Reviewed: October 17, 2005
Released: September 20, 2005
The term “interactive cinema” gets tossed around pretty freely these days but it takes a game like Indigo Prophecy to truly define its meaning. Before I get all technical let me just say that this is the most fun I have had with any game on any system this year. Perhaps my elation is partially inflated by any lack of expectation as I sat down to play this game.
I knew it was an adventure game, a genre typically not known to do very well on the console, but I also knew it was being developed by Quantic Dream, the same company that stole several months of my life back in 1999 when they released Omikron: The Nomad Soul. If anyone could pull off a console adventure title it had to be these guys.
Indigo Prophecy is a mix of exquisite storytelling and action-packed arcade sequences that use some unconventional input commands to interact with characters and environments and even perform some non-traditional tasks like listening to characters’ innermost thoughts. This unique mix might turn off the less-than-dexterous adventure gamer, but for the most part, the gameplay is pretty casual and lends itself to interacting with a movie rather than playing a video game.
The story in Indigo Prophecy is so intricately woven into the gameplay that I won’t even begin to spoil it here. Suffice to say you start off as Lucas Kane, a man sitting in a bathroom stall in a diner carving strange symbols into his wrists with a knife. The next thing you know you are staggering out of the stall and plunging that same knife into the chest of an unsuspecting man who was washing his hands.
What follows is an intriguing tale of ancient religions, sinister cults, supernatural events, flashbacks to your youth, and mystical superpowers that put Lucas on a path not that dissimilar from Neo in a game not that dissimilar from the Matrix.
You are welcomed into the world of Indigo Prophecy with a surprisingly clever tutorial set in a movie production studio and conducted by none other than David Cage, the game’s writer and director and founder of the studio. Here you learn how to move around, interact with the environments and perform the quick-event sequences that will be interspersed throughout the game.
Indigo Prophecy oozes with presentation that is more akin to an episode of “24” than a feature film. The screen is often split into at least two or even more views showing multiple angles or possibly even two very distinct locations, but ones that play a part in the action at hand. In one instance you find yourself at a murder scene and the police are on the way. During your entire time at this location the bottom window is showing a police car driving through town toward the house.
Other times the split-screen views just help you locate useful objects. The phone might ring and an insert will pop-up showing the phone in another room, but you can use that imagery to help locate the phone – very useful the first time.
But it’s not only the imagery that splits up the presentation. The story is also divided into three playable characters; the aforementioned Lucas Kane, and the two police officers investigating the murder, Carla and Tyler. The character development is astonishing, especially for jumping right into the story with a grisly murder.
We learn much of Lucas’ past through several levels that feature him and his brother Markus growing up on a military base. These not only give us some background on the characters but also play a surprisingly role in the current events that are transpiring.
Then we learn about Carla, the attractive female cop who puts her career ahead of a relationship yet maintains a friendship with the gay neighbor across the hall. And then there is Tyler, the hip African-American cop who enjoys a rousing game of basketball or a few bouts of boxing in the ring before going home to his sexy girlfriend who shares a closet with BloodRayne and looks about as hot. He too puts his work ahead of anything else leading to some difficult decisions down the road.
And much like any adventure game, Indigo Prophecy is all about decision. There are 45 chapters that can be strung together in more paths than I care to count, all leading to three very different endings. At any given time you can pick from two or even three of the main cast members and continue the story. These aren’t really alternate paths but more of the order in which you play the game. You will ultimately play them all.
The overall dynamic of playing the killer and the police who are searching for him can be quite interesting at times, especially when the two sides meet. There was one very intense sequence were you are being questioned by Tyler and then Tyler has the chance to search Lucas’ office and you are torn by not wanting Lucas to go to jail, but also wanting Tyler to find that valuable clue Lucas forgot to hide properly.
You can’t have an adventure game without plenty of characters and conversations and Indigo Prophecy has some of the best. Even more interesting is the element of timing for these conversations. You will often be presented with up to four possible topics of discussion but there is also a rapidly decreasing timer bar that ticks away forcing you to think fast and keep the conversation flowing.
Again, this might turn off conventional adventure gamers who like to analyze their decisions carefully before locking in a choice, but it does keep the game moving along at a realistic pace. And unlike other games that allow you to exhaust all topics, this game might only give you two or three chances to say or ask what you want, so your choices matter even more.
The gameplay can get quite detailed at time having you perform mundane tasks, all cleverly tied to the right analog stick. By watching for icons that appear at the top of the screen you can open cabinets, turn on the radio; preheat the oven, and much, much more. Sometimes you’ll be thinking, “I can’t believe they are making me do that”, but it only helps to immerse you in the experience.
The interaction can get quite intense at times even if it’s something as simple as scaling a fence or climbing a pole. You will have to attach yourself to the object with an upward flick then use actual curving motions alternating left and right to climb the fence or pole. To make it more challenging you have only a few seconds, as indicated by the shrinking bar, to perform this movement or you will fall.
Of course the biggest and best parts of the game are the dual-analog input action sequences. During these events two multi-colored rings will appear in the center of the screen and will light up in various patterns. You will have to mirror these movements with the two sticks in near-real-time, flicking in any of four directions, often with both sticks at the same time. The entire process reminded me of reflex games like Dragon’s Lair but the control was more like the QTE’s in Shenmue.
There are about a dozen major action sequences that range from hallucinatory experiences to escaping the police by dodging traffic and leaping onto a train. And no matter whether you are playing basketball as Tyler, boxing with Carla, having a romantic dance with your girlfriend, or fighting a boss on the rooftop, all of these actions play out as a series of analog flicks that vary in number, speed, and precision.
The only fault with this action system is that you are forced to focus intently on those two circles thus missing out on what is arguably some of the best action moments in gaming history, especially when they start kicking in the Matrix slow-motion moves and giant hallucinatory mites. It’s sure to be a great experience for anyone in the room watching you play. Thankfully, most of the major moments are replayable in the bonus section of the game and you can even opt to just watch them play out on their own once they are unlocked.
These action sequences aren’t merely limited to physical action. Often, you will be having a simple conversation and the words, GET READY will appear and it’s time to go to work. Flicking the proper sequence will guide you through conversations or help make the gameplay easier when you complete them correctly. In the case of Lucas being questioned by Tyler, you might be inclined to lie, but if you have performed the action sequence correctly you will hear Tyler’s thoughts and know that he already knows the truth and is just testing you.
There isn’t a lot of free-roaming exploration in Indigo Prophecy but when you are forced to walk around it can get a bit troublesome at times. The game uses fixed camera angles to create the cinematic experience, and while you are free to rotate the camera or even switch to new angles with the left and right triggers, the movement can get twitch as you try to steer your character. The characters will continue to move in their original direction, even after a camera change, as long as you continue to push the left stick, but it can be counterintuitive and downright illogical at times.
My only other control complaint is the frequent use of the right and left trigger in those rapid-fire reflex sequences to charge up something or hold your breath or break free of something. This might work on the PS2 but the longer travel distance on the Xbox triggers made this troublesome and I worried about the strain on my controller. I would have preferred a more rhythmic approach to these sequence rather than sheer speed.
Overall, Indigo Prophecy has plenty of exploration, a lot of dialogue, and plenty of action elements to keep things fresh and the player involved. You’ll keep telling yourself that you’ll quit after this chapter, but you just have to see what’s going to happen next. This is one of those games that grabs you with a compelling story and engaging gameplay and doesn’t give you time to breathe until the closing credits.
Some might disagree but I thing Indigo Prophecy is one of the best looking games of the year. Sure, you can pick it apart and find flaws in various elements like the glazed faces that are pasted onto the 3D models, but as a whole, the overall experience if flawless.
First, you start with some of the best 3D snow in any game ever. The outdoor scenes with the changing density of flakes falling combined with the vaporous breath from anyone talking outside will have you shivering in your seat.
The game favors bleached out realism over vibrant colors. The most color you will see in the game is in Tyler’s apartment that looks like a sublet from Austin Powers. The simple fact that this game is cold and depressing allows for such graphics.
I really enjoyed the stylization of the flashback sequences and the premonitions that all had a grainy look and were shot with a fish-eye lens that fuzzed the borders of the screen. Anyone who complains about the graphics in Indigo Prophecy is probably the same person who complained about the black and white parts in Kill Bill. It’s called “art” people.
The character animation is outstanding and you can actually watch a lot of the motion-capture work in the unlockable bonus features. They mo-capped just about every movement no matter how insignificant – even the guy zipping his pants after using the urinal. And when it comes to the supernatural Matrix-style movements, they mo-capped stuntmen doing wire work.
No one can argue the point that it takes a great soundtrack to make a great movie, or a great game. We rely on music to set the tone and change it during the story, as well as enhance those moments of intense action and drama. Indigo Prophecy succeeds with a stunning score composed by Angelo Badalamenti.
While most of the music is ambient and orchestral, other tracks are triggered by turning on the radio or turntable. There are some excellent selections that really complement the game experience. Teddy Pendergrass performs “Love T.K.O.” and the closing credits feature a fantastic tune called “Santa Monica” performed by Theory of a Deadman (who also did several other tracks for the game). After the emotionally exhausting experience of playing Indigo Prophecy, this song was the perfect music to just collapse into the sofa and relish the past 8 hours.
The sound effects are just as amazing with howling winds whenever you are outside along with all of the environmental sounds you would expect in whatever location you find yourself in. You’ll hear realistic office noises when Lucas goes to work, and you’ll hear similar noises at the police station. The shooting range is alive with gunfire and the museum and chapel are eerily quiet.
If they gave awards for voice acting then there are some people up for nominations in this game. All of the core cast members are voiced very professionally and even the supporting cast turn in remarkable performances. While much of this is just good acting, I do have to give credit to the strong script that avoids any cheesy dialogue. Even when Tyler’s girlfriend forces him (you) to choose between her and his career – easily a cliché moment – it’s painfully serious.
Indigo Prophecy is in fact a movie so we can’t expect anything too huge in the game length department yet I did find that nearly 12 hours had past between the time I started the game and the time I finished it three days later. For those wondering, a straight play through the game (after I had finished the game the first time) took just over 4 hours, so yes, it is short by game standards but pretty long by movie standards.
The designers have included three distinct endings and given you enough branching decision points in the game that you will be compelled to play it at least twice more before putting this on the shelf. Of course you could always go back and just load the chapter if you wanted to see what would happen if Tyler quit his job.
There is also a bonus reward system that has you finding tarot cards scattered about the levels. These are usually tucked away in closets, cupboards, or rooms that you would otherwise have no use to explore. Sometimes they are only in an area on a certain visit requiring some re-exploration of past levels. These cards all add various scores to your bonus “currency” that you use to unlock behind the scenes movies, artwork, and music tracks.
I didn’t go out of my way to seek these out during my first pass through the game and I ended up with enough points to unlock everything with more than 160 point left over. The fact that you get 200 points for just sitting through the credits helps immensely.
Indigo Prophecy is a gripping story with more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie, and a game that you will be compelled to play multiple times and revisit just as often as you would watch any of your other favorite movies on DVD.
I can’t stress enough how much you owe it to yourself to “experience” this game. It actually transcends conventional gameplay and evolves into something that can truly be called interactive cinema.