On page two of the instruction manual, director David Cage states that his dissatisfaction with videogames' emphasis on action and neglect of emotion led him to create Indigo Prophecy. He clearly states that the game's goal is to sacrifice neither the interactivity nor the narrative in an attempt to create an experience that is richer and deeper than "killing monsters in corridors and shooting crates to find ammunition." He goes on to suggest that the medium of videogames and its very nature of interactivity are still in their creative infancy, with many avenues still open for exploration. At the end of this introduction, he closes by saying that he hopes Indigo Prophecy will leave a lasting impression—essentially hoping that this work will be an influential one. In my estimation, Quantic Dream and David Cage have succeeded on all counts.
An extremely sophisticated and mature title, Indigo Prophecy clearly set out to break barriers and forge a trail into uncharted territory. While playing through the adventure, I was struck over and over by how radically different it felt in nearly all aspects. The approaches taken are so effective and are such fundamental reinterpretations of my expectations that I found myself openly admiring it at several points; it was almost as though I were seeing a brand new genre being born right before my eyes.
Using a variety of extremely well-implemented tools, Indigo Prophecy tells a dark, adult tale starring three central characters. The first is a fugitive trying to solve the mystery of why he murdered a complete stranger while in a trance. The other two are the pair of detectives assigned to solve the case.
From the beginning, it's clear that this game is a horse of a different color. The attention to small details and adherence to real-world logic won me over almost immediately. Although the events in the game are frequently fantastic and highly dramatic, more often than not I was able to insert myself into any given situation and wonder , "What would I do?" To the game's credit, the solutions that I came up with could almost always be implemented or at least accounted for within the parameters of each situation.
Since the game is shown through three sets of eyes, an interesting parallel is drawn on the television screen through the use of what I can only call "splitscenes." On one portion of the screen was one event, and next to it in a separate window would be shown a different event happening at the same time. This picture-beside-picture was used to express that other things were happening simultaneously in order to increase the level of tension. Clicking on bloodstained items one by one in a quiet room feels completely different than trying to dispose of incriminating evidence when you know a police officer is making his way down the hall towards your front door. These splitscenes work fantastically.
Along the same lines, pressure was applied to other areas of gaming that are traditionally static. For example, when engaging in conversation there is a time limit. No longer free to explore dialog trees at will, each interaction is forced to follow a more realistic timeframe, and more often than not, it's impossible to touch on every topic. Not only did this lend a much higher level of importance to meeting characters—it forced me to rapidly prioritize what I needed or wanted to know. Instead of being something to leisurely plod through, I found myself becoming highly focused and attentive in order to make the most of each encounter.
While these things alone are important, it is the addition of real-time action sequences which lifts Indigo Prophecy above being only a more refined adventure-style game.
Taking the concept of "quick-time events" first seen in Yu Suzuki's Shenmue, Quantic Dream applies an identical philosophy of complex actions achieved through simple inputs and uses them to stage some utterly gripping set pieces. By manipulating two analog sticks or two shoulder buttons at key moments, characters on screen can accomplish things like dodging cars, shooting hoops, dancing, or taking out a crowd of policemen with supernatural strength. The means of implementation could use a little work—I have to admit that my trigger fingers were quite fatigued by the end of the game, and I sometimes found myself more focused on making sure I was inputting the correct commands rather than fully enjoying what was unfolding on screen. But, it's clear that this type of system is utterly valid and one which I'm sure will soon become integral and valued. Yu Suzuki should be proud.
From a dramatic standpoint, the game is just as impressive as it is in terms of technical presentation. Seeing the story from each point of view often made me stop to consider exactly what I was doing. As the detective, should I fumble my investigation in order to clear a path for the fugitive? As the fugitive, should I want to be caught? Not only did I find myself examining my role as a player far more than I usually do, there were many interludes and small touches which were not necessary to the story, yet were still extremely valuable in fleshing out the characters to give Indigo Prophecy the kind of credibility that is rarely seen. The guitar in my character's apartment did not ever have to be touched, but the fact that it could be used and that it served to calm and soothe showed me a level of care and thought that almost never appears in this age of big explosions and focus-group dynamics.
In my opinion, Indigo Prophecy achieves much more than any one game has a right to expect, and does it in a way that seems so utterly natural and organic that it made me feel surprised that it hadn't already been done. But, that's not to say that Quantic Dream didn't make any missteps along the way. On the contrary, any game striking out and away from convention the way that this one does is bound to have a few rough edges. Honestly, I think it's almost a miracle that there weren't more.
On a minor scale, the camera—eternal bane of three-dimensional videogames—rears its head and causes occasional difficulty in seeing and maneuvering. There are also a few short sequences which don't seem to fit well with the rest of the game. At one point a random fetch-task is thrown into the mix, almost as a reminder of what Indigo Prophecy has mostly left behind. There are also some flashback sequences where the physical mechanics don't flow as well as they do in other parts. Although annoying and a little bit strange, nothing here is unforgivable.
A larger issue with Indigo Prophecy is that the story's scope enlarges by an order of magnitude towards the end and loses the razor-sharp focus and easy intimacy that I enjoyed at its beginning. The pace begins moving too fast and out of step with the grand scale of events that unfold. In this respect, the final acts of Indigo Prophecy succumb to tinges of cliché by incorporating some common science-fiction themes and influences that it would have been better served without. Perhaps some of this material would have worked more effectively had it been saved and expanded upon in a sequel. As it stands, I was left with a vague dissatisfaction towards what should or could have been a fantastic closing.
Still, in spite of the criticisms that can be leveled against it, I can honestly say that I see Indigo Prophecy as a significant turning point for videogames—I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Quantic Dream's work is an achievement for dramatic storytelling and a bold step forward towards maturation of the medium. Games like this are what I live for as a player and as a critic. The energy and creativity at work here remind me of why it is that I even play videogames. I have nothing but the highest respect for this studio, and I greatly look forward to their next work.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol, Violence. You will want to be aware that this game is the total package—it has it all. There is strong language, there are graphic killings, characters drink wine and champagne, there are some quasi-occult overtones, an unexpected female shower scene and one instance of two characters obviously having intimate relations. Without a doubt, this game should be reserved for only the most mature players, and under no circumstance should any small children play this. Please don't be mistaken in thinking that this game uses these elements for sensationalism or to cheap effect—it doesn't. But, similar to the way that an R-rated film can contain completely appropriate subject matter for the right audience, the fact is this is an adult game for adults.
Players looking for something completely different need to check this out. It's a mature, sophisticated, and well-told story couched within a structure and framework that is as close to being something new under the sun as we get these days. The influences are obvious to see, but the elements come together create something that is well worth notice and examination—maybe even a little bit of celebration.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers are in good shape. There are no significant auditory cues during gameplay, and all voiceovers are delivered accompanied by full text. Occasionally there is some confusion as to who is talking since the subtitles are not color-coded, but these instances are few and far between. Buy and play this with confidence.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway