Sunday, 10 Dec 2023

The Complex Review: It’s Not Very Complex At All

Right from the opening credits, The Complex seemingly refuses to consider itself a game. It’s blatantly referred to as “A Film by Paul Raschid,” which makes sense as there’s little actual gameplay. This isn’t a surprise, as this is the latest title from Wales Interactive, the makers of The Bunker, Late Shift, and The Infectious Madness Of Doctor Dekker. There are decisions to be made, but these are essentially movies that you give you a small part in changing the outcome of the plots.

The Complex‘s sci-fi future gives us an interesting glance at what science may develop in the field of nano-machines, but its writing isn’t as smart as its technobabble-spewing scientists may lead you to believe.

The Complex puts the player in the role of Dr. Amy Tennant, a scientist who’s the leading expert on nanocell technology. She works for Kensington Corp., an organization that’s been developing nanocells that will advance medical science and will be used to help astronauts on the first trip to Mars. The company has also been working with a fictional third-world South Asian country called Kindar, which appears to be a stand-in for North Korea. A Kindarian intern somehow gets the nanocells injected into her blood and Amy -along with her shady, former colleague Rees – are brought in to figure out how this happened and if the nanocells can be retrieved. Of course, things get even more complicated from there is an attack on Kensington, leaving Amy and Rees stranded in a highly-secured underground lab. Soon, terrorism and corporate espionage are thrown into the mix along with a potential bio-weapon outbreak, and it’s up to you to make the decisions that will drive the narrative forward.

For the most part, the acting in The Complex is pretty solid. The most well-known performers are probably Michelle Mylett, who some may know from the cult favorite Canadian sitcom Letterkenny, or Kate Dickie, who portrayed Lisa Arryn on Game Of Thrones. They all do adequate to good work with the material, although there were a few scenes that came off as a little more comical than they were presumably intended to be. One actor who stood out to me was Kim Adis. She manages to breathe life into the character of Claire – the intern infected with the nanocells – and makes you care about her plight and motivations.

The problem isn’t with the actors so much as the script. The Complex follows a lot of cliched story beats that wouldn’t feel out of place in a typical CBS hour-long drama. There are plenty of betrayals, “shocking” reveals, and that thing fictional geniuses do where they stop talking mid-sentence because they just had a brilliant revelation. There’s an abundance of rote moments where characters talk about typical subjects like ethics in science and politics, how the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, keeping stockholders happy, etc. There were some scenes that were affecting or exciting, but for the most part, the story is pretty predictable.

The production value is also pretty mediocre at times. There are some nice sets here and there, but some of the special effects occasionally look quite cheap. There were some flying ships and smoke that looked like they could have easily been from in a movie made for the SyFy channel. At one point, when a character fell down a hole, the sound design team actually used The Howie Scream. The Complex takes itself pretty seriously, but it’s full of some unintentionally silly moments.

Do You Like Clicking The Button? Good.

As for the gameplay, as previously established, there isn’t much of it. This is an interactive FMV game featuring hours upon hours of film footage cut together into one movie for the player to watch. Then, at pivotal moments, Amy – and by proxy, the player – will be forced to make a choice that will cause the story to branch off into different scenes and scenarios. Sometimes these decisions will be inconsequential, sometimes they determine whether someone lives or dies. You click on the choice you want and the movie continues on. There’s a ton of alternate narrative paths and they all lead to one of nine possible endings, which does give a reason to play through the game again.

I was actually intrigued by the number of endings available to find, and once I completed my first playthrough, I thought it’d fun to go back to certain chapters and choose different options to see how things would change. I had done the same when playing Detroit: Become Human, a similar adventure with a little more interactivity that allowed the player to replay scenes. That’s when I noticed a glaring omission from this game: there’s no chapter select. In fact, there wasn’t even an option to go back to where I was before. By beating the game, The Complex seemingly resets completely and forces you to play through the story again in order to see all the different endings.

On one hand, I can see the logic behind this. It does cheapen the experience a bit if you’re able to just go to any spot and make the alternative choice. On the other hand, by neglecting to add a chapter select option, The Complex is essentially making you watch an entire movie nine times to experience every narrative conclusion. I don’t think I would want to watch a great movie nine times in a row, let alone one I didn’t necessarily care for. Even worse, since we don’t know which scenes will lead to an ending, you could theoretically play through the game and get the exact same one as a previous run. Thus, it’s likely that the average player will only experience one definite ending, which is a shame since there are eight that will likely go undiscovered.

Not That Complex

FMV games and interactive stories can be fun despite the lack of gameplay mechanics. Companies like Telltale Games or Quantic Dreams have made some highly entertaining games where the player had little control over the action on screen. Even Wales Interactive has made some compelling titles in the past for this genre.

But The Complex suffers from too many cliches and too much predictable plotting to fully recommend. It also never really says anything meaningful. The entire message seems to be that corporations can be corrupt, countries run by dictatorships are evil, and science can be scary if the research is rushed or improperly conducted. Which, much like the writing, is treading pretty familiar ground. Combined with the fact that you’re apparently supposed to play it nine times for the full experience, it’s very hard to give this a full recommendation.

The Complex has some good ideas and solid acting, but for an interactive movie, there’s not enough going on here that makes it more worthwhile than just watching something on Netflix.

A PC copy of The Complex was provided to TheGamer for this review. The Complex is available on PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

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