Monday, January 02, 2006

Indigo Prophecy

This may be a little unusual, but what follows is a gaming post that I’m writing specifically for the non-gamers out there. That’s not to say that there’s nothing in this for the hardcore gamers among you, so if you are a gamer, just treat it as a review.

I want to talk about the game ‘Indigo Prophecy’.

I just finished it a few minutes ago, and the fact that the second I finished it, I instantly turned it off and started writing should tell you how good I think it is…that is, it’s absolutely excellent.

Indigo Prophecy is more of an interactive movie than a game. No, I’m not talking about those pieces of electronic offal that came out with the birth of CD-ROM, the games that featured really bad actors on blue-screen. This is something new that I found absolutely mind-blowing.

Let me begin by introducing you to the story. I won’t include any spoilers, other than those that you could see in a normal movie trailer.

Almost disturbingly, the game starts you out sitting on a toilet in a restaurant bathroom. Well, I say ‘you’ but you don’t really take on a role in this game. That’s not to say you don’t control the action, but each character (You control one of 4 different characters depending on the ‘scene’) has their own seperate personality. Umm…How can I describe this?

The best way I can think of to describe this is that you play the part of each character’s intuition and conscience. You control actual characters with their own personalities. They’re not just ‘puppets’, like in other games. In other words, playing as a cop, you can’t pull a gun and start shooting up the police station. You can, however, tell the guy that you owe money to to go screw himself…or be nice and pay up. If you’re interrogating a witness, you can decide whether to treat them with kid gloves, or be a little more insistent.

In short, you control fully formed characters. They’re not just a ‘digital you’ like in a fist person shooter.

Anyhoo…Where was I?

That’s right, the opening scene.

You view the action as the main character, Lucas Kane, eyes rolled back in his head, begins carving a weird symbol onto his forearm with a knife. He stands up, and opens the bathroom stall door. He begins to lurch towards another man, standing at the bathroom sink, and he raises his knife.

The scene cuts between showing Kane, and a large room filled with candles, with a mysterious hooded figure performing the same actions that Kane is. Somehow, he’s playing Kane like a puppet.

Kane falls on the poor bathroom user, and stabs him three times in the chest. He falls back, as though in the grip of some unseen force…then comes around.

This is where you get thrown into the game. Kane has just killed an complete stranger without knowing why. He looks down, horrified. He thinks “I’d better get out of here, before someone comes in!”

What does he do next?

Well, that’s up to you. The story is fairly linear, but how you get to the end is up to you.

In this scene, for example, the first thing I did was panic, rush out into the restaurant, head straight for the door (right past a cop who was sitting at the counter…who surprisingly wasn’t too happy to see a blood-soaked Lucas Kane come charging out of the bathroom), and down the street, chased by police.

Then I quit, restarted, and thought things through.

This time, I dragged the body into a stall, and closed the door. I took a mop and bucket, and cleaned up the bloodstains on the floor. Then, I washed the blood off my face and hands, hid the murder weapon, and walked calmly back into the restaurant. I paid for my meal, and walked calmly to the door.

That time, I was down the street and in a cab before the body was discovered.

There, your first step into the wonderful and weird life of Lucas Kane.

But what’s the difference? I got away both times! Yeah, it’s interesting having options and all, but does it matter?

Well, yes.

You see, the first time, I made sure that everyone got a damn good look at me (No one is likely to forget a blood-soaked maniac charging from the bathroom, are they?). The second time, I was just another customer. So in the next scene, when everyone in the restaurant was being questioned, the waitress remembered that someone left just before the body was discovered, but she wasn’t sure who.

When the crime scene is being processed, the first time, I was viewed as just another psycho, the second time, it was obvious that something weird was going on.

Just to explain the story a little bit more, after the murder, the game is basically Lucas’ quest to discover what happened to him.

Here comes the weird bit. As well as playing Lucas Kane, you also play the two detectives who are trying to track him down. This may sound a little weird, but somehow it works. After committing the murder, you get to process the crime scene you just left. I can’t really explain how this works…I just know that it does.

The game keeps you totally entranced in the story, and manages to keep up a good level of tension, and above all, mood and emotion that I’ve rarely seen in a game before.

For example, when you leave the restaurant, the picture suddenly goes split screen, and as you look for a way out, you also see the cop at the end of the restaurant bar get up and head to the bathroom. It really adds to that sense of urgency:

While you’re giving it toes down the street, you see the cop walk calmly to the bathroom, open the door…then he sees a spot of blood on the floor.

“HOLY SHIT, He’s heading towards the STALL! He’ll find the body ANY MINUTE! Where the bloody hell is a cab when you NEED ONE!??!”

If you’ve ever screamed at someone to get out of the water while watching Jaws, you’ll appreciate this game.

Another example is the morning after the murder, the police come calling, canvassing the area. You’ve just had a shower, and been to the bathroom, when there’s a knock on the door. A timer starts to count down. Then you’re in a mad rush to hide your blood stained clothing, and remove any spec of evidence before you have to open the door to the cops. Then, how do you talk to the police officer? You’re given dialogue options, but you only have a very limited amount of time to make your choice. Answer wrongly; the cop’s suspicion level goes up.

For example, you woke up screaming. The cop says that your neighbor heard a disturbance. Do you just flat out lie and say you don’t know what he’s talking about? Do you say you hurt yourself accidentally and cried out? Do you say it was the TV.

There are much better examples of this I could give, but doing so would mean giving the story away…and I REALLY don’t want to do that.

What differentiates this from many other games is the sheer sense of story, and some of the things that you have to do simply aren’t in other games. For example, Carla Valenci, one of the cops on Kane’s tail is claustrophobic. In one scene, not only do you have to guide her through a tight space, you also have to control her breathing with the left and right cursor keys. Too fast, and she’ll hyperventilate and freak out, too slow, and ummm, she’ll freak out.

That brings me to the other innovative part of this game, you have to take care of the mental health of these characters. Kane, for example, just killed someone without knowing why and has had his life turned upside down. In short, he’s not a happy bunny.

You can go from neutral, to stressed, to anxious, to depressed etc, etc. If you let your mood get too low, it affects their behavior. Let them go into a total breakdown and they might hurt themselves or someone around them. You let something bad happen, their mood will drop. Getting them to do something pleasant, like putting some music on, or taking a nice hot shower will lighten their mood.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this is nothing like ‘The Sims’.

It’s as close to ‘playing’ a movie as you can get.

There are only a few things wrong with this game, and they are minor niggles.

Action sequences in the game are controlled ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ style. Two circles appear on the screen, each with and ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘left’ and ‘right’ section. Then, you have to match which ones light up using the cursor keys and numeric keypad. Basically, it’s ‘Simon Says’ style.

This actually works well, and corresponds to the action on-screen. IE, if you need to dodge left, both left arrows will light up. It’s forgiving and doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect.

Unfortunately, there are one or two extremely long scenes, where doing the ‘Simon Says’ routine is meant to hold the character’s ‘concentration’. During these, the directions are extremely slow, and unless your reaction time is slower than five seconds, it’s impossible to screw up. Basically, it feels like busy work. It’s as though the programmers said “Ok, this is an extremely long cut-scene, but we’ve got to keep the interactive bit going, so match these colored lights for a while.”

Personally, I found the story to be engrossing enough to not need this ‘busy work’, but like I said, it’s only a minor thing.

The other thing is that the control system can be summed up as ‘a little weird’. The tutorial, hosted by the game’s writer a director explains that it’s meant to draw you deeper into the experience, but I found it to be a minor annoyance.

Let me explain it:

If you want to open a door, you click and hold the left mouse button, and push the mouse forward, as though you’re pushing the door yourself. If the door opens inwards, you do the same thing but pull the mouse towards you. To climb, you do a half semi circle to the left (Move your left hand up, grab and pull), then another semi circle to the right…repeat, ad nauseam.

Again, this is a minor thing, but when you click, but it doesn’t register, because you clicked too soon, and you fall off the ladder, and have to climb the whole damn thing again…it gets a little annoying. It may be more realistic, but it just shouldn’t be that much work, and take that much time to climb a ladder.

However, it’s one of those things that was new to me, and at first, I liked it because it was a novelty…it just gets old a little quickly.

Now, I don’t want to give anything away, but the story goes from small scale “Why did I kill this guy, who was he, and who made me do it?” to a simply epic, ‘life and death of the entire human race’ style as the plot unfolds.

I do have to say, that if this was a real movie, I’d say it was a little too-far fetched, and trying to combine too many genres at once (Murder-mystery, psychological horror, sci-fi thriller anyone?) It does get a little outlandish.

However, this is not an actual movie, it’s a game, and it becomes apparent that the genre-spanning craziness is done a little ‘tongue in cheek’and I can forgive it. It becomes almost a ‘spot the influence/movie reference’ mini game in itself.

The best way I can describe the story is that it would be the result of the Wachowski Brothers teaming up with J.R.R Tolkien, Stephen King, George Lucas with just a hint of Mel Brooks-esque spoof.

However, this is not a comedy, although it does have a few comic moments. Oh, and later on, Kane ‘Senses Someone’s Presence’.

The Writer / Director / Producer of this game (His name escapes me, and I can’t be bothered Googling it), says in the tutorial that this game is his attempt to put real ‘mood’ and emotion into a game, rather than focusing purely on action. Quite frankly, he succeeded.

Parts of this game fill you with a paranoid gloom, other parts make you chuckle, some parts make you sad, and other parts, quite frankly, make you shit your pants and jump two feet into the air.

This game is not ‘The Perfect Game’, but it feels like a new genre. It’s Movie-Like enough to where the complete non-gamers will be able to thoroughly enjoy it. Also, believe it or not, this game is cinematic enough to where I could enjoy just watching someone else play it.

For the hardened gamers out there, it’s original and different enough to be a fresh experience, which when we’re honest about it, is hard to come by in the 3D Platformer / RPG / FPS saturated market.

Buy it, buy it, buy it. The gamers out there will enjoy a new(ish) experience, and it’s the perfect game to ease a new gamer into gaming.

So, if you have a PC, a bit of spare cash and you’ve never played a game before…give Indigo Prophecy a try. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.


MC Etcher said...

Very cool! I keep hearing good things about this game, I'm going to have to check it out!

Miz S said...

I may have to check this one out myself. It sounds like something I might enjoy alot. Imagine- actually having a choice of what you can do instead of just following a formula that's given to you......sort of reminds me of "which-way" books.

And I LOVE those things.

Paulius said...

It really is an excellent game...good mix of genres. Kinda like an old point 'n' click adventure, a smattering of RPG, with a good few action scenes, and a few 'twitch-based' moments.

Put it this way, a game has to be frigging excellent to hold my attention. I finished it yesterday, and I'm starting over in it again, right after I get through with this.

It's one of the great things about it. Play through once, then the next time you can experiment with different ways through.