Need to know
What is it? A live-action adventure game set in a locked-down lab.
Expect to pay £10/$13
Developer Good Gate Media, Little Jade Productions
Publisher Wales Interactive
Reviewed on RTX 2080 Super, Intel i7-9700K, 16GB RAM
Link Official site
Sometime in the very near future, a woman on the London Underground coughs up blood and is quietly rushed to a facility its employees refer to simply as The Complex. Her body has been invaded by nanocells, an advanced technology with the potential to revolutionise medical science, if only its creators—including our protagonist, Dr. Amy Tenant—could sort out that whole coughing up blood thing.
Four years ago, Tenant worked as a warzone medic in a fictional totalitarian state called Kindar. With talk of a supreme leader and references to human rights violations, it's not difficult to identify which country inspired the game's writer, Lynn Renee Maxcy, who was part of the writing team for Emmy-winning TV series The Handmaid's Tale.
Now Tenant is with Kensington Corp, a British biotech company who has hired interns from war-torn Kindar to help with the nanocell project—one of which we learn was the blood-spewing girl on the tube. Figuring out why this happened, and how the nanocells escaped the lab, is the first mystery you have to solve as Tenant, a suspiciously young Canadian scientist. But the story soon grows more, well, complex.
The Complex is an interactive movie, and I don't use that in the pejorative sense—it's literally what it is. You sit and you watch a series of events unfold, occasionally making decisions that alter the course the story takes. Sometimes your decisions have a major impact; sometimes they barely change anything. It's the most basic kind of branching interactive narrative, but with the production values of a TV drama.
Decisions are timed, which you'd expect from a game like this. But the baffling thing about The Complex is that they're timed even when what's happening on-screen isn't particularly time sensitive. Timed decisions in narrative games work well when you're forced into tense life-or-death situations; not when you're deciding which person in the lab to help you lift a box. There is an option to disable the timers, at least.
I won't say how, but not long into the story, Tenant and Dr. Rees Wakefield, a former colleague she worked with in Kindar, and with whom she has a tense relationship, end up trapped in the depths of the complex. With gun-toting men at the door and a dwindling supply of air, the pair have to find a way to stay alive—supported by other characters including Kensington Corp's no-nonsense founder, Nathalie Kensington.
Character actor Kate Dickie, who plays Kensington, is probably the biggest name in the cast. Even if you don't recognise the name you'll have seen her in something, whether it's Game of Thrones, Prometheus, or The Last Jedi. She does a fine job, although it says everything about how subtle The Complex is that, her being Scottish, she wears tartan trousers and can be found drinking whisky in just about every scene.
Al Weaver is likeable as the laid-back Rees Wakefield, and Michelle Mylett, who plays Tenant, handles the lead role well, even if I did find her a little too young and clean-cut to convincingly portray a battle-hardened biochemist. The rest of the cast are a mixed bag, and the script falls into the same trap as a lot of modern Hollywood films, with almost non-stop dry wisecracks where the dialogue should be.
The Complex is strongest in the second act, when Tenant and Wakefield are looking for ways to escape the lab. But the relatively careful pacing of these scenes is tossed aside towards the end, as the story suddenly charges towards one of the game's multiple endings. I saw 4 of 8, and I was impressed by how different they all were. It's even possible to get absolutely everyone killed, with an achievement as a reward for your efforts.
You can definitely have an impact on how the story plays out in The Complex, which is more than you can say for a lot of narrative games. But my biggest problem is that I just didn't care. In, say, Telltale's Walking Dead, wrestling with big decisions really gets under your skin, because you're invested in the characters. Here, the cast is a little too broadly painted and one-dimensional for these moments to be effective.
The Complex is technically polished, with seamless transitions between scenes and beautiful-looking HD video. The sets, lighting, and costumes are great throughout, and the cast (mostly) does a solid job with the uneven script. I also appreciate being able to skip previously viewed scenes when replaying, which lets you see the other endings without having to sit through the same stuff over and over again. But the limited interaction and forgettable story ultimately let the game down.