Indigo Prophecy (PlayStation 2) review
"Sometimes making the wrong decision leads to a setback, a step missed along the way. Sometimes it leads into a side story you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, like a quaint night of ice-skating between two friends. Sometimes it leads to a game over. The roads diverge, cross, and one of Indigo Prophecy’s biggest appeals is that it encourages experimentation."
Lucas Kane is awoken from a blissful sleep by his apartment’s doorbell. He answers…it’s his girlfriend. His ex-girlfriend. Tiffany. She came by to pick up some of her things, nothing more. It’s late, it’s cold, and Lucas has had a phenomenally bad week. He gets her stuff and tells her nothing about how he killed a man against his will, the dark forces that pursue him and the ghoulish visions that turn his waking moments into nightmares. Lucas goes for a kiss, desperate for one good thing in his life, hoping to ignite an extinguished flame. It doesn’t work. Tiffany pulls away and leaves his apartment for the last time.
Lucas invites her in with a cordial air. He pours her a drink. He asks how her life is going. He doesn’t detail his troubles, but he does allude, letting her see his stress. He finds her packages, but she doesn’t leave right away; Lucas’ guitar steals her eye. Tiffany requests a session and Lucas obliges, stringing a soft, soothing melody and killing her softly with his song. The music ends, she starts to leave, but Lucas searches for one last kiss. He finds it. Tiffany stays, and they make sweet love in the snowy night.
Sometimes, I love Indigo Prophecy. Sometimes.
Like when I stop, look around and appreciate the staggering details. The way the world grows thicker with snow every passing day. The way characters move and talk in fluid, realistic motions. The way Lucas Kane’s apartment actually looks like an apartment; a nearly empty refrigerator, medication at his bedside, a blood-stained shirt lazily tossed on the floor, unpacked boxes, unworn clothes, a guitar waiting to be played and a punching bag waiting to be hit. Indigo Prophecy strives to mimic life, and succeeds.
But it doesn’t merely create a detailed world; it creates detailed characters to fill that world. I’m not talking about the way they look, though they do look impressive; like experienced actors, characters in Indigo Prophecy run the full gamut of emotions, smiling, laughing, crying, sighing, screaming, cocking eyebrows, narrowing eyebrows and using a host of facial facets that other games would ignore. It’s remarkable, but it’s not where the real beauty lies.
It lies in the ongoing struggle of Tyler Mills and his gorgeous fiancé. He loves her. She loves him. But she doesn’t like his job as a cop and she doesn’t like worrying if she’ll get a call from his station one day, telling her that Tyler’s never coming home again.
The plight of Marcus Kane, a man of the cloth who’s learning what it means to bear a cross. His brother confesses murder to him. He says it wasn’t his own doing, that an evil presence forced him to slay an innocent man. He talks about possession and visions and strange powers and he sounds insane, but he’s Marcus’ brother. I can say from experience that the choice between blood and faith is never simple.
Lucas Kane’s constant struggle. Something is wrong with him. He doesn’t know why, he doesn’t know how, but there's a black mark over his life. He does things he doesn’t want to do, he ponders things he doesn’t want to ponder, he fights against creatures that don’t exist and, as the line between normal and paranormal continues to blur, he wonders if the conspiracy is only in his mind, if he’s going crazy and there’s nothing more to it.
You wonder, too.
Indigo Prophecy’s owes its strength to devilish detail. It makes a world worth scrutinizing, investigating and beholding. It makes characters worth following, caring about and empathizing, lets you see the game through multiple perspectives. It builds this mood, this serene yet surreal vibe, and enhances it with music worthy of its substance. In solemnity, the violins wail. In tense moments, the silence reigns. In combat, the drums blast. Sound is the backbone of any cinematic experience and Indigo Prophecy is no exception, a crucial ingredient in the creation of an engrossing world. But creation is only the first step. Interaction is the next.
Just like that cold night where Kane reunited with his lost love, any moment in Indigo Prophecy can happen in various ways. A boy falls into a pond of freezing water, in need of immediate rescue, but doing so means that a nearby cop will see and recognize you for the criminal you are. The police pry into your life, ask questions; do you risk suspicion by forcing them away or risk capture by letting them in? The game asks you to do basics tasks like turning on the TV or checking the internet, but even things mundane as that further the plot; the TV reports remind Kane of his horrific actions and the internet hints to the steady drop of the world’s climate, a factor that grows more apparent with every scene and plays a critical role in the plot.
Sometimes making the wrong decision leads to a setback, a step missed along the way. Sometimes it leads into a side story you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise, like a quaint night of ice-skating between two friends. Sometimes it leads to a game over. The roads diverge, cross, and one of Indigo Prophecy’s biggest appeals is that it encourages experimentation; you can start the game over from any chapter and answer any ‘what if question you might have. What if I’d lied to that police officer, what if I hadn’t saved that boy’s life, what if I’d hidden under the bed instead of the closet? You could beat Indigo Prophecy once and never touch it again, but you’d be doing yourself an injustice.
But then, maybe you wouldn’t. Though the scenery is awesome, though the characters are vibrant, though the choices are insightful, Indigo Prophecy is far from a flawless game.
As said, the characters, the setting and the mood are impressive. But weakness comes when the game tries to put everything together for a coherent plot. When the story begins and the mystery is still a mystery, things are good. You’re absorbed. But the more you learn about the truth, the more you realize how unoriginal that truth really is. The more you see similarities between movies; not homage, but rip-offs. The last third of the Indigo Prophecy plays out like an X-File dipped version of the Matrix, antagonists, fight scenes, revelations and all, wasting away the promise everything started with. It begins with a bang but ends with a whimper.
Take Carla Valenti, the secondary protagonist. I love strong, willful women, and Carla fits that bill; she’s a detective, she’s intelligent, she’s athletic and she could probably hold her own in a fight. I say ‘probably’ because, even though a sparring session shows she has great skills, the closest she comes to action is running through a darkened asylum, so frightened that she can scarcely breathe. She’s made out to be this brave soul, but she can’t even sift through the police station basement without claustrophobia turning her into a quivering wreck. Squandered potential.
As a matter of fact, Carla’s part of Indigo Prophecy's most annoying moments. In intense circumstances, Carla keeps sane by steady breathing, and you control her breathing with shoulder buttons. L1…R1…L1…R1. It has to be consistent, it has to be rhythmic, or Carla panics and starts the segment over. The trouble is that the game always asks you to do something while you’re tapping away, whether it’s checking files, playing Solid Snake with sociopaths, or balancing on a steel beam two hundred feet in the air. Indigo Prophecy uses the analog sticks in a similar but simpler vien; pressing the right directions at the right times is what makes the cutscenes go.
That’s it and that’s the problem; you don’t play Indigo Prophecy so much as you interact with it. The game’s idea of action is to have you tap the analog sticks or the shoulder buttons while the character does the work. The scenes are scripted to either pass or fail, and it’s all determined by your ability to stroke the sticks. The timing’s not even that hard; the shoulder button segments lag because the shoulder buttons don’t lend well to mashing, but beyond that…easy.
The result? Indigo Prophecy feels less like a game and more like a movie with button presses. The segments are mostly sweet, no doubt. But you can’t help but wonder how it could’ve been better. How that fight would’ve been more intense if you’d thrown the punches. How the chase would’ve gone smoother if you’d done the running. How great the experience could’ve been if it cared for gameplay as much as it cared for almost everything else.
At times it even cares too much for the movie feel; the camera tends to go for dramatic angles that are great to watch but irritating to navigate, constant disorientation as the view skips about. The characters walk in movie style as well, either walking at a sluggish pace or running in dramatic strides, and it gives the movement a clunky, robotic feel that can turn even the simplest task into a droning chore.
It all makes Indigo Prophecy a confusing trial. One minute I’m reveling in the character’s depth, gasping at details and succumbing to the spell. The next, I’m laughing as its story degenerates into a slew of clichés and ludicrous plot points. And then I’m bored, frustrated and ready to quit after Carla goes into her twentieth panic attack. I feel like giving it a 10, I feel like giving it a 5, I feel like giving it a 1. I’m not even sure who to recommend this to.
But I will say this: Give it a try. Indigo Prophecy is, if nothing else, a unique and wonderfully crafted game that strays far from the mainstream. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll hate it. But it’s worth the time to find out.
Staff review by Zack Little (August 12, 2006)
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