies, are fair game as long as players aren't in their line of sight.

Inventiveness on the part of the player isn't limited solely to getting from point A to point B in the game (or any of the myriad points in-between on the massive world map). Mustard showed us some neat tricks, including shooting spider-like sentry drones off walls so they'd fall near unsuspecting enemies before detonating. This was accompanied by appropriate "What the--?" animations by the soon-to-be-deceased bad guys.

Other tactics involved weapons and upgrades to the hero's "Omega" suit that are obtained later in the game. The first we were shown was a gun that fired fast-setting expanding foam gel. Initially, Mustard used it to ensnare an enemy before killing him, but it had other uses. Facing off against a shield-carrying enemy, he was able to foam the shield to the ground, rendering it unusable. The enemy was forced to abandon it, leaving himself wide open. Next, it was demonstrated that the foam can be used to create cover and platforms; the later were used to reach hidden areas.

One new ability we saw was the "Friction Dampener." When activated, the hero was able to run (at insane speed) across the surface of a lake, straight through enemies, and along walls and ceilings. Mustard told us that the ability is based on scientific research into "acoustic lubrication." We don't know about the science, but the results looked amazing -- and were particularly useful against one boss mech that raced along the ceiling, floor and walls of a confined room.

We were happy to see Gears of War 2 style prompts slide on screen whenever Mustard performed a feat that counted towards unlocking an Achievement. This included plenty of head shots, which eventually reward players with the "Head A-splode" cheevo. Mustard teased that these feats continue to be tracked even after the Achievement's been unlocked, but said he wants to surprise players with exactly what that leads to.

For those looking to over-achieve, we were shown some of the challenge rooms that'll appear in the finished game. Presented with a stylized "minimalist" look, they ranged from a simple one-room speed run to an ultra-concentrated taste of all the challenges the main game spits out. Mustard said the rooms are partially for bragging rights (times are uploaded to online leaderboards) but also to help players hone their skills for their second, third or fourth time through the game -- which should be interesting, given that their leveled-up character gets carried over to the next play-through.

Getting a better look at the game's ... looks, we can tell you that it's turning out absolutely stunning. Shadow Complex doesn't look like a 1200

($15) title and it sure doesn't seem to be built like anything less than a full-priced retail release. A team of six artists has worked to give the game its unique look -- one that Mustard says is inspired by games like Out of This World and Flashback, only with highly detailed characters, backgrounds and in-game objects.

The results -- coupled with the game's mechanics and scope -- will likely change the way you view XBLA titles forever. It's certainly going to make other developers work that much harder for your Microsoft Points -- or at least we certainly hope it does, now that we've seen what's possible. We'll find out how it all comes together on Wednesday, August 19. (Or, as we're calling it, "Taking a Break from Battlefield 1943 Day.")