The Complex Review

Matt Lorrigan

I think the moment I realised that The Complex has more in common with movies than games was when I tried to pause it. Rather than hitting the Menu button on the controller, as I would with most games when trying to pause, I instead pressed A as if I was watching Netflix or YouTube. When the events playing out in front of me didn’t immediately freeze in place, I just kept hammering the A button, assuming there was something wrong with my controller. It was over a minute before I even tried to use the Menu button, and the resulting reminder that “oh god yeah, this is a game, not a film” speaks volumes.

That isn’t to say that The Complex isn’t a video game, however. But it would probably be more apt to describe it as an interactive film, in the same vein as Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, or Bear Grylls’ bizarre masterpiece You vs Wild. You’ll spend the vast majority of your time watching live action scenes play out, with the option to make decisions sprinkled throughout, and multiple endings to unlock.


The Complex follows the story of Dr. Amy Tennant, a scientist whose expertise have been put to use in a near-future London with the development of human-healing nanocells, and the character whose choices you’ll be making throughout the game. Classic sci-fi fare, Amy explains in a board meeting early on that these nanocells are essential to get the first man to Mars, and their importance is constantly reminded to players throughout the game.

We’re also introduced early on to the fictional state of Kindar, a dictatorship that Amy’s boss is working closely with following a civil war. Things kick off when these two plot threads overlap, and one Kindarian intern steals vital technology, becoming infected with the unfinished nanocells. Dr. Amy Tennant becomes trapped in lockdown in the eponymous “Complex”, (we can relate) with the suspected Kindarian terrorist and a scientist ex-boyfriend (less relatable), while being forced to make difficult decisions along the way.

Maybe not as many decisions as you would expect, though. Early in the game – which clocks in at around 100 minutes – you’re given quite a few small decisions to make, introducing you to the system and controls. Most of these don’t seem to have any consequence, but they come fairly thick and fast, enough that I kept the controller in my hand for the most part. Later scenes, though, could often go on for nearly ten minutes without me needing to do anything, before I was roused out of my film-watching by having to pick up the controller again and quickly make a decision.

So if The Complex does skew more towards cinema than gaming, the question is - how does it hold up as a film? In terms of production value, it feels very BBC – think Doctor Who, or Sherlock, but played much more straight faced. Physical sets, including an underground lab, are well realised but some of the SFX is much worse than you’d hope. One area that is shown multiple times, which is meant to be a big vacuum-sealed bunker with big metal doors, is so obviously not a real place that it caught me off guard. Audio quality is strange and compressed on Xbox One as well, with some character’s voices sounding oddly tinny, giving things a bit of a budget feel.

Performances are fine across the board, even if the script doesn’t give them all too much to do. Al Weaver provides a bit of dry humour as love interest Rees Wakefield, and does it very well, while Kim Adis does a very good job as Clare Lee, having to spend nearly the entire movie playing a dying character, yet still managing to make you care about her. Michelle Mylett is okay as protagonist Amy, although her performance is a bit disjointed and strangely paced, possibly due to often having to slowly weigh up the options around her as players are given time to make key decisions. The biggest name on the call sheet is Kate Dickie, of Prometheus & Game of Thrones fame, and she does about as well as she can with the script she’s given, too.


It’s all played very straight, but even when the story hit its stride it struggles to generate much tension. Many of the decisions you’re given aren’t very well telegraphed, with no real indication of what difference that decision will make, or why it has to be made at all. A few of your decisions will also end in results that are so unexpected, that they become unintentionally hilarious - which isn’t what I think the developers or the director were going for. There are nine different endings to unlock, and this process is thankfully not as arduous as it sounds. Once you’ve experienced the story once, you can skip any scenes that you’ve already watched, jumping straight to the decisions and giving you a chance to try out the different options. This is absolutely needed because the film is too long, and the story not divergent enough, to warrant watching the entire thing multiple times, but getting a feeling for how things could have been different in a quick twenty minute session is fun enough.

The whole experience isn’t bad - the film is a fairly entertaining distraction with a couple of good performances. The visuals are a mixed bag, with some excellently gross physical effects to realise the game’s nanocell-induced disease, but really poor CGI lets it down elsewhere. The audio quality is poor throughout and the pacing leads to a very abrupt ending, regardless of what you choose. But most of all, The Complex offers nothing new by being interactive, and neither the story or the characters are strong enough to encourage multiple viewings without the scene-skipping option. Those desperate for an interactive film will find one here, and it works, but there are better stories to be discovered out there in both the world of gaming and the world of film.

The Complex

There is fun to be had here, especially in some of the more ridiculous endings, but even those are examples of tonal whiplash in a title that plays it straight for the most part. More film than game, The Complex doesn’t gain enough from the premise of being interactive - instead, it ends up as a strangely paced movie with a lack of focus and not enough tension to draw players in.

Form widget
50%
Audio
40%

You can hear what everyone is saying, and there is some nice sound work (or lack of) when the characters enter a vacuum, but otherwise the sound quality is surprisingly low and tinny throughout.

Visuals
60%

For the most part, The Complex is nicely directed with some good sets and physical effects, but when the special effects do crop up, they are bad enough to actually be distracting

Playability
60%

The game gives you a good amount of time to make choices, but with each short enough to force quick impulse decisions. Playing through multiple times is made easier by the scene skip option, actively encouraging replay value, but you’ll find yourself spending much more time watching than interacting.

Delivery
40%

More in common with cinema than gaming, the interactive choices don’t feel necessary to the story being told, and are often poorly telegraphed to the point where it can be frustrating to see the outcome of a decision you’ve made. Fails to meld its two art forms together in an interesting way.

Achievements
75%

A decent list that will have you playing through each decision and working out how to get the outcomes you need. Would be a painful task if it wasn’t for the scene skip ability, which makes these easy to pop.

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