Throwback: Indigo Prophecy Review
Indigo Prophecy is a psychological thriller developed by Quantic Dreams’ David Cage–whom you might know of by way of Heavy Rain for the PS3.
When starting IP, there will be a couple of things which may prompt you to just shut off the game outright–but I implore you to bear these atrocities. First, the game asks you to start a new ‘movie.’ Now, many people have made fun of or otherwise teased David Cage over his alleged secret desire to make movies. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but IP’s tutorial has a polygonal rendered version of David Cage sitting in a Director’s chair situated in what seems to a movie studio. This tutorial has to be the strangest, possibly most out-of-place tutorial I’ve yet to experience. David Cage is instructing you–did I mention the you in this instance is a crash test dummy?–to perform the various actions which are possible during IP. They’re not wittily integrated in a clever tutorial or something, no, it’s just Cage telling you how to walk and such. Admittedly at this point I became wary of what sort of game this would be: am I going to be freaking crash test dummy? Is this man going to be following me around telling me what to do? Why is he so ugly? Why am I so ugly? WHY GOD, WHY?
But fortunately, none of my fears came true. The actual intro to the game is wonderful. The worst tutorial I’ve ever experienced was followed by the best opening/introduction to a game I’ve ever played. You take control of Lucas Kane, a seemingly normal guy. That notion quickly disappears as you see Lucas start to spazz out while sitting on a toilet. His eyes start to roll as he twitches very unhumanlike. Lucas is holding a knife. Why, you ask? Well, Lucas is apparently possessed. At least, that’s what the constant flashes which show some sort of satanic ritual complete with a child sacrifice and plenty of candles would have me think. Another ordinary guy walks into the bathroom, and using his steak knife, Lucas kills him. The camera pans out of the bathroom door, down the hallway of what seems to be a diner, to reveal that there is a cop sitting at the counter. The game now gives you control over Lucas, and begs the question: what do you do?
Needless to say, the opening sequence creates much tension. The first time playing this section, I had no idea what to do. I panicked. I looked around, saw a window, and wondered if I could get through it. Unfortunately the window was barred–assumably to stop Dine’n’Dash or something. Okay. Okay. So, I need to leave the bathroom and my only option is to try to leave through the front. I didn’t even think about moving the body for some reason–I just couldn’t think straight, period. I did, however, think that it would raise suspicion if I walked out the bathroom door covered in blood. So I washed my hands, and walked made my way through the diner, towards the front door. No biggie, I’m almost there, even.
So I make Lucas walk through the front door…when suddenly, the waitress stops me. Aren’t I going to pay the bill? Holy hell, the bill! I didn’t even think about what I might have been doing here, all I could think about was leaving somehow. And I call myself a Dexter fan? I’m about to get caught on a murder scene! This is where the game introduces is dialogue system–characters speak to you, and you are prompted to choose up to 4 choices described with one word. You cannot, however, dabble on your answer: when someone asks you something a timer (denoted by a long fuse) starts. This mechanic is excellent in that it makes conversations seem that much more fluid. You have to answer about as promptly as a normal conversation with a real human being would require you to. If you do not answer, then either the game chooses for you or it raises the character’s suspicion toward you. I find this system to be more succesful than even newer games such as Mass Effect, because not only does the conversation seem natural, but the designers were able to accurately portray what the character would say based on one word. I can’t count how many times I chose an answer only to hear Shepard say something that I did not mean to say in the least. In Indigo Prophecy, there were never moments where the characters said something I did not mean for them to say.
Anyway, I went back to my table and sat down, had a drink of coffee and paid for my bill. Then, as I walked out the door I saw that the policeman was walking toward the bathroom. I decided to take a cab out, and as I was getting in, we see that the policeman has discovered the body.
Here we take control of the characters Carla and Tyler, both investigators put on your case. The player is unsure as to whether or not they should be playing to the ‘advantage’ of Lucas, or playing against him. This conundrum is excellent game design because it is so far removed from what we normally experience in games. It forces the player to think about how they want to play. The first time through, I made the detective notice everything–since I knew where I left clues and such.
Admittedly I played through this first section about three times, trying out different strategies on how to cover up (or not cover up!) the murder as well as experimenting with what the investigators could or could not discover. Eventually I decided that my Lucas would slip away unnoticed. I made him hide the body and the knife, wash his hands, sit down, pay the bill, and slip out through the back. I made the investigator fumble a bit in asking the waitress what she knew, and made her get out of the scene quickly by not noticing things she had no way of knowing where there. Later on, however, I made the waitress attempt to give an extremely detailed composite sketch, but the game decided that what I described looked nothing like Lucas for some stupid reason or other.
If I’m spending so long describing the sorts of things that I did in the introduction of the game, it’s because this is probably the game’s crowning achievement. The level of interactivity and choice available to the player is not only extensive, but the premise makes these choices intriguing. The introduction sets the player up with very high expectations, which unfortunately it does not uphold.
Many people had warned me that Indigo Prophecy is amazing to start and then stuff starts to get crazy. Things apparently stop making sense. Indeed, right away Lucas starts seeing strange apparitions left and right, and I am told that at some point in the game it starts raining cars; aliens are involved, and that you need to save girls from tornadoes.
Why am I speaking from what people have told me, and not what I’ve experienced? It’s because I could not finish the game. About an hour after the introduction, you start noticing how cumbersome the camera is–enough that it started making me feel sick at times. Moreover, the game starts to have heavy usage of its ‘simon says’ mini game where you use both control sticks to match the color-coded directions. This simon says is the most traditional game-like aspect of IP.
Here, everything started going to hell. Up until this point the game had been more about interaction and decision-making and less about being capable of inputting the correct commands. In a way, this made IP seem more like a thinking man’s game–something which allowed you to focus more on the story, the nuances, that sort of thing. This exposition is what IP excels at, and its unfortunate that instead of focusing on choice, interaction and story, IP felt pressured to implement ‘game’ like elements in order to determine how well you did certain things. This would have been more excusable if they had bothered create more suitable, immersive mini-games. Still, I was willing to bear these mishaps because I figured there was something here worth salvaging.
That is, until Carla decided that she wanted to fight back against her claustrophobia. I needed to get through a small, dark enclosed space in order to get to a computer to research something. The game tells you that in order to move forward, you need to control Carla’s breathing. While annoying, I beared it…until I had to make my way through the book cases. At this point, the camera starts going haywire. You cannot move it in the direction you want or even are facing because it starts automatically panning in some random direction. Trying to move forward while keeping the camera in the right location and micromanaging Carla’s breathing was so horrendous that I started getting a headache. Sometimes, this happens, and I figured that this would be over soon enough and I wouldn’t have to deal with anymore. There were instances where I just needed to move a couple of steps forward to get to where I needed to be, but the camera made actually getting there impossible. At this point, the atrocious camera was so bad that I decided that I could not go on. I felt like throwing up. Here, I decided I would stop playing Indigo Prophecy. Having to deal with the terrible camera was not worth it, especially knowing that the game would just go downhill from here anyway.
Indigo Prophecy is worth playing for the first couple of hours alone. From then on out, if you can bear its shortcomings then I would recommend continuing to play the game. Just be forwarned: bitch be crazy.