Game Music, Reviews

Shadow Complex: A Great Game That Tells Its Composer to Shut Up (Review)

October 7, 2009 | | 5 Comments Share thison Facebook Shadow Complex: A Great Game That Tells Its Composer to Shut Up (Review)on Twitter

Epic Games’ and Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex was a game that caused quite a stir upon its release on the XBOX Live Arcade at the end of August of this year. It was received with near-unanimous acclaim as a great throwback to the “Metroidvania”-styled side-scrolling games. With it, however, came a great backlash from the community as the game’s universe was based on that of Orson Scott Card, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage. Thankfully, the game has no politics in it to speak of, and its soundtrack doesn’t either.

Did you even realize there was a soundtrack? Well, there most certainly is a soundtrack! In fact, it has SIXTY tracks. Click the jump to find out more!

As a soundtrack to be enjoyed as a piece of music, Shadow Complex does not offer the listener much. Out of its sixty tracks, only about ten or eleven are longer than a minute. Of these, only half are more than ninety seconds in length. Whereas a soundtrack to the previously released XBLA game, ‘Splosion Man, had short tracks that told a story, Shadow Complex is primarily ambient drum sounds or a bit of strings and an effect or two. In fact, this soundtrack is a SOUND track in the very sense of the word: it is mostly sounds, not music.

There have been many soundtracks that do not survive well outside their game’s setting but add such ambience and thrill to the action that we can forgive them for being an effective storytelling device. Unfortunately, Shadow Complex’s soundtrack cannot add much to the game because it simply does not feel like it’s there – it’s as though the developers intentionally stifled it. A twenty second track that does not repeat is barely an effect, for instance. A great chunk of these are a cool drum beat, but – really – what can we do with that for twenty seconds?

Josh Acker, the game’s composer, clearly is talented. Taking an incredibly awesome angle of almost baroque/classical style to the soundtrack, Acker had an amazing idea going, yet the game is played almost entirely in silence. One of the highlights of the game is (POSSIBLE SPOILER) when the main character floods a big part of the complex and amidst the chaos of the water damage a serene piano piece is played – an excellent twist on the action that is going on in the gameplay, yet this piece is also limited to a whopping forty-three seconds.

In addition to the piano, the main theme (which seems to only be found on the game’s title screen) is a cello-based theme that has a lot of promise, but is also a theme that is never recapitulated, expanded upon, or made into variations.

The angry thumbs down I give to the soundtrack is not directed at composer Josh Acker who makes it obvious that he is a great composer, but to Chair Entertainment and/or Epic Games’ ridiculous decision to reduce the soundtrack to virtually nothing. I acknowledge that I love when a game is bathed in awesome music, but I know I can appreciate an absence of music, as well. To have it be this absent is inexcusable. However, the music is enough to know that I am interested in the next project by Josh Acker. Here’s hoping the next set of developers will let him do what he is capable of doing.

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