Adventure titles have continued to fine tune their techniques for deepening the interactive experience shared on the digital silver screen. Quantic Dream’s Indigo Prophecy (“Fahrenheit” in Europe) aims to continue this tradition, billing their latest release as an ‘interactive movie’, a term that has either excited players or has become an omen to expect the worst. Known for their unique but flawed title, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, Quantic hopes to bring the experience of their newest story much closer to home and they’ve come a long way in proving that they can still come up with something just as novel.
This is a review for the Xbox version of the title, although a PC version is also available. One more thing to keep in mind is that this is also the ‘censored’ version of the game. Apparently, there were a few scenes that were considered objectionable despite the appearance of a “Mature” label. There’s still enough mature content (suggested, implied, and out in the open) to make sure that kids shouldn’t be anywhere near this when you bring it home, though.
Fries, Steak, and Murder. To Go, Please.
The story begins in New York as it is gripped in the throes of a fierce snowstorm. You find yourself in the shoes of Lucas Kane, just as he eerily draws himself out from the toilet stall he had been mutilating himself in as he goes to kill an innocent man, prodded along by an unseen hand pulling his strings. There is nothing you can do but watch. In moments it is over and you find Kane standing over the body of someone who he doesn’t know but whose blood is all over him. A stranger’s blood…and his own. Just as Kane suddenly realizes what he has done and regains control of his body, the controls suddenly respond to you as fate places his in your hands.
Indigo Prophecy doesn’t waste any time in throwing you into the middle of the action and doesn’t let go for most of the experience. Although the game puts you in Lucas’ shoes at the beginning, his story will eventually intertwine with those of the determined Carla Valenti and her funkadelic partner, Tyler Miles…the detectives that are soon on his trail…along with his brother, Markus Kane. You will eventually play through the ‘interactive movie’ from their perspectives, in a sense chasing yourself down while you try to get away. The entire story is experienced between these different viewpoints, allowing you choose who you want to be for certain sequences, allowing you to ‘cut the film’ in any way you choose from many angles. The screen even splits into different viewpoints, much like in the popular series 24, where you can see different perspectives all converging together as they hurtle towards a singular end. Whether that end is a good or bad one is left up to you to decide.
But it isn’t merely just ‘choosing’ who you should play as to drive the story. Quantic has included a variety of situations that literally put the player on the spot. Dialogue choices are timed with your choices representing only a key word to indicate a possible question, forcing you to decide what to say on the spot in order to maintain the realism of the moment. The action sequences in the game also pull the player into the scenes through smart use of the analog sticks. Similar to what you can find in Shenmue and its sequel, there are moments in the game where quick reflexes and a fast eye are needed although not in a way that you might expect.
Before starting your adventure, you can run through a tutorial on the title’s interface with the director and writer himself, David Cage, as your guide. The controls for the camera and for moving your character about are deceptively simple leaving you with more time to play the game and experience the story instead of trying to remember what menu you need to go to next. Later on in the game, you can switch perspectives from one person to another in the same scene to try out different things and hear what they have to say. The controller for the Xbox felt well laid out with everything within easy reach, many of the actions feeling very intuitive. There was little reason to turn to the manual other than to read up on some of the included fiction behind the key characters or review the lyrics to some of the songs as performed by the group ‘Theory of a Deadman’. One other thing to note about the interface is that unlike many other adventure titles, you have no inventory in this game to worry about. Most of the puzzles and situations that you will encounter will depend more on your reflexes or your ability to help the characters piece together what is in front of them, although instead of worrying about an item you may have forgotten in an earlier chapter you now have to worry more about the consequences of your actions…especially if you forget to cover up something that you don’t want anyone else to see.
I mentioned that in the action sequences, the analog sticks are used and the tutorial demonstrates this by throwing a car at you to dodge in the tutorial. Two colored circles, each representing one of the sticks, come up and flash a direction of where you should tap the stick towards as a sort of ‘Simon Says’ setup. Some sequences are simple while others can easily link together into a long string of moves that you have to keep up with. The trigger buttons are also used for some of these sequences and further into the game, using them to help control your breathing during a claustrophobic attack as you try and find your way through the darkness or to keep the stamina of your hero up as you race away from an enemy. The title mixes these up later on in the game in order to keep you on your toes, but it always warns you ahead of time so you can take a quick breath to prepare. Although I had issues with the forced action bits in Broken Sword III because of how linear and one sided they tended to be, Indigo Prophecy’s use of this kind of action interface for many of its scenes felt appropriately fitting not only because they helped to bring the scenes closer to home but also because of how failure was handled.
The action used by most straightforward adventure titles to accentuate their scenes tended to be extremely linear with only one result…failure, usually death by falling cow, crushing stone, falling over ladders during an alley chase, or accidentally getting a primitive society to worship you as a god, changing history (oops). With Indigo Prophecy, not only can the difficulty be made easier (or more difficult if you crave a better challenge for your reflexes), but many times a mistake won’t simply ‘fail’ you, allowing you to pick yourself up and try to continue. You only have so many attempts, though, as there is a sort of ‘life’ meter represented by dots that you carry with you throughout the game. Additional ‘dots’ can be found if you take the time in several scenes to look around, allowing you to survive more of the challenges ahead.
You also need to keep an eye on your mental health. Different actions and dialogue responses can impact how your character is feeling. Some scenes can’t be avoided, hitting you like a ton of bricks or lifting you up so that you don’t feel as if the world hates you. This is very important as when it gets too low, your character might start feeling suicidal. In some instances, there is even a level of suspicion that you have to avoid depending on how you react to certain situations.
Altogether, these aspects of the gameplay do a great job in keeping the excitement of the game and the forward momentum of the story going. In fact, they help keep you focused on the story as a whole as you anticipate the next twisting turn down the dark path towards the end.
But the real meat of the title is the story and Indigo Prophecy delivers this on many levels with an excellent presentation of the characters, scenes, and the action onscreen. The production values for each ‘set’ deliver the kind of film inspired impact that Quantic has been trying to pull off and the overall graphics aren’t too bad to look at. The default camera angles were well done and there was even a grainy effect layered atop what you were watching during the flashback sequences that occur later on. The character models are well animated overall, each one with their own distinctive gait, facial expressions, and appearance, but the somewhat washed out textures and flat lighting tended detract from some of the quality. This is a very minor gripe, however, as everything else worked extremely well together to keep me immersed.
As an example, there were times, especially during the action portions of the game, that I had hoped to simply just watch what was going on. Much of the scripted action onscreen is overshadowed by the action interface as you focus on what you have to do to keep up with what is happening, leaving me with the yearning to just sit back and enjoy the show hoping that someone else would just play through it. It’s really too bad that there was no replay option to view some of these sequences afterwards, but the action interface still kept me glued to the screen and breathing a sigh of relief afterwards just as the characters may have felt.
The sound of the title is also extremely well done. The quality of the music alone is worth the price of admission with a score by Hollywood maestro Angelo Badalamenti. Muted and mysterious when it needs to be, soaring and desperate as you try to survive capture or death, the soundtrack performs a fantastic job in enhancing many of the scenes. The voice acting also deserves mention with all of the actors doing excellent work throughout the production.
As for the story itself, there are a lot of possibilities offered with consequences later on for what you may or may not accomplish or discover. If you decide not to make any dialogue choices at all, the game will make a default one for you which may not necessarily be the best option. There are even moments when you may be called upon to do something, such as rescue a drowning child from a frozen pond at the risk of being seen by the police, or not being able to rescue everyone from a fiery death. What you decide to do and what results from your success and failure have subtle effects on the story and the characters in an immediate sense. It does not dramatically shift the story in one direction or another, though, but these subtle changes are enough to provide a sense of having impacted the world around you as well as the characters and can make things more…or less…difficult for you in the next chapter.
The title can automatically save your progress at set checkpoints in the game and unlocked chapters can be replayed if you so choose, in order to try out different approaches or if you weren’t satisfied with how they may have played out. I’m not sure if it is the same on the PC, but on the Xbox, you only have one active save point so if you go and play through a previous chapter, that save point is overwritten. Chapters that you’ve unlocked remain unlocked, though, but for the purposes of ‘Continuing’ your progress, you’ll end up at the last spot the title saved you at. You can turn the save feature off, though, if you just want to play around without risking where you had last saved or create an entirely profile.
There are also bonus ‘points’ that you can collect throughout the title in the form of ‘cards’ that are hidden everywhere. These points can be used to unlock goodies from the Bonus section of the title’s menu such as art assets, movies, or soundtracks. You also have access to action sequences where you can take part in scenes such as a skating contest, dance competition, or a basketball game, practicing your analog stick skills as the actor’s performance onscreen is helped along by what you do.
Blood on your Hands
While the emphasis on the storyline and the cinematic experience are clearly the primary driving factors behind the design of “Indigo Prophecy”, other items that adventure gamers may be expecting felt a bit watered down such as the puzzles that were there. As a result, adventure gamers that are looking forward to an intense session of exploration and puzzle solving may not like the timed dialogues and reflex action aspects, or the awful stealth episodes. These sequences may appeal more to action gamers…who at the same time may not like the level of storytelling that is at the heart of “Indigo Prophecy”. You can’t really call Indigo Prophecy an action adventure because the ‘action’ consists of no more than in keeping up what the game asks of the player with its ‘Simon Says’ segments or trigger sequences, a far different type of ‘action’ one would normally associate with, say, a “Tomb Raider”. The title is a curious mix between the two and while it may not appeal to purists of either disposition, it does manage to accomplish much of what it has set out to do well by balancing the two together as a means to provide an involving level of interaction with the ‘movie’.
But while the story as a whole is well written, entertaining, and worked in with mature scenes that were handled with more grace than what many may give credit to a ‘game’, the story past the midway point felt rushed and glued together. What started out as a mysterious thriller along the lines of a film such as The Sixth Sense soon begins to share more in common with a film more along the lines of Prince of Darkness. This ‘unraveling’ towards the end doesn’t necessarily take away much from what it has already accomplished, but it the parts that are there did not feel as if they had flowed as well as the first half of the story did.
The “Mature” label on its cover does more than tell players that there’s blood and sex in this title. It can also be used to describe the level of storytelling and the kind of experience that the medium is more than capable of delivering. Adventure gamers on the Xbox (and I know you’re out there) should not hesitate to pick up Indigo Prophecy. If you don’t mind testing your reflexes during your adventure and can stand being put on the spot for your dialogue fix, you could easily spend a weekend with the title. Featuring a rich variety of characters, well acted dialogue, and strong presentation values supporting an intriguing storyline, Indigo Prophecy stands as an excellent piece of storytelling in a time where adventure games tend to be few and far between, especially on consoles. The overall experience won’t leave you out in the cold as the ending will…only when you realize that the story is over.
– World 1-1