Coming from the creator of one of my favourite interactive dramas – The Complex – I was very keen to check out The Gallery. With a unique alternate time/protagonist set up, the potential to match or exceed The Complex was certainly rife. It misses the mark for me though, thanks to a flimsy feeling political plot and some heavy handed character work.
From the off, we get to choose one of two scenarios to play: one set in 1981 and one in 2021, both amid political unrest thanks to factors based in each time period (corruption in one, the still fresh Covid pandemic in the other). Despite the two differing time periods, the tales told are largely the same, albeit from two different character perspectives – a female Morgan in the 80’s, and a male Morgan in 2021.
Both are curators of an art gallery that’s fallen on hard times. In order to drum up interest, Morgan has managed to secure the unveiling of a portrait by renowned artist Nicky. After unexpectedly receiving the portrait hand delivered by Nicky at closing time, Morgan is then confronted by a seemingly innocent looking reproduction artist (or forger, as they refer to themselves) looking to paint one of the portraits displayed. It’s when Morgan tries to shut up shop properly that the tale gets going, with reproduction artist Dorian revealing they are not quite who they purport to be.
What follows is a heavily politically charged tale of oppression and fighting back against the system. Dorian rants about justice and people paying for their sins at every turn, while Morgan struggles to understand why their small art exhibition is chosen for this fight.
I will say that throughout, the acting is mostly excellent. Both Morgan and Dorian swap gender roles between the two time settings, and Anna Popplewell and George Blagden bring very respectable performances to The Gallery whether they are the aggressor or the victim. The supporting cast, from visitors to police and thugs, also exhibit some good to great acting, and I found that I was really quite invested in the stories of each person, no matter how small a role they play.
Where things started to sour me on the experience though were the heavy handed ways in which choices and dialogue were written. When characters are chatting mid-scene, things are great, if not a bit heavy on political chatter. But it was always obvious when a choice was coming up as things would slow down, and some very obvious posturing would be on show. One scene has Dorian potentially kill some innocents to protect their cover, and the game does everything but label the choices GOOD and BAD. I found a lot of the options jarring to pick between mainly due to this aspect, made all the more frustrating by some having unavoidable consequences much later on. That’s not to say we should be able to predict everything that’ll happen as a result of a choice, and I actually liked the long game played here, but when the choices themselves feel a bit too ham-fisted in the moment, it can ruin the payoff later on.
Choices matter in regards to the ending too, of which there are reportedly 18 different variations. I’ve seen about half of these at this point, and in addition to the above, we need to manage a Relationship meter between Dorian and Morgan. Certain choices will increase or decrease Dorians feelings towards Morgan, but again these feel a bit too on the nose at times.
One particularly egregious example is when Morgan has a chance to call for help by yelling out; the other option is to ‘get to know Dorian’, and should we pick this option Dorian will tell us about themselves before delivering a curt “Thanks for taking an interest though” to Morgan and the player, as our relationship meter ticks up one point. Later on Dorian will praise – or admonish – Morgan for how they handle a certain scenario that really felt a bit out of our hands in the moment. It all feels too much ‘you picked option A’ while sucking some of the investment out of the story.
This is a shame as, like I say, the acting is great throughout, and for all its heavy handiness the story is quite interesting. Playing through several times and seeing what different outcomes we can discover is good fun, helped in part by being able to skip previously watched scenes. What I liked about The Complex was just how complete a package it felt no matter how many times I played through it. Even the choices felt more natural and were handled in a much more elegant way. In comparison, The Gallery wears its mechanics far more on its sleeve, and is that bit worse for it.
With some great performances and an interesting story premise, The Gallery had me sold from the start. Unfortunately, some over bearing choice work and consequences take us out of the tale being told too often for us to really get invested in it fully.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.