[Review] 'The Complex' is an Interactive Narrative that Does Most Things Better than Its Predecessors
The concept of interactive narrative fiction isn’t new, by any means. I fondly remember going to my elementary school library, scouring the shelves for the newest Choose Your Own Adventure novel. There are a number of fads from yesteryear that have made their return, presented in a neat, nostalgic package, ready for the Funko Pop consuming generation...
...Nothing is inherently wrong with that, but the whole nostalgia craze is oversaturated and becoming stale. That’s where The Complex comes in. Instead of selling us a “remember this!?” product, we’re given an interactive experience that is charming, fresh and most importantly, doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with nostalgic overkill. In the early days of video games, compact discs were a breakthrough, as it allowed for more memory and data. Several PC games and Playstation titles took advantage of FMV (full motion video) technology to create a cinematic-like experience. The Wing Commander series is a good example of this technology being used in its infancy. Director Paul Raschid brings us a modern version of an FMV focused game, and The Complex does just about everything better than its predecessors.
As a narrative focused title, The Complex has a lot going on. To keep things simple and stay away from spoilers, I’ll keep this brief. The story revolves around head scientist, Dr. Amy Tennant (Michelle Mylett). She works for an all too familiar evil corporation, but Amy doesn’t know the extent and lengths they will go to protect their scientific assets. A low-level employee of the corporation becomes deathly sick from an injection of a powerful serum and is sent straight into isolated quarantine in an underground lab. Nathalie Kensington (Kate Dickie) is the head of the corporation and has called in Amy and her old lab partner, Reese (Al Weaver) to assess and contain the situation. The two scientists have a complicated past, so the notion of working together again was met with trepidation. The sick employee is holding a highly valuable asset in her bloodstream, but in order to extract it, severe consequences are unavoidable. Amy and Reese work together to safely retrieve the asset but learn startling information along the way that makes them question everything they know. That’s all you get. More information would spoil the exciting and ever-evolving narrative.
The structure of the game is similar to other interactive narratives, but The Complex ups the ante by giving the player significantly more opportunities for decision making. The pacing between each decision is expertly balanced, never exhausting you with too many interruptions of choice. Throughout your journey, you’re able to pause your game and investigate your relationship with each character by way of a very sleek and intuitive menu. It displays a percentage over each character with the higher number pertaining to their loyalty and fondness for Amy. There are no other gameplay elements to speak of. You won’t find any Telltale Games (The Walking Dead) style quick-time action moments here. Essentially, The Complex is an interactive feature length film. It never outstays its welcome and ends just when things start to feel a tad repetitive.
Like most FMV based games, you will notice a slight pause before and after you make a decision. It’s something I’ve become used to over the years, but it is immersion breaking at times, nonetheless. My only other complaint (or suggestion) I have in this department is that I feel this game could have benefited from an episodic format. While different in terms of actual gameplay, Telltale’s Jurassic Park: The Game (2011) ratcheted up the tension and anticipation by making the player wait between each episode. I believe The Complex should have utilized this format, as it gives the player time to think on the events thus far and eagerly anticipate the next episode, with hopes and anxieties about what could happen to their favorite characters. This is more of a preference “what if” scenario rather than criticism, but it’s something I kept thinking about while watching. As far as replay value, The Complex succeeds in persuading you to dive into several more playthroughs. There are nine endings in total and there are multiple paths to try out in almost every situation.
The story itself is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s very engaging, easy to follow and it’s told very well. Writer Lynn Renee Maxcy certainly knows how to keep the tension up and the pace moving. However, the evil corporation trope has been done to death and ultimately, sends the wrong message; but that’s another discussion altogether. It would be refreshing and equally brave, to find our enemy or evil in a freedom fighter and our protagonist in a corporate setting. To give credit to The Complex, Nathalie Kensington is portrayed with a subtlety not often seen in films or games altogether. Instead of making Kensington a one-note, cartoon character of a villain, Kate Dickie gives her a lot of depth in her performance. On more than one occasion, I felt myself sympathizing with Kensington’s reasoning. Dickie gives a memorable performance and has inspired me to seek out more of her work. While the overall evil corporate story beats are heavy-handed and broad at times, there are characters who challenge that concept. Michelle Mylett is the other big name attached and she does an admirable job but there isn’t too much to unpack with her character. Amy has been written to be a bit of blank slate, considering it’s we who make her decisions and she merely reacts in ways we have directed her to. While she may not be a unique character, Mylett is convincing with every decision made. Luckily, there isn’t any bad acting to speak of, here. Al Weaver as Rees happens to be my personal favorite. His comedic sensibilities try to lighten the mood in such grave circumstances, but underneath the jokes, Reese is deeply flawed and troubled. The Complex does a very good job with fleshing out his character and we learn a great deal about him throughout the experience. While everyone may not be memorable, none of their performances are distracting and they move the story along at a good clip.
The Complex is a rich and satisfying narrative experience. Each scenario is planned out with precise detail and each possible outcome feels natural and non-mechanical. Everything just kind of fits. Aside from a few minor complaints and technical hiccups, this is a class act, offering us a level of engagement not seen in any other form of entertainment. If you’re looking for a cinematic experience that encourages and rewards multiple playthroughs, The Complex has you covered.
You can now experience The Complex on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth