REVIEW: ‘The Complex’ (2020) is an Admirable Attempt at Pushing the Interactive Film Genre Forward

Rating: 3 out of 3.

Has a few good ideas that are sadly hindered by a few lacking elements”

Interactive films have always faced an uphill battle: they are too limiting in player choice for gamers and too clunky in execution for the film lovers. While there have been some notable interactive films, like Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair (1983) or Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018), audiences are still divided over whether these projects actually work. Video games and films are different mediums, yet their respective industries are adamant that they share enough similarities to blend the two together. Here, we have the live-action interactive science-fiction film, The Complex (2020). Dr Amy Tennant (Michelle Mylett) is a scientist developing nanocell technology for the mega-rich Kensington Corporation, but news reaches her that a civilian with relations to Kensington has been vomiting blood in the middle of London. With the help of an old colleague, Amy takes the victim into the heart of the Kensington complex to discover what happened only to be thrust into a life or death situation inside a locked-down laboratory.

This interactive film prides itself on the ‘real-time relationship status tracking and real-time personality trait tracking’ mechanics: you can keep track on the relationships between Amy and the cast after each decision is made in order to also see Amy’s characteristics develop as well. This intriguing concept unfortunately boils down to a simple pause screen that has a percentage slapped beside character profile pictures and different aspects of Amy’s character such as honesty and intelligence. This feature doesn’t add to the overall experience at all, which is a shame.

As a film, The Complex is a competent sci-fi thriller that has some interesting story beats but is let down by a few one-note characters and predictable plot developments. The core cast of Amy, Rees (Al Weaver) and Clare (Kim Adis) do a good job of bringing the script to life, but it disappoints in how and when the decision making is implemented. There are several moments where you are tasked to make key decisions as Amy which would clearly alter the course of the story. As you decide, a timer runs down to force you into a reactionary choice. These moments should be riveting, but most of the time a decision you made will be completely undermined by another character’s actions. The interactive film wants you to think you’ve made a choice that has sealed the fate of a character but suddenly, another character may have a plan that will make your decision completely redundant. This makes Amy a passive character and in turn makes us a passive player to this supposedly interactive experience. It seems that most of the decisions made do not affect anything until the final act which makes it difficult to remain engaged. After making decisions that made Amy a sensitive and intelligent character, my playthrough ended on an optimistic, bittersweet note. It felt like I had discovered the ‘good’ ending after playing through a mostly conventional sci-fi flick that centred around scientists.

A woman, in a white futuristic suit, stands in a laboratory. From the film The Complex.
Image courtesy of Wales Interactive

When I went for a second playthrough, I made completely different decisions and for the most part, the story played out nearly identically to my first playthrough. The differences, however, were a lot more subtle and focused on the characters. Just when I thought a scene would play out exactly the same, a character interaction would cut short because Amy acted cold towards them. A moment of intimacy was never shared this time around. The plot remained the same until the third act, but more layers to each character were revealed because of the different choices made. The ending this time round was wildly different and the plot twist was fun, if corny. I gave the interactive film another go and I discovered even more layers to Amy, Rees and Clare. They started to become fleshed-out, three-dimensional characters within a plot that structurally remained the same. With the help of a feature that allows you to skip previously seen scenes, I kept playing through and was rewarded with seeing deeper layers to the core cast.

The Complex has a few good ideas that are sadly hindered by a few lacking elements. It rewards multiple playthroughs with rich character development and different endings at the cost of revisiting the same plot structure. There is potential to create incredible storytelling experiences with Full Motion Video experiences, much like Sam Barlow’s Her Story (2015) and Telling Lies (2019), but The Complex falls just short of becoming something great.

Directed by: Paul Raschid

Written by: Lynn Renee Maxcy

Cast: Michelle Mylett, Al Weaver, Kim Adis, Kate Dickie, Rachel Petladwala, Okorie Chukwu

Developed by: John Giwa-Amu and Jade Alexander

Published by: Wales Interactive

Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

Reviewed on: Playstation 4