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Review – Indigo Prophecy

posted on May 30th, 2006 by jay

Bonjour. I made this game and am better than you, non?

About halfway through Indigo Prophecy I began outlining this review. Had I finished the review but not the game you’d be reading something very different. This is a game with massive potential that completely implodes. But still, for trying something innovative and nearly succeeding, Quantic Dream deserves much respect and anyone interested in innovation and experimentation should try Indigo Prophecy.

Indigo Prophecy was made by the French developer Quantic Dream, who were behind the poorly received Dreamcast title Omnikron (I hate it just because David Bowie is in it). This is not a modest company; or rather this company is not run by a modest man. My first experience with Indigo Prophecy was on a demo disc from a magazine. David Cage, the head of Quantic Dreams, does a whole lot of talking about his game on the demo. He also wrote the introduction of the game’s manual. Maybe he won’t come off as pompous after he gets a few hits under his belt, but for now there is a very short list of designers who can brag about their games in their games without sounding like snobs.

The concept behind Indigo Prophecy, and what Mr. Cage is masturbating about in the manual and video clips on the game disc, is interactive cinema. The plotline is crucial to the gameplay and very interesting for the first half of the game. As the game opens you witness the main character committing a murder and are then given control of him. The next scene has you controlling detectives trying to find the perpetrator of this violent crime, so the player controls both cat and mouse.

Some scenes have an amazing atmosphere.

In each scene you are given control of a character and navigate your enclosed environment performing little actions, like climbing a fence, reading the internet, or pouring a cup of coffee. Through these mostly small actions, you propel the plotline forward, sometimes making decisions that will impact later scenes. On some level, the gameplay feels like the micromanagement from the Sims. It rarely becomes mind numbingly boring, though, because there is a story behind it. It is micromanagement with a point.

Dialog is well written but not seamless. If the player chooses to say one thing and not the other there are sometimes strange inflections in the participant’s voices. They may have recorded the conversation as they predicted it unfolding from start to finish and just hoped for the best. And the audio is poorly mixed with music that completely drowns out dialog. Luckily, this is easily fixed through the options screen.

The voice acting itself is very good for a video game and much of the dialog is well written. Because choosing some dialog arcs moves the conversation in an unforeseen direction or ends it altogether, I often felt a lack of control. Sometimes it made sense, other times it didn’t. If neither character is under duress, or being hostile towards the other, why should I not be able to ask another question? Also, sometimes when you pick what you want to talk about during a dialog the other character begins speaking. Controlling what I am saying makes sense, controlling the dialog of NPC’s is just odd.

A lot of the directing is amateur, but this split screen scene is done well.

During the action sequences the control interface becomes similar to Shenmue, Resident Evil 4, or Dragon’s Lair, if you will. The quick time, action time, interactive fiction engagement enhancement procedural system or whatever you want to call it, pops up and you must mimic what you see before you, like a game of Simon. This can be very satisfying during some of the more intense action scenes. It is also utterly bizarre when used during conversations or in order to remember things. Dodging a kick then striking back by pressing left then A feels right. Pressing up, right, right, B, A, down to recall a fact just doesn’t make any sense.

By far the most frustrating aspect of the gameplay was the damned if you do damned if you don’t set up the adventure portions of the game employs. Look at a picture of your parents? You lose mental health. Watch TV? You gain mental health. Watch TV five seconds later? You lose mental health. There is no way to know what objects in the environment you should and shouldn’t be interacting with so you just try them all. What seems beneficial can easily lower your health, what seems possibly harmful can raise it. In the first scene with police officers, I used the cop to investigate the urinal. To my surprise he didn’t investigate it, he unzipped his pants and the other cop yelled at him. So there goes a few points of mental health because nothing is clearly labeled and you never know what to expect.

Characters in the game are generally likable, though a bit stereotypical. The black cop plays basketball, the gay neighbor is super gay, etc. The main woman in the story is a lonely 3D modelers wet dream and Mr. Cage made sure we see her in her underwear, having sex, and through a shower curtain (with a dark patch where her pubic hair should be). It’s hard to figure out what was done because game designers tend to make women sex objects and what was done because Quantic Dream is French.

Yes, Indigo Prophecy does become the Matrix. Sorry to spoil it, but you already saw that movie anyway.

Before I finished the game I was going to praise it heavily but still mention that there is a huge gap between the good scenes and the lame ones. This is still true, until you get to a certain part of the game, at least. The opening scenes are all very well done and really pull the player into the story. Then there are the slower scenes. I understand these make the tense ones better due to the contrast, but I’m still not convinced they had to be unfun. And there are the stupid scenes, like the basketball game. It feels like the designers were really reaching for things that could extend the game’s play time.

And finally there is the imploding of the game. Indigo Prophecy doesn’t always work but when it does it really is a great experience. Too bad about halfway or 2/3rds of the way through the game the plot becomes completely moronic and ruins any possible tension that existed. The good news is it feels rushed so the stupid ending of the story doesn’t take too much time to play through. It’s hard to explain what went wrong without giving things away, just know when the game deals with conflicts between police and suspects it is in its prime, when it deals with radiated zombies and invisible groups of conspirators, it’s just bad.

A game that allows its gameplay to rely so heavily on its plot asks to be taken seriously as a piece of fiction and as such I will judge it accordingly. Mr. Cage, you can make a decent game and you’re obviously creative, but your story writing skills are not up to snuff. Publish a novel or two, hone your craft, then try again when you have mastered writing, because until then all of your interactive fiction is doomed to failure.

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5 Comments

  1. Charles said on May 31, 2006:

    Spot on, spot on, Jay. I played this whole game as well and was “on the edge of my seat” so to speak, early in the game. I had no idea what this game was about when i rented it so i had little to no expectations for it. I was assuming i would play it, hate it and then return it the same day. However, from the moment i turned it on and was at the diner(edge of my seat) until the “radiating zombies”(etc), i thorougly enjoyed the game. So i recommend playing some of this game. Haha. Not all of it, but like jay said, 1/2 to 2/3’s of it is enjoyable.

  2. Stefan said on June 7, 2006:

    Man, I played about the first 20 minutes of this game, and was captivated. Maybe I should just leave it at that, so as not to ruin the image in my head of what it could have been.

  3. jay said on June 20, 2006:

    http://gamasutra.com/features/20060620/cage_01.shtml
    Thanks for the link, Christian. Cage actually addresses almost all of my criticisms. I think his next game may really be amazing.

  4. Tony said on July 19, 2006:

    I finally finished this game and I’m still not exactly sure what I think of it. I mean, it’s not really a game at all. When you remove the stupid mini-games (like the basketball game and the shooting range) you’re left with a mediocre text adventure with pictures. You go into a room and there’s about 4 or 5 things that allow for interaction. All but one of those things leads to an immediate dead end … your character says some throw away line and you regain control. Once you find the one thing that makes the plot move along you’re rewarded with a cut scene. Repeat another 100 times and you’re done.

    That’s not a game to me, I guess. I can see if your actions or choices changed the plot of the game and resulted in drastically different endings, but that’s not the case. I experimented with some of the key points in the story by returning and choosing things that seemed like they would change the plot when I first played through, but making different choices just led to the game ending. That’s not much of a branching story line or a unique game mechanic.

    Speaking of game mechanics, I HATED all the damn stick-flicking! Like Jay said, I don’t mind it if it makes sense (like during combat or while trying to avoid objects while running) but I don’t want to have to stare at two blinking circles smack in the middle of the screen while an important cut scene happens. Talk about pulling the player right out of the reality you’ve created. It seems to me like something you would add to your game when you realize there’s not much of a game to begin with.

    If you’re going to make a digital movie and call it a game, then just go with it. Write a great story, get some good designers and some good voice actors and make it. Don’t throw in crappy mini-games and tell me it’s an “thrilling adventure game.”

  5. Staticneuron said on July 20, 2006:

    I have yet to play this game. But it is interesting to see the many different reactions to the gameplay mechanics. And I am curious about this “stick-flicking” thing. Sounds like they tried to pull a RE4 and failed.

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