I've always believed adventure games to be a genre of certifiable duds and copycats punctuated by moments of extreme brilliance. Loads of bad Myst clones and FMV games deteriorated the genre over the years until it was more or less no longer part of the mass gaming consciousness, though LucasArts held onto a core audience with good writing and memorable characters. Ultimately what seems to separate the wheat from the chaff, though, is the quality of the story and the way in which it is told. That's why its good to see that Indigo Prophecy is attempting something new – a multi-perspective approach to storytelling combined with more interactive and cinematic action scenes.
Indigo Prophecy is very much a meta-narrative in the sense that the game revolves around the intertwining stories of three different individuals, all of which the player gets to take control of, in turn. At times, the stories will be told in tandem, though, allowing for the player to actively switch between two different characters cooperating together on a puzzle. The game is played chiefly through the eyes of Lucas Kane, a somewhat reclusive computer database tech for a big banking company who has a penchant for reading Shakespeare. The opening sequence has Lucas cutting up his arms in a bathroom stall before unexpectedly stabbing a man repeatedly in the chest. Snapping out of his trance, he realizes he's just killed someone, but he doesn't know why and neither does he remember actually committing the act. Lucas bolts from the diner he'd been eating at out into the bleak, snow-fallen streets of New York. It's not long (in fact, mere moments) before an officer, a regular at the diner, heads to the bathroom, only to discover the bloody remains of the man Lucas killed. This cues the arrival of the other two characters you control throughout the game: NYPD detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, who are brought in to assess what seems like your average late-shift homicide, but instead get caught up in an insane paranormal mystery surrounding Lucas Kane's actions.
Indigo Prophecy is fairly unique in this regard. It allows the player to indulge in a classic mystery narrative from the perspectives of both the chased and the chasers, complete with internal monologues about how each character thinks about the others and the current situation – whether it be Carla's dedicated musings as to why somebody would commit such a murder to Tyler's respect for his partner to Lucas desperately trying to understand why his sanity is crumbling away right before his eyes. The use of both internal monologues and multi-faceted storytelling allow the player a much deeper and more emotional connection with the characters and their personal, as well as professional, lives. This is one of Indigo Prophecy's strong points and a vehicle for the developers to explore a few controversial issues – such as Tyler's interracial relationship with his girlfriend Sam. There's even a very tasteful sex scene between two characters late in the game that was cut out of the US version. In fact, the narrative has a definite maturity to it, but unlike other games, attempts to portray these elements in a classy and refined manner. The characters feel like real people, not cartoons, and the frequent forays into their respective private spaces (offices, apartments, etc.) allows for a unique look into their personal lives. It gives the sense that these are all real people, who have to eat, love, and even go to the bathroom, though the game almost never bogs the player down with forcing these actions upon them.
The developers, instead, channeled this sense of intimacy into the decision-making process that Indigo Prophecy's gameplay is focused around. Almost every action that a character takes is controlled by the user. For instance, in order to use a computer, you have to go over to your desk, flick the analog stick to sit down, and then flick it again to "use" the computer. This may seem a bit cumbersome, but essentially all you're doing is making gestures representational of the actions which you want the character to perform. Not all of these actions are essential to progressing the plot, as in the case of washing your face in the sink or going to the bathroom (although doing these things generally rewards you by improving your emotional state). Your mental health is monitored throughout the game and the actions you take will determine how many points you have (out of 100) at any given time. Indigo Prophecy is a very dark game and that fact is emphasized through the descriptors that accompany your mental health meter. A full hundred points will attain you a "neutral" state (there is no "happy" mood), while anything less than that will result in varying degrees of depression. Should the meter drop to 0 at any time (which would be due to the player choosing actions which depress or stress the character), the game will end.
The other ways in which the game can end generally come from (in the case of playing Lucas Kane) doing something incriminating, faltering during action sequences, or by committing a deadly act. In a way, this may seem to be an odd manner in which to structure an adventure game, as the appeal often lies more in solving puzzles than worrying about losing or being killed. However, it almost seems to hearken back to the days of old text adventures or (slightly more recently) the King's Quest series. Simply wanting to explore a new area could precipitate your avatar's demise. Nonetheless, this is both good and bad for Indigo Prophecy. There are many sequences where timing and dexterity are key and failure to complete the required tasks or button presses within the limit will end the game. This creates some truly harrowing moments which, combined with the excellent score, can be truly exhilarating. The use of comic-panel split screens showing the action from different angles heightens the tension even further. Unfortunately, twitch gaming has never been the forte of adventure fans, who are used to the more plodding pace of dialogue trees and puzzle solving. Indigo Prophecy has those things, too, but the action segments are likely to turn off gamers of this type, especially considering the overuse of a "Simon says" mini-game in lieu of user control to play out most of these scenes. Indeed, as interactive as other parts of the game may be, this becomes somewhat counterintuitive to Indigo Prophecy's design philosophy. That said, it is perhaps a better solution than throwing together a poorly-managed fighting/dodging system that would fit the game even less.
This also allows the developers to make the action more visually dynamic and interesting. The complexity of supernatural movements displayed by some of the characters would tax even the developers of Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. It really does make the game look good, though. The graphics are by no means revolutionary, but they are smooth and the animation is superb. Since most of the game takes place in small environments, there is no need for a massive number of polygons or excessively complex, organic textures. The graphics are used to good effect, though, and a few stylistic choices (i.e. Using a sepia tone and camera flicker on flashbacks) really stand out.
The soundtrack receives equal treatment. A lot of it is ambient, but quite befitting of the mood. As action sequences ramp up, so does the score, reaching a blood-pumping crescendo. The vocalized tracks are very classy – especially the ones performed by Theory of a Dead Man – and the voice acting is top notch. The only problem is that some of the NYPD officers have what sounds like the same exact voice, but its a minor quibble.
Indigo Prophecy does a lot of things right and should be commended for taking the adventure genre into new territory but eventually its flaws come out – problems which seem to be inherent in any game that attempts a story of such dramatic scale. In other words, development time seems to have gotten the better of Quantic Dream here. It's clear that they had a fairly compelling story, but about three-quarters of the way through the game, it starts to deconstruct itself and wraps up entirely too quickly. Not to mention that the final battle wasn't quite as climactic as it could've been. Certainly, if they had been given more time, I'm sure the developers could've crafted the story with better pacing and "trimmed the fat" so to speak. As is, it still has a compelling mystery that will keep players hooked through the majority of the game.
When all is said and done, though, I'm at an impasse as to who would enjoy Indigo Prophecy. There's certainly a lot to be said for it, and, despite its problems, I still thoroughly enjoyed playing the game. That said, its emphasis on twitch gameplay at certain times can be alienating towards old fans of the adventure genre. On the other hand, I'm not sure how receptive the rest of the gaming community is to adventure titles anymore. Even if Indigo Prophecy is a fantastic game, such questions as "Is it replayable?" or "Is there multiplayer?" seem to be asked constantly within the market at large. Indigo Prophecy does allow the player to collect bonus point cards during the game in order to unlock bonus videos, artwork, and the soundtrack, but even these are fairly easy to find on the first time through.
Indigo Prophecy is a good game and I feel that it is worth the money. It could use a lot of brushing up in certain areas, but considering its characters, dialogue, and sense of atmosphere, Quantic Dream has delivered a game ultimately worthy of the genre. Hopefully other developers adopt the sort of the storytelling techniques found in the game, as many of them could learn a thing or two.