America - Front
America - Back
By Kelsy Polnik 31st Mar 2020 | 3,290 views
Full Motion Video (FMV) games had a brief moment of relevance when CDs were first gaining traction in the early 90s. Since those days they’ve largely been looked back upon in a disparaging way. It’s been neat to see lately some fresh new ideas emerging from this style with games like Her Story, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, or even Netflix’s Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch trying to earn back credibility that the genre had long since lost. Wales Interactive has been a strong driving force in re-energizing FMV games over the past several years, so their sci-fi thriller take on this style of storytelling excited me perhaps more than it should have.
Right off the bat it’s apparent that The Complex isn’t trying to do anything groundbreaking or elegant for FMV games. Dialogue choices are presented very plainly with 2-4 options for the player to select from (typically 2), which will determine the next scene that follows. With even non-FMV games using this format for dialogue as the standard now, this game will really have to live and die by its story and characters. I will give The Complex credit for its dialogue choices, though. When choosing a dialogue option the response is always as I assumed it would be prior to selecting that option. Many times in other games, such as Telltale titles for example, I’d run into moments where the character is way off base for what I thought I was choosing. It’s really great to have expectations meet reality when choosing dialogue.
The Complex is set in a very near future alt-Earth. People still take the subway and use cell phones to post videos to social media, but there are drones to assist with medical emergency transportation and nano-technology is being developed for the biomedical field. You follow the story of Amy Tenant, one of the leading researchers in nano-technology. Her story starts with a tense scene in a warzone treating two patients who are victims of a recent chemical attack, while getting abandoned by her partner at a critical moment. Flash forward five years and she is working for an extremely well funded company developing her nano-tech for commercial and medical use. When a young woman presents symptoms similar to the prior chemical attack, both Amy and her former partner Rees are recruited to investigate. As this is a thriller there are some potential twists, betrayals, and secrets to expose depending on your decisions.
The Complex makes the odd choice of tracking stats for both your relationships with other cast members as well as Amy’s personality traits, both of which increase or decrease depending on your choices. The reason this is an odd choice is that out of the nine characters that are tracked, you really only spend a significant amount of time with two of them. More than half of them you only have opportunities to interact with a handful of times during the entire course of the game. Having a relationship tracker shines a bright spotlight on how unimportant most of the characters actually are to the story. One or two minor interactions during the entire course of the game is hardly a relationship. It also creates the illusion that you can have a positive or negative relationship with everyone when that really isn’t possible with the vast majority of characters; they're simply written to lean one way or the other regardless of your choices. The personality traits that are tracked don’t have a function other than to give a Personality Assessment at the conclusion of the game, which merely consists of a single word that describes your decision making, such as 'altruistic'.
Fortunately the actors in The Complex are all quality performers and you may even recognize a couple from Game of Thrones and Letterkenny, if you’ve seen either show. The actress who plays Clare (the young woman Amy and Rees are investigating) was the highlight for me, as she very convincingly portraying someone suffering from a biological attack. And even though there aren't a lot of flashy special effects involved, the practical effects used to show Clare’s illness are solid.
After seeing all nine possible endings offered in the game it becomes apparent that most of the choices don’t really matter all that much, and only a few key moments really alter the final outcome. That’s honestly a bit of a disappointment and with the personality and relationship status tracking already in place I feel like those should have been implemented into the story in a meaningful way. Additionally, very few of the endings feel believable for the world that's built up. A couple even seem to come out of nowhere and are only there to surprise and not necessarily make sense, while most of the others aren't very believable given what I know about the characters and setting.
Wales Interactive has put out some interesting stuff in the FMV arena. The Complex, unfortunately, is not among those games. It could have been right at home with the buried early era of FMV games, but would have been long forgotten because it lacks anything that really makes it glitter and at the same time isn’t awful enough to have a certain level of camp to it either.