rComplex is a game of running. It’s not about running, it simply is running. Along the way you will jump, and slide, and occasionally shoot, but all these things are extraneous. This is a game of pure drive, where loss of momentum even for an instant is typically met with smothering death, and that means running.
It is a mobile game, and for better or worse carries with it the associations and assumptions that dog the genre. For example, you’ll most likely play it on the bus or subway as a diversion. This seems oddly appropriate, since we’re sort of running then too.
Also like most other mobile games (or at least, most other good ones), rComplex is simple in control and design. As the runner, we need only tap our way through the courses to vault over a picnic table or slide under a wayward ladder, occasionally looking back to tap a shotgun blast into the encroaching black mass of death behind us.
rComplex is a corridor-running, “dodge-the-obstacle” game that we’ve seen on mobile before in the likes of things like The Impossible Game. The hook here is that you are constantly being chased by a giant black tentacled mass that you must constantly outrun or keep at bay, by dodging obstacles to keep up your speed, or firing backwards with your shotgun, respectively. What is this monstrous entity? Why is it after you, and is it really responsible for the seeming disappearance of everyone else in the world? These are questions that the game attempts to exposit throughout its levels, but don’t be fooled – the emphasis here is really on the running.
Whatever your thoughts on mobile games in general, there are definite examples of mobile games that work better than others. What these games all have in common is that they tend to embody simplified design and reward quick, pick-up-and-play sessions. Technically, rComplex does both of these things.
Yet in spite of its simplified design elements and pick-up-and-play accessibility, rComplex is seriously deficient in one crucial element – intuition and rhythm. As a game that aims to embody the spirit of running, you would think this is the one thing it would have nailed. Simply put, it doesn’t, and that keeps it from being counted among the mobile greats.
There is a reason some runners count out their strides. Running is inherently rhythmic; when body and breathing have synchronized the act of running becomes intuitive, almost autonomic. Similarly, mobile games that are well designed have their own natural rhythm. Any Angry Birds or Jetpack Joyride player can tell you that the reason those games are so playable is because they allow players to sink into them in a very tactile way, flinging birds or dodging traps with an almost ritualistic sense of automation.
This sense of a consistent and overarching “gamefeel” is precisely what rComplex lacks. Unfortunately, the game’s acrobatic insinuations require this sort of intuitive precision, and the game suffers for it. The camera pulls in and pans out seemingly at random, constantly changing the speed at which the character runs. As a result, you often plain don’t have time to react to obstacles in your path; this kills any sense of rhythmic flow required by games of this type.
It’s not even that rComplex is particularly difficult, since a learning curve implies the ability to learn – to gather information and work towards achieving that intuitive feel. The lack of rhythm in rComplex defies this possibility. This consistently frustrates, as the game keeps teasing the promise of that intuitive feel, only to yank it away and leave us scratching our heads. For a game that strives to recreate the experience of running this should be of paramount importance.
This false start is made all the more frustrating by the game’s other elements, which are for the most part very well done. The game is all bold reds and deep blacks, and our silhouette tirelessly sprinting through the minimalist landscape gives the game a clean, uncluttered look. Similarly, the game’s soundtrack, deep techno beats and pounding bass, works very well in tandem with the visual design to strip away all distraction and let us focus on the task at hand, to slip into the running trance.
And to be fair, it almost works. The game is uncluttered, free of a ponderous HUD and convoluted controls. Almost everything about rComplex encourages the sort of free-flowing experience a game like this needs. Until you start playing, and the unintuitive feel keeps you from ever reaching that rhythm.
There is a point in rComplex where, if by some stroke of luck you manage to avoid tripping over obstacles for long enough, you will enter what the game refers to as the “Zen” state. Here, even the minimalist background fades away, the music subdues, the enemies stop chasing you, and you simply run. The name is no accident; it is the point in the game that most truly embodies the sheer joy of the rhythmic physicality of running – and it only lasts for seconds before you inevitably trip over an obstacle and the game resumes. In a lot of ways it best characterizes the experience of playing rComplex, a game that comes so close to getting it right and recreating that feeling, but ultimately ends up missing its stride.