Somewhere along entertainmentâ€™s evolutionary line videogames stopped being content with telling simple tales of romantically motivated hero plumbers and world-saving speedy hedgehogs. Indeed, instant technology reached such levels where games could feasibly become movie-like; and a good chunk of the industry jumped at the opportunity to compete with such an established art form. An uncounted amount of FMV click-fests later, and weâ€™ve yet to hit upon that ideal synergy of art forms. David Cage, the writer and director of Indigo Prophecy, admits this concession in the first page of the gameâ€™s instruction manual, though itâ€™s followed by promises of change. Do Mr. Cageâ€™s wishes hold true? Is Indigo Prophecy the messianic coming of the marriage of mediums? While a true convergence of the arts is still years off, Indigo Prophecy quickly establishes itself as an innovative and important cornerstone in evolving traditional game conventions beyond the gameplay-cut-scene-gameplay paradigm.
In this action-oriented adventure game, the player assumes the role of Lucas Kane, whoâ€™s just stabbed a complete stranger to death while under a mystical trance. Immediately after the murder you come to your senses and try to keep it togetherâ€”in addition to holding down a day job, being hunted by the cops, and trying to solve the unfolding mystery. Interestingly, youâ€™ll also play as the two detectives tasked with hunting Kane, adding yet another level to the gameâ€™s storyline. Do you help Kaneâ€™s supposed murderer discover the truth? Or do you instead move to apprehend him at all costs? Like most adventure games, the story serves the gameplay and not vice-versa, but it is through gameplay that the game excels past its immediate competitors.
The action in Indigo Prophecy is broken up into a few segments. The main componentâ€”and perhaps the most radicalâ€”is the dialog system. Instead of choosing one of several answers written out verbatim on the screen, players are presented with single words that represent ideas, along with a corresponding direction on the analog stick. To select a word/reply, the player simply moves the right analog stick in the direction connected to the reply, resulting in more organic conversations. As a kicker, each player response is timed, turning normally dull dialog sequences into surprisingly involved and engaging reflex/thought challenges.
This direction-based mechanism is put to use for all environment interactions, adding just a touch more interactivity than pressing the â€˜Aâ€™ button over and over. If you want to open a cupboard on the right, move the thumbstick to the right. If you want to crouch down to investigate a clue, roll the thumbstick down. Minor as it is, this element helps immerse the player into the game world even more effectively.
Environment interaction is also handled differently in Indigo Prophecy. Instead of inspecting everything in sight for clues to the next puzzle, checking out points of interest could actually do you harm. Each character has, in lieu of a life bar, a mental health meter, which can be affected by all kinds of interactions. Inspect a romantic interest for a boost in confidence, or glance at a painful memory and sink into depression. Itâ€™s even possible to totally deplete your mental health, prompting desperate actions like suicide or surrender. This thoughtful element creates a sense of reality and continuity with the charactersâ€”something unheard of in most recent releases.
While the direction-based system is used for the dialog and environment interaction sequences, the action sequences use a different but complementary setup. When the situation calls for your given character to move fast or fight hard, dim outlines of the two thumbsticks appear on the screen, and proceed to light up in any of the four directions. While simple in nature (the four directions even use the original â€˜Simonâ€™ colors), the thumbstick movements parallel the onscreen action well. The last control mechanic, also used for action events, involves mashing the â€˜Lâ€™ and â€˜Râ€™ triggers back and forth. Of minor note is the added difficulty of using the Xbox controllerâ€™s sunken triggers; the plain buttons of the PC and PS2 pad make these instances a good deal more bearable.
Indigo Prophecyâ€™s other draw, aside from its unique angle on linearity, is a hefty infusion of cinematic trappings. Game environments are called â€œsetsâ€, camera angles are chosen with a careful eye, and even the main menu reads â€œnew movieâ€ instead of â€œnew gameâ€. Most of these cinematic flourishes go over well, especially the stylized split-screen effect echoed in the recent comic-inspired Ultimate Spiderman, but there are occasional flaws. Each scene has a few set camera angles to choose from in addition to a user-controlled camera, and frequently camera changes are necessary to follow the action. Yet the quick change in angle often upsets the gameâ€™s sense of control, and you have to take a moment to find your bearings before moving on. This can be quite an annoyance in some of the more heated action sequences. The rare (but tiresome) stealth sequences showcase this flaw in control as well as the general sluggishness of movement, jarring the pace of the gameâ€™s better scenes.
However, it fast becomes clear that pacing is another high priority of the Indigo team, which makes it even more painful when the gameâ€™s carefully cultivated suspense peters out about three-quarters of the way in. For a story with such a strong start and engaging middle, itâ€™s a shame Quantic Dream couldnâ€™t keep the sense of urgent panic intact for the whole ride. Yet it isnâ€™t for the lack of information. Rather than adopting the hip, Twin Peaks-style of â€˜less is moreâ€™, Indigo Prophecy attempts the Silent Hill-style of â€˜crazy unexplained crap is moreâ€™â€”but, without the finesse of Konamiâ€™s horror franchise, the latter chapters devolve into odd developments bordering on nonsense.
Visually, Indigo Prophecy is thoroughly competent. Character faces come across strong in particular, with the textures, effects, and lighting clocking in at a touch above average. Motion capture is a little stilted in parts, especially with repeated or minimal actions. The fight scenes are terrific, with plenty of action and chaos elegantly choreographed like something out of The Matrix. The Xbox visuals, while predictably superior to the PS2, donâ€™t stand up against the PCâ€™s crisp textures and high resolution. The Xboxâ€™s lower resolution also makes it more difficult to discern the analog stick directions during the interaction sequences, a detail that comes across bright as day on the PC.
Indigo Prophecyâ€™s sound design has a huge impact on the atmosphere and the tension that the game relies upon. A few licensed tracks appear on the soundtrack to negligible effect, but itâ€™s the haunting, fully orchestrated original score that makes Kaneâ€™s search for answers resonate. The voice acting is consistently spot-on, with only one or two weak links through the whole game.
Since so much is made of Indigo Prophecyâ€™s relationship to cinema, itâ€™s only fitting that thereâ€™s a bundle of extras on the disc. Bonus cards can be uncovered during the game to unlock content from the main menu, and most of the extras can be unlocked after beating the game. Bonuses range from the expectedâ€”an artwork gallery and behind-the-scenes features; to the unexpectedâ€”the gameâ€™s full soundtrack; and the bizarreâ€”weird mini-movies unrelated to the storyline, and a dirty dancing featurette that has to be seen to be believed.
Seasoned gamers will have no problems beating Indigo Prophecy in around 8-12 hours, and will mostly likely reveal all three endings soon after. Yet the sense of victory is strange and unfamiliar. Instead of rejoicing after a hard boss battle or an intense endurance contest, youâ€™ll find yourself wondering what will happen to the characters afterward, and what it all means. Itâ€™s an odd feeling, thinking in emotional terms invoked by videogame characters on such a personal level, but it might be time to get used to it. Indigo Prophecy didnâ€™t do everything right the first time around, but if Mr. Cage has his way, thereâ€™s sure to be a follow-up. After all, if thereâ€™s one thing the movie business has in common with videogames, itâ€™s the word â€˜sequelâ€™.