Review: The Complex

Many decades ago, at the onset of new video game technologies, developers started filming live-action shots and scenes into their games. This was known as Full Motion Video, or FMV for short. Games such as Off-Road Interceptor Extreme, utilized the FMV formate to tell its story, switching between FMV and a 3D vehicular shooter. Other titles, such as Tomcat Alley, were entire films that had players pushing button prompt to successfully complete the scene.   Looking back on these older games may not seem incredibly impressive, with their fuzzy visuals and cringe-worthy dialogue, but at the time, this was revolutionary, and it would pave the road of cinematics in video games. Wales Interactive has been bringing back that style of production, with the wildly successful releases of The Bunker and The Shapeshifting Detective. Now, the team is at it again with a new story, The Complex, an interactive short film that finds itself releasing at an appropriate time. Featuring a solid cast and exciting premise, The Complex looks to provide the high-stakes pandemic thriller, on par with movies like Outbreak and Contagion.

The near future is looking bright. The first manned mission to Mars is underway, drones can carry people, and international cooperation leads to a better world. For Dr. Amy Tenant, the future is looking bright. Suddenly, an emergency erupts in the metro system of London. A woman begins convulsing and coughing up blood. Biological terrorism is suspected, given the location and sudden occurrence. Dr. Amy responds, and the patient is taken to an incredibly advanced scientific facility, named The Complex. Featuring state-of-the-art advances in biomedical research, The Complex is easily suited to identify what is happening, but Dr. Amy will soon discover that nothing is what is seems, and the matter set before her are much larger than could ever be imagined.

The Complex is an interactive thriller. The entire game is filmed in live-action, very much like a show or film one would find on Netflix. Players watch and view the events that unfold, but at key moments, players make a critical decision. Each decision will have some affect, but several will ultimately affect the entire outcome of the movie. The Complex contains 8 possible endings, including a secret ending, meaning that multiple playthroughs are necessary to gain the complete experience. There are no quicktime events or combat moments, though there is action on-screen. The Complex is an interactive thriller, specifically focused on making choices. What choices you make is entirely up to you and how you feel.

The Complex is a riveting adventure, grounded in realism, but featuring incredible pacing and strong engagement. It’s a familiar story, but penned with twists and unexpected outcomes. The story, penned by Lynn Renee Maxcy, is grounded in a view that is believable and authentic. It feels as if the story of The Complex could happen tomorrow, or even today,  especially with the directions it makes in science and technology. Every moment of The Complex is new yet familiar, creating a sensation of predicting what will happen, but then being suddenly surprised at the outcome of what occurs. The visual color palette is also strong and appropriate, especially in contrast to the previous works released by Wales Interactive. The story itself comes at a time when the real world is contending with the pandemic of COVID-19, and surprisingly, the story is relevant and hopeful. It’s by pure coincidence that The Compex launches at the time that arrives, but its story is relevant and hopeful.

That is not to say the experience is perfectly thought out, which is only a small blemish in the overall game. In one scene, the protagonist ventures through an area that was recently incinerated by sudden and extreme heat. The bodies that were caught in the fire are reduced to ash and flakes in seconds. As the protagonist ventures through the aftermath, she discovers guns on the ground, perfectly intact and fully functional. In fact, she is able to pick up a weapon and use it. Naturally, logic dictates that the guns should have been melted down or exploded during the fire, but the weapons looks like they were just bought from the local gunshop. This is just one of several moments in The Complex that defy logic, but it is enjoyable to see this and shouldn’t be seen as a flaw. The Complex is an interactive movie and moments like that remind me that this is a game and moments like that are normal.

As for the gameplay, The Complex is simple: make a choice, then watch it unfold. As mentioned before, The Complex contains one of eight possible endings. Making different choices yields a different outcome. After encountering one ending, and seeing the credits roll for the first time, players can skip previously seen cutscenes and fast forward towards decision moments. This can be rather tedious, but is sensible, given the structure of The Complex. To get one of the other endings, mixing and changing choices is encouraged. New to The Complex is a relationship system, which tracks Dr. Amy’s attitude in realtime, and her approval rating with the characters of The Complex.  It is not required to keep everyone happy in The Complex but doing so is required to see all that The Complex has to offer. While simple, the gameplay in The Complex is strong.

The acting and casting are strong as well. Actress Michelle Mylett (Bad Blood) is the protagonist of The Complex. Professional, intelligent, and stoic, Michelle does an excellent job of creating an effective character that deals with a fluid situation. She is neither invincible nor emotionless and has great chemistry with the supporting cast, which includes Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones) and Al Weaver (Xenoblade Chronicles 2). Lynn Renee’s script puts the actors and actress in interesting predicaments, but the script brings out cohesion. By the end of The Complex I cared about the characters, and their outcomes, making repeat playthroughs a more thoughtful experience, rather than just carelessly seeing moving pictures. The Complex does a fantastic job in not just putting players as part of the actin, but also truly feeling engaged with it.

While The Complex is a great thrill ride, it’s over far too soon. The short length is appropriate and suitable for the game, but I had such a great time with the COmplex that I wanted to see so much more. During my time with The Complex, I found myself laughing at moments and gasping in shock. I saw action, suspense, sacrifice, and various endings. The Complex is a refreshingly dynamic and original sci-fi thriller that is a great time, through and through, and I encourage everyone to experience it!