I foresee a refund.
Making a game/movie hybrid should be easy. Start with a great, character-driven story, add an ending or five, some vaguely interactive cut-scenes, an extra splash of mystery and bind with flexible, unobtrusive gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, ití¢â‚¬â„¢s even easier to make a bad game/movie hybrid. You use the same ingredients, but where interactive cut-scenes should be a spice, you instead make them the base. Then you half-bake the plot and bind with play mechanics you found in a Raccoon City dumpster. Yuck.
The resulting pie would taste a lot like Quantic Dreamí¢â‚¬â„¢s Indigo Prophecy, a bizarre adventure game with lofty ideas, cool concepts and a very loud industry buzz. But despite its grade-A recipe, we got a little sick about halfway through this diminutive dish.
Indigo Prophecy effectively sells its video game soul in exchange for greater cinematic effect, entering into an unholy contract for the sake of its story.
For the first several hours, redemption at the altar of an interesting and well-told tale seems likely. The game begins as Lucas Kane, an absurdly handsome IT technician, randomly murders a stranger in a diner bathroom. Obviously under the influence of some dark power, Lucas only comes to his senses after the grizzly deed is done, awakening to a new life as a wanted man and murderer. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s up to you to help Lucas clear his nameí¢â‚¬Â¦
í¢â‚¬Â¦while simultaneously investigating him as detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles. In between avoiding the police as Lucas, you become the cops, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and closing in on the sadistic ritual killer. You effectively chase your own tale.
In turn, your actions as Lucas have immediate repercussions. When you left the bathroom in which you clearly murdered a man, did you wash up? Wipe up the blood? If not, you’ll run into some trouble with the cops. The game really tries to make you feel that every action has a consequence, and at the outset, this multi-pronged storytelling system works well. You’ll spend a few hours playing through Law and Order style investigation sequences and weird, spooky episodes where Tyler is seemingly assaulted by his own mind.
Then, the story goes completely bonkers. Things fall apart when the bad guy, an evil Mayan, ties your ex-girlfriend to the top of a rollercoaster to lure you into a trap. Isn’t that Spider-Man’s department? Stop the Cartoon Express, please, I want off.
But it keeps on going. Immediately after the roller coaster fiasco, Lucas and Carla meet, randomly. Told by Lucas he can “read her thoughts” and that the world is about to end at the hands of the illuminati, she drops her case and her pants, becoming his loyal sidekick. In the scene after that, Tyler gets kicked out of the story. All of the relationships and characters that made the first half of the game a relatively enjoyable drama are abandoned out of the blue in about five minutes’ worth of cut-scenes to be replaced by Electro Man, The Evil Mayan, and your enlarged choma. Trust me, you don’t want to know.
Helping drive the story insane are the game’s camera problems. You control the characters in a third-person view ala the old Resident Evil games, and while you can manipulate the camera with the right analog-stick, it’s often out of tune thanks to the game’s insatiable appetite for cinematically pleasing angles.
These constantly switch as you move a character across a room; one second you’ll be walking left through your kitchen, then the camera will shift and you’ll be walking right into your refrigerator. The controls won’t recalibrate themselves with the camera angle until after you release the stick. In turn, simply walking across a room becomes a discombobulating, impossible task.
When you aren’t bumping into things on accident, you’re bumping into them on purpose, trying to figure out what in a room is usable or important via the game’s contextual indicators. If you bump into something useful, a little symbol will appear at the top of the screen along with a directional indicator. Press that direction on the R-stick and your character will use the item.
To limit your shark-like bumping into things, most adventure games use little sparklies that attract you to points of interest as well as quest logs to remind you what you’re supposed to be doing. Indigo Prophecy uses neither, and all of the instructions in the game are delivered through dialogue. This serves the game’s cinematic presentation, but if one of your friends starts talking to you while you’re playing and you miss an important dialogue point, you’ll have no idea what you’re supposed to be bumping into next.
It shouldn’t take long to find out, though, because all of the game’s environments are small and each is populated by only a handful of useable objects. In cases where you’re specifically meant to use one thing (of which there are many), everything else turns off and the interactive cursor only illuminates when you’re grinding up against the fax machine of destiny. Hot.
Beyond these typical adventure game trappings, Indigo Prophecy goes supremely old-school its its “action” sequences. Occurring mostly during tense, physical moments but often for no reason whatsoever, a mini-game knockoff of Simon suddenly yanks you out of the experience. Before it begins, a prompt will tell you to í¢â‚¬Å“Get Ready,í¢â‚¬? giving you just enough time to groan before two quad-colored circles appear next to each other right in the middle of your screen. If the left part of the left circle lights up, you press left on the L-stick. If the bottom part of the right circle lights up, you press down on the R-stick.
Get it? We hope so, because ití¢â‚¬â„¢s extremely easy to master. The challenge happens when these segments extend beyond a couple minutes in length. After three straight minutes of analog sticking, your mind starts to wander all over the place. Even after you’ve died five times and are steeling yourself to carefully press every single button perfectly, it’s easy to get bored, think about groceries, miss a flash and die.
Ironically, the Simon game is meant to work as a cinematic device, yet it actually prevents you from watching the action. While you’re being prompted to twiddle your sticks, interesting stuff is happening on- screen, but if you attempt to watch any of it you’ll miss a prompt, and promptly die. Did I mention it’s the basis for every action sequence in the game, as well as many of the dialogues? You spend the entire last third of the game watching colored lights flash. Frankly, I’d rather watch traffic signals – those are free.
Or maybe solve some puzzles? Do a little detective work? This is an adventure game, right? There oddly aren’t many brain-teasers in Indigo Prophecy. Instead of figuring things out with your noggin, you have to tap along with your thumbs while the characters go through the paces for you.
Occasionally, a meter-charging mini-game breaks up the tedium. Whenever a character under your control has to make a strong effort, a bar will appear at the bottom of the screen that can only be filled by rapidly pressing the L and R triggers. This is even less engaging than the Simon scheme, but at least it makes sense, contextually. There are two other variations on the bar filling scheme, and together these make up Indigo Prophecyí¢â‚¬â„¢s anemic suite of mini-games.
Indigo Prophecy is a short adventure, taking only about six hours to beat. Between chapters youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll get to choose who you want to control, making the game seem less linear than it actually is. There are three separate endings, but these are not based on your behavior; you don’t make wicked decisions and get the evil ending. Rather, you have to lose to one of the two last bosses if you want to see things turn out differently. That’s some pretty late branching.
What’s ingenious about Indigo Prophecy is that your choices aren’t based on anything like morality and your decision-making time is usually limited, especially during dialogues. It’s easy to imagine, then, that you could play through the game twice and have different experiences both times. You’ll maintain this illusion until you beat the game, at which point every chapter is opened. You quickly realize that the deviations are extremely minor. Make a choice one way and there are soldiers at the last boss fight, make it a different way and there are no soldiers. Choice is used like a mirror in a restaurant: to make the game seem bigger than it really is.
For all its cinematic qualities, Indigo Prophecy isn’t a graphical smorgasbord. At one point, I was attacked by weird, flickering angels and Ií¢â‚¬â„¢m pretty sure they looked menacing and stylish. I couldní¢â‚¬â„¢t really tell, though, as my eyes were glued to the flashing circles in the center of the screen.
The texture work is consistently dull and flat, but the character facial animations are usually pretty good. This is important, because the characters are central to the game and they come off as human thanks to these expressions and some excellent voice-work.
At least, the voice work is great when the music isní¢â‚¬â„¢t drowning it out. There are times when a character is giving you some piece of vital information and the score will barge in like a flock of geese. I attempted to turn the music down in the options menu, but my efforts produced no effect.
Despite its cinematic aspirations and genuinely unique approach, Indigo Prophecy is little more than a short adventure that relies too heavily on the same, bad mini-game when it should be mixing up the contextually-controlled goodness like a dyslexic DJ. There are certainly some good ideas here, but its attempts at cinematic effect undermine themselves through sheer repetition, while the story goes from creepy cool to Fox Kidsí¢â‚¬â„¢ Club silly faster than you can say í¢â‚¬Å“WTF.í¢â‚¬? Hereí¢â‚¬â„¢s hoping that this mystery remains unsolved.