"Itís around here that Marcus stops worrying about his mental health and starts trying to be middle Americaís answer to Chow Yun Fat on a tabletop-sized slab of LSD. Itís about here you may want to start thinking about employing your consoleís off switch."
Upon release, I was rather taken with Indigo Prophecy. A recent replay soon put an end to that.
It was an unwelcome wake-up call that started with the unwelcome dilemma of Marcus Kane, who finds himself in an unusual restaurantís bathroom, standing over a bloody corpse with a sticky knife grasped in one hand and occult, pagan symbols carved into his forearms. His options appear limitless at first -- does he flee the scene through an unmanned fire exit into a back ally filled with homeless bums, or instead throw himself at the mercy of an off-duty cop stopping on his way home for one last cup of coffee? Does he surge through the front door in a panic-fuelled stampede, dripping trails of crimson as he stumbles through the shocked crowds, or does he take a deep breath and cleanse the crime scene of as many incriminating clues as he can find then return calmly to the diner to finish a meal he never remembers ordering?
When Prophecy works, itís nothing short of what it always promised to be: the natural evolution of the adventure genre. Marcus is a man trapped in a nightmarish world slowly tearing at the seams of his sanity, and answers donít come easy, but he remains a man with options. His surreal experiences are intertwined with numerous options that test his understanding of the degenerating situation while trying to keep a steady grip on his morality. While struggling with the choice to confess his crime to his brother, he witnesses a drowning girl struggling to fight off the icy grip of a frozen lake. Sheís losing. He could save her, heís nearest to the scene, but a police patrol is inbound and he fears heís a wanted man. Does he risk his freedom for the chance to save the life of another, or does he turn his back and slink back into the shadows, hoping someone else will make the brave gesture he cannot afford?
Itís very easy to get caught up in the story of a man watching the world around him fade like an aging watercolour while he questions if all that happens is reality or the sign of an insane mind. Itís even easier when not only the mouse is playable, but the cat, too. While Marcus tries to outrun his crimes, Carla and Tyler are the two cops on his trail, unravelling whatever clues he fails to obscure.
This gives anything Marcus does a direct impact on how the two detectives work their case. Should he have given in to panic and fled the scene of his unwitting murder, then he flees leaving the body drying in a pool of congealing blood and forensic evidence, giving the pair plenty to work with. If the opposite is done, the scene scrubbed clean of prints, the weapon stashed and the corpse propped up in a bathroom stall to delay its discovery, a more painstaking search is needed to find the clues they need. But deductions are made of the murderer: an unhampered crime scene might suggested a a non-predetermined crime -- the opposite suggests otherwise.
The smallest decision matters. Even when our overused chum, the Quick-Time Events, are liberally employed, failing them could mean anything as mundane as Tyler missing a lay-up in a b-ball grudge match, Carla falling behind in a friendly spar or Marcus playing his guitar off-key for a few strokes. The ordinary is mixed in seamlessly with the unreal, giving the cast a sense of authenticity rarely seen in video games. This holds true even in the midst of Marcusí uncertain grip on reality, which leads him further and further into a devastatingly confusing world like Alice down a rabbit hole. Horse-sized dust-mites plague him at his place of work while mystic and unexplained visions of a sea of candles flicker through his weary mind, but he also has the very real and very ordinary heartache attached to the recent and unwanted break-up with his girlfriend. Tyler faces his own problems with the fairer sex as his sassy Latino girl constantly barrages him with increasingly less subtle hints about how the day is fast approaching when heíll have to make the choice between the woman he loves dearly and the job he lives for. Carla suffers from crippling claustrophobia, making even a simple jaunt down to the precinctís cramped basement to retrieve some archives carry the very real threat of a panic-attack. With this in mind, a later visit to a genuinely-creepy insane asylum during an unwelcome power-cut has the hyperventilating girl explore pitch-black corridors almost blind while homicidal maniacs roam free all around her.
It all combines so effortlessly to make a spell-binding experience. No one really has any clue whatís going on, and this sense of mystery provides Indigo Prophecy with a strong noir backbone that holds everything together. Then something unexpected happens. The drip-fed subtly is curb-stomped, quick-time events are removed from everyday actions to star exclusively in bullet-time-ridden kung-fu battles and the unassuming but infinitely involving cast and plot are altered without warning in strict accordance to stereotypical pop culture guidelines.
It conjures a scene in my head. Quantic Dream, developers of sleepy-but-memorable Omikron: The Nomad Soul, sit around a large table, all looking very smug over the fantastic first half of Indigo Prophecy they've created before the door flies off its hinges and a swarm of execs stalk in. Theyíre furious: this game doesnít contain any of the things they insist the video-game playing public want. Thereís a list. God help us, thereís a list.
Suddenly, the game is littered with robot ninja, uncomfortable stealth sections, alien conspiracies and the dangerously close to obligatory fight scenes that exist only to further rape The Matrixís corpse some six years after the original film was released. The plot, once masterfully and deliberately unfocused to showcase an air of rife confusion, becomes cluttered and overwrought as Prophecy has shoehorned into its guts the top ten things that came up after a google image search of the word ícoolí. Sentient computer viruses, creepy, silent children with unfathomable destinies to fulfil and breasts.
Itís around here that Marcus stops worrying about his mental health and starts trying to be middle Americaís answer to Chow Yun Fat on a tabletop-sized slab of LSD. Itís about here you may want to start thinking about employing your consoleís off switch.
Blame it on receding interest or a hurried need to release the game on time, but place blame. The gut-wrenchingly flawed second half's most obvious fault is simply how diabolically rushed it feels. Youíre no longer guiding your trio of protagonists; youíre a bored passenger asked to play out endless QTEs whilst they shuffle from uninteresting and clichťd plot point to plot point.
Connections are lost in the bustle. One second Marcus is heavily lamenting the loss of his ex-girlfriend, the next heís having sweaty, sticky sex with someone else while the new pairing declare their absolute and undying love for one another. Justification for their whorish actions? Seems not! Prophecy simply forgets to tell you that, despite only a few moments of game-time separating these two events, several months have passed behind the loading screens. This does give you another chance to see a pair of boobs, though. Unless youíre American. Turns out youíre not ready for digitalised cleavage yet.
The memorable and haunting beginnings are cripplingly eradicated by an unrelenting army of clichťs and poor choices. Flaws that could have been overlooked while the game was firing, such as the title's awful camera, are brought sharply into focus when asked to perform side-by-side with clumsy stealth sections or unwelcome fetch quests. Every now and then, thereís a flash of inspiration when youíll see a glimmer of what the game used to be, but this only makes it even more painful when a few seconds later Marcus is exchanging over-the-top martial arts with a mysterious robed guy. Atop the cityís highest building. In the bloody snow!
Indigo Prophecy, quite simply, falls apart as it goes along. It effortlessly enamoured me upon release when I first started playing, and the false hope promised by the flickering embers of brilliance bullied me through the soul-crushing second half with a forced sense of optimism.
It never happens. Indigo Prophecy crashes. It crashes hard and it never gets back up.
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