Does anyone out there remember the heyday of the interactive movie? Back when they'd just figured out how to digitize video clips and smack them onto disk or the new CD technology, most games had scads of the stuff. You'd sit and watch the video clip, press a few buttons to make a choice, then watch the next video clip, and so on. Most gamers got tired of it very quickly, because it seemed as if developers had totally forgotten we were supposed to be playing games and not passively watching them go by.
Indigo Prophecy brings those days to mind, but it has a few key features that separate it from classic interactive movie style games. For one thing, Quantic Dream has remembered that players like to actually play with their games, and they've let us get involved with the cinematic treatment. Crammed with branching plot forks and energetic mini-games, you almost always have something to do as the plot unfolds before you. More than that, in several places you can affect the plot in various ways. Interactive movie seems almost like a misnomer because this is more like a novel, interactive fiction in the old-school Infocom sense. You have what feels like a wide degree of freedom even when your actions are very limited, and it's the design of the storyline and the interface that brings you that freedom.
I am, however, rambling. Let us begin to describe the storyline.
The first character you take control of is Lucas Kane, and as you meet him for the first time in the bathroom of a New York City diner, he's engaged in the business of violently stabbing a man to death. His motions are jerky and his eyes are rolled back in his head, and he constantly has flashes of another man in a circle of candles going through the motions of murder just as he is. Then he snaps out of his trance, looks around in shock and –
That's where you take over. What now? Will you hide the body, clean up the blood, and try to conduct yourself calmly as you exit the restroom to throw off suspicion? Will you sprint from the bathroom and slam your way out of the back of the restaurant, ignoring the waitress asking you to pay your bill? Do you make a call from the payphone to ask for advice, or do you sit back down and try to eat dinner as if nothing just happened?
Almost every choice you make plays into things later in the game, and you end up with plenty of choices. Eventually, though, a police officer will get up from his meal and wander into the back to take a leak, and he'll inevitably find the body. Lucas will have to be out of the restaurant by then, keeping the narrative rolling on. This sets the general pattern for the game; for the most part, you have freedom within a chapter, until something needs to happen. Then you may have choices as to how those things go down, but they must occur to keep the storyline on track. Think of it as improvisational theater.
After Lucas escapes, you'll have a choice. Keep following his plotline for the moment, or swap over to detectives Carla Valenti (a cool-headed, logical investigator) and Tyler Miles (a former gang banger gone straight, and also a man who generates his own potent '70s Funk Soundtrack Field wherever he goes). You control both detectives at once, swapping between the two whenever you feel like it. They'll be inspecting the same crime scene you just left, and no, that isn't a conflict of interests. The detectives have their own ideas about the strange murders plaguing the city, and the more evidence they find that links them to Lucas, the more they'll be on his trail, that much is true. However, other evidence will point to the fact that something odd is going on, and they'll pursue that link too, just as Lucas is. Eventually their paths will cross ….
That, however, is for you to experience.
Mixed in with all of this is Lucas' brother, Marcus Kane. He took to the priesthood, and one can imagine that discovering that his brother has possibly killed a man and may be going insane throws his perception of the world off a little. Wrestling with what he can do for his brother and still stay true to his beliefs makes up a large part of his mindset when he enters the story.
If I'm being vague here, it's only because so much of the plot deserves to be played through without prior knowledge or spoilers.
So how does Indigo Prophecy play, anyway?
Well. Just for starters, picture playing the single most high-stakes game of two-fisted rapid fire Simon in the entire world.
That's the Physical Action Reaction (PAR) portion of the game, the thing you'll end up doing most often. It involves pushing the two thumbsticks in various directions at high speed, kind of like a hyperkinetic (and two handed) version of Shenmue's QTE games. For the most part, the directions you'll have to tap line up with the events on the screen. As an example, if Lucas has to dive over a desk, roll back under it, and stand up again, you can expect to tap up with both sticks, roll left or right, then tap left and up to stand and get running again. However, the on-screen events are often out of sync with the analog directions indicated, so don't get hung up on watching the events unfold and miss your cue.
The PAR system wears a lot of different hats throughout Indigo Prophecy. Sure, it's good for fight scenes, chase scenes, and general mayhem, but it has a more introspective use, too. My personal favorite scene involved Carla sitting in on an autopsy. As she watches the doctor and listens to his findings, you'll play quick PAR events. Fail, and nothing happens, but if you succeed, Carla will have a flash of insight, working out logical conclusions from the facts presented. There are plenty of alternate lines of dialogue and perhaps even entire scenes you will see only if you pass the PAR events – or in some cases, deliberately fail them. Sometimes blindly following the directions isn't the best thing to do, after all.
To get to those segments, however, you'll play through a more traditional walking-around portion of the game. The controls here are a bit weird and oversensitive, even for the 3D adventure genre. You'll catch your main character whirling around in place or skidding back and forth a little as you try to guide him in a straight line. This isn't really a problem, except when the game presses you for time or requires you to remain undetected when facing improbable odds.
(Attention, game developers! Stealth action games are indeed very popular, and it is understandable you may wish to include a sequence or two like this in your game. However, when designing your stealth sequences, please do not equip your guards with exceptional psychic abilities or the ability to see behind themselves for no obvious reason. We, as players, hate this, and it can bring us to attempt to destroy your game CD using power tools! Thank you.)
I want you to know, though, that the stealth thing is the biggest complaint I could come up with. The rest of the game isn't perfect, but aside from some minor plot glitches (including a character who I believe fell into this story through a plot hole, possibly from space), it's pretty close to it, in my eyes.
How can I say that? Well, it comes down to immersion, strong gameplay and character development. Even as you're trying to catch Lucas with your detective duo, you're guiding him through the twists and turns that lead all the way back through his life, and will determine his future.
Indigo Prophecy makes you care about the people it presents. Part of that is the emotional meter that rises and falls as you play through events. If it gets too low, the character sinks into depression. Anything can move the meter, from accidentally locking yourself out of a building to simply reading something depressing in the newspaper. Sitting around watching TV is a great way for Carla or Tyler to relax, but for Lucas, every bit of media attention seems focused on him, and it's a constant source of mental distress.
Part of the satisfying nature of the game can be pinned to something game developer David Cage says in the front of the manual. Most games nowadays really are just excuses to pin action sequences together: you go out and shoot stuff, or jump and run through a world of abstract surrealism to save the princess. That's fine! Really, it is! However, games hold the potential to be as affecting and lingering in our consciousness as a well-written novel or a finely directed film. We saw the beginnings of this trend in older point-and-click adventure games, until they wandered away from being narrative-driven and towards being more puzzle-driven. With the focus taken away from action and put more on integrating yourself into the mindset of the involved viewer and manipulator of events, it's hard to describe the feel of taking part in this experience.
Indigo Prophecy's puzzles arise organically from the game world, and the strengths and observational skills of the characters are as big a lynchpin of the solution as your own brainpower. Drawing as much from novels and film as it does from traditional gameplay elements, Indigo Prophecy pulls together a number of elements we've seen before and cements them into a new and interesting variety of game. Much like Omikron: The Nomad Soul before it, Indigo Prophecy is going to put off quite a few people with its unconventional stylings and slight awkwardness. It's only awkward because it's stretching old and tired muscles in new and interesting ways, however, and for the people it resonates with, I predict this game will become quite the cult classic.
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