The Complex PS4 review – choose your own movie adventure
The latest attempt to redeem interactive movies involves a bio-weapon attack on London, by one of the writers of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Interactive movies are a much maligned genre. From the early days of Night Trap’s schlocky 15-rated horror on Mega-CD, to Quantum Break’s peculiar mixture of third person action game and TV series, it’s an art form that has never quite found its feet. Ironically, the closest it’s come to greatness wasn’t in a game but on Black Mirror’s entertaining Bandersnatch episode, where you helped guide the fate of a 1980s video game designer.
The Complex is the latest interactive film from Wales Interactive, a developer and publisher with some form in FMV games. It put out 2016’s take on the post-apocalypse, The Bunker, which was followed by Late Shift, a crime thriller that had high production values but ended up being a little unsatisfying as both a game and a film. In terms of subject matter, this sits somewhere between the two, in that it takes place mostly in a secure underground lab and is a story about people committing felonies in the name of business.
Opening in the aftermath of a chemical attack, your first choices as Amy Tenent, ace biologist and hotshot doctor, are about how to approach bedside manner with two dying patients, only one of whom you can save. Without any particular emotional attachment either to Dr Amy or her spluttering charges, those decisions, taken against a rapidly dwindling timer, don’t feel especially tense, but do manage to set the scene for a game where your choices matter, even if it’s not always easy to care too much about the outcomes.
Cutting to five years later, Dr Amy is now working for Kensington Corp, a biotech business that’s attempting to combine stem cells with nanotechnology to provide lightweight, automatic healing for a forthcoming British mission to Mars. Her investors are restless, however, because Kensington has been publicly associated with the fictional dictatorship of Kindar, a country with links to the company’s enigmatic founder, Nathalie Kensington.
Nathalie, as we later discover, has indeed done very bad things, and those misdeeds are coming back to haunt her, with a group of Kindarian dissidents laying siege to the inventively named Security Lab Alpha, Kensington Corp’s top secret subterranean laboratory. Inside, Dr Amy and her ex-lover Rees try and figure out how to escape, as well as unpicking what happened in Kindar, and how much Nathalie Kensington really knew.
Although there are plenty of branches in the narrative, your decisions don’t exactly come thick and fast, with minutes elapsing between interact-able moments. That means that for the majority of the time you’re watching The Complex like a film, which is where its problems start to creep in. While solidly acted and with workmanlike special effects, this definitely feels more straight-to-DVD than movie-grade in its production values.
Each choice you make does have ramifications though, and the first way that exhibits itself is in Amy’s relationship with other characters. You can pause at any time and find out how much each of them likes her, expressed as a percentage. Behave with compassion and the numbers go up; treat people callously and with regard only for recovering the MacGuffin, sorry, the nano-cells, and you can expect the percentage to get very low indeed. Those scores govern how willing other characters are to help Amy when the going gets tough, which it does quite a lot.
You’ll also be making plenty of life and death choices, and depending on the narrative path you take, you can end up with absolutely everyone in the morgue by the time the credits roll. You can also get Amy killed in the opening minutes, albeit that there’s absolutely no way to see that coming based on the innocuous-seeming decision that leads you there. There is a degree of replay value though, as you try and work out how to find each of the nine possible endings, and unlock all 196 scenes.
On subsequent playthroughs you can skip parts you’ve already watched, letting you jaunt through it at relatively high speed once you’ve completed the plot a few times, skipping directly to decisions without having to sit through the same dialogue over and over again. It’s a mildly engaging process that at least extends the entertainment beyond the story’s run time of a little over an hour on your first visit, and considerably less than that as you repeat it.
The real issue with The Complex, though, is that it’s impossible to care about any of its characters. Rees is likeably goofy, but the others are either clichés or poorly cast. Amy is suspiciously young to have a PhD (or a medical degree) and experience in multiple war zones around the world, Nathalie Kensington is Scottish and therefore rarely seen without a tumbler of whisky in hand, and Parker Caplani, Svengali-esque architect and mastermind of Security Lab Alpha doesn’t look much over 30 himself.
Without characters that ring true, you’re left with the slightly fatuous plot, which for all its twists never manages to generate any tension. It’s a pity, because it’s a pleasure to play a game set in Britain when almost everything else uses America as its backdrop, even though most of The Complex takes place in a generic windowless basement.
For all its good intentions, The Complex proves to be a somewhat hollow experience, with neither the humour nor sympathetic characters of Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch. It’s also shorter, and has fewer decisions, and with Bandersnatch included in your Netflix subscription versus actually having to buy this, it’s hard to recommend something offering such fleeting entertainment value.
The Complex review summary
In Short: An interactive movie that tries to tell a relevant tale of near-future Britain but is marred by characters that lack credibility and a story free from dramatic tension.
Pros: Nine endings and 196 scenes to unlock. British setting is a pleasant change, and no visible interruptions or edits when you make decisions.
Cons: Cliché-riddled plot, unsympathetic characters, and some questionable casting choices. Sub-one hour run time for most playthroughs.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Developer: Wales Interactive
Release Date: 31st March 2020
Age Rating: 16
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