Indigo Prophecy

Indigo Prophecy had received some positive reviews back when it was released in 2005, and its dark tone and rumored evolution of the adventure game genre had mildly intrigued me. So I kept an eye out for it, and eventually, after a Circuit City clearance sale, it joined Disgaea, Silpheed, ZOE: The Second Runner, and uncounted others as one of my B-list bargain purchases that, in the harsh light of reality, would likely never be pulled out of my PS2 drawer and played. Then a coincidence occurred: a coworker highly recommended Indigo Prophecy and my XBox 360 suddenly died. I temporarily abandoned the living room HDTV and went back to the PS2′s lonely 19-inch TV in the guest bedroom.

Indigo Prophecy strikes me as an old-fashioned adventure game, albeit one dressed up with a unique set of controls. The game sets out tell an atmospheric, gloomy crime and conspiracy tale in a hybrid game/movie format, and it succeeds very well; the story begins with a possession and seemingly random murder in a dingy restaurant bathroom and goes on to have global implications. Some reviewers have criticized the story’s later, wilder developments, but I stayed on board throughout the entire game. The story starts off strangely and yes, the strangeness increases, but for the most part, I did not feel cheated by the developments. I could have used more depth in some of the explanations of later events, but all in all, the story satisfied me and kept me constantly wanting to find out more.

There are several kinds of control schemes used in this game; they are unusual for an adventure game, and some are more successful than others, but on the whole I was pleased with them. The “exploration” control scheme uses very granular, context-sensitive, right-thumbstick “flick” gestures to control individual actions of your character. I liked it; the fine granularity of the scheme (for example, you would flick once to open the refrigerator, flick again to take something out, and flick again to close the refrigerator) caused a strong feeling of involvement with the examination of the environment.

Context-sensitivity was implemented by icons appearing at the top of the screen when a character stood in the appropriate place, accompanied by an animation indicating the flick gesture to use. For example, when you stood by the refrigerator, you would see an icon indicating an opening door at the top of the screen. The “action” schemes, which varied by situation, most often involved a fun, Simon-style “follow the leader” game superimposed on the related action, with quick thumbstick flicks needing to approximate the on-screen examples in order to avoid sudden death. One of the “action” schemes–which involved regulating a character’s breath to avoid panic while navigating the character in a first-person view–was even quite inventive. The only one I didn’t like required pressing alternate shoulder buttons as fast as possible–I felt like I was going to give myself carpal tunnel, and it was more irritating than enjoyable.

The “conversation” scheme, another successful element, kept me involved by offering a brief time period in which to choose–again via thumbstick flicking–the most favorable from among a series of reply options.

The presentation of the story is excellent. The brooding, tense atmosphere is one of the strongest achievements of the game. Events take place in a city under siege by cold and snow, and each protagonist’s well-being is ranked by a meter ranging from “Neutral” (at the top end) to “Wrecked.” The action sequences are spectacular, and because they are controlled through abstract schemes (such as the Simon-style one), the characters’ acrobatics are not limited to those possible by direct control.

The characters are another strength in this game. There are three protagonists: two cops, Tyler and Carla, and Lucas, the initially possessed killer. All are sympathetic and well voiced, and are fleshed out with romances and friendships that cause the player to care about them. I liked them all, although Tyler had–by far–the most likable personality. An interesting approach in this game is that you play as each of the cops and as the killer, and your characters are at cross-purposes. Each character can easily be caught off guard by bad news from an answering machine or the television, which will suddenly bleed his or her well-being meter away. On the other hand, you try to find little ways to care for them and cheer them up, like playing with a basketball or drinking some milk.

There are a few problems. I have always preferred cameras that are not fixed, and instead follow the protagonist. Unfortunately, the developer’s adherence to the cinematic presentation, which pays off in storytelling, makes navigation in the “exploration” control scheme an occasional chore; I’m talking here about the fixed, “cinematic” camera. Due to the camera, I sometimes had a lot of trouble orienting my character, even in spaces that were not terribly complex; this issue was sometimes exacerbated by time limits. I also found myself occasionally walking into walls because of switching camera angles. Finally, there is a chapter of the game, which involves a scavenger hunt in a bookshop, that seems to have no impact on the rest of the game at all; it seems to be a puzzle divorced from the rest of the game entirely, and unless I missed out on the right outcome that would have tied it in, it should have been cut from the game.

The graphics in the game are fine; they are not spectacular, and they are fully up to the task of telling the story. And beautiful graphics should not be the real reason you play a game like this; the point of the exercise is your involvement with the story, the characters, and the atmosphere.

In the end, this game passed the only test for me that really matters: it kept me playing, every chance I had, until I was done. Control problems were minor compared to the joy of exploring the environments, interacting with the characters, experiencing the atmosphere, and discovering the story. This game will probably not satisfy adrenaline junkies, but it comes highly recommended for those who enjoy excellent storytelling–particularly in the crime or science fiction genres.