A man on the run from a hideous monster, even as he flees his own past.  That’s the premise of the new iPhone game rComplex.  It’s a visually-striking take on the sort of gameplay found in iPhone hits like Canabalt, and it adds in some new features.  Alas, control issues prevent it from reaching its full potential.

It’s a 2D sidescroller in which the character runs from left to right on his own, slowly building up momentum as he goes.  Obstacles appear that can either be jumped over, or slid under, and players have to make a split-second reaction; swipe up, or down.  Running into an obstacle results in a slowed pace, and moves you a little closer to death.

Death comes in the form of a giant tentacled monster that relentlessly pursues you from the left side of the screen.  The nameless running man has a gun, and when the chasing tentacle monster gets too close, you can tap the screen to fire a shot at the beastie, which will make it slow down for a moment.  There’s a limit to the amount of ammo you have; there is an occasional power-up, but it still needs to be conserved.  If you are caught by the monster, you have a one-use melee weapon that can be used to cut yourself free.  You can only carry one of these at a time, so it’s a weapon of last resort.

Despite all of these great features, there are many problems with rComplex.  A major one is that the jump move responds too slowly.  Sliding and shooting can be done without much trouble, but to pull off a jump, you have to swipe the instant that an obstacle appears; sometimes it seems like it’s impossible to make the jump unless you’re already in the air when the object appears.  An update was released that makes it a little easier to manage the jumps, but even with this 1.2 update, it’s still very difficult.

Adding to the problems is that the camera will sometimes zoom in or out for dramatic effect.  When zoomed in, certain sections of the game impossible and unfair.  Another matter is that when caught by the monster, the running man can use his melee attack to escape, but then ends up losing most of his momentum, and often escapes from tentacled death only to run straight into an obstacle that is too close to be avoided. This can often lead to a clear no win situation that still takes a few seconds to reach its inevitable end.

When players do well, the character achieves “Zen”, which makes him run at a faster pace.  Unfortunately, you’ll be moving so fast in Zen that you’re almost guaranteed to slam into the very first obstacle that requires a jump, and this results in a major loss of momentum.  It’s essentially punishing players for doing well in a game that’s already too hard.

Like many iPhone games, it is a bit on the short side (For those who can stick it out).  It has seven levels that each take a few minutes to play, plus cut scenes and comic book-style panels that fill in the story between levels.  There is the option to replay levels to get better scores, and unlock achievements for meeting certain objectives, but I doubt that many players will be motivated to do so.

Despite these complaints, there are still some great features present; the music in soulful, more than just pumped-up action background noise.  There’s an interesting story too; instead of running for the sake of running, the hero is running from his own past.  Details are sketchy at first, but as he goes through levels, he collects “Memory Cubes”, and each one will play a bit of narrative voice over to help fill in the backstory.

Instead of a typical HUD showing the number of rounds you lave left in your gun, each time you fire a shot, the game will use text to remind you “Seven rounds left”, or “No Ammo” in giant letters that drift through the background.  While stylistically awesome, this can negatively impact gameplay when some of these warnings appear in the foreground, obscuring items that you have to jump over.

rComplex is a brutally unfair game, likely to be frustratingly difficult for gamers who don’t enjoy this sort of punishing twitch-based gameplay..  The good news is that the developer quickly released an update after the game launched, easing up the difficulty and correcting a few bugs, so it’s very likely that this crushing difficulty will loosen up in the near future when the update arrives.

There is a niche market of gamers who sincerely enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from this level of difficulty, and as it stands, rComplex is only for such gamers looking for a test of their skills.  More casual gamers are advised to keep a look out for further updates.

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