I have a recurring nightmare. It does not appear often. I can recall it happening only three times, but the memory is potent. Nothing takes its toll on my sanity quite as bad as the dream where I suddenly seem to have killed somebody.
I bring this up because this is how Indigo Prophesy begins. Lucas Kane finds himself in a restaurant bathroom, draped over the bloody remains of a man he’s obviously just murdered. Lucas doesn’t know why he did it. Or what it means. His first thought is escape.
This was a powerful opening to the game, as I was immediately drawn into Lucas’ plight. The player is given an unprecedented degree of freedom in how they can react to this situation. The only thing you must do is wash off the blood before leaving the bathroom. Hide the body? The murder weapon? Clean up the blood? Look for clues? Go out and finish your meal? Dash out without paying? Go out the back?
These decisions matter, because the next stage of the game has you revisit the diner, this time as the detectives investigating the murder. That is, you will be investigating all the stuff you just did while controlling Lucas. The first act follows this revolving chessboard idea. You play as Lucas, and then you switch sides and play the cops chasing him.
A lot has been said about the failings of the plot later in the game, but the important thing to note here is that this is some of the most innovative gameplay I’ve seen in years. The plot is intriguing. The gameplay is compelling. The action sequences are tolerable. The voice acting and motion capture are top-notch. The dialog is authentic.
Most of what I have to say about the rest of the game will be negative, but the truth is that if the developer puts out another game along these lines I will buy it without hesitation. The fact that they tried something so unconventional is praiseworthy enough, and the first act of Indigo Prophesy proves that the idea itself is sound, even if they failed in the execution before the end. This game makes a lot of mistakes. The third act is almost comical in the way it manages to fail in every single way the first act succeeded. But the idea presented in the first scene is still a good one, and I’d hate to see it forgotten because of the package in which it came.
The opening scenes of the game are worth checking out. I’ll temper this suggestion by adding that you really will want to be holding a gamepad when you do so. The controls do not lend themselves to keyboard & mouse. You can play using the keyboard, if you like, in the same way that you can dig a trench with a pitchfork if you’re motivated enough.
You interact with the world via
mouse thumbstick gestures, making decisions about how your current character will behave and what they say to other people. I really enjoyed the gestures, except for the climbing parts of the game where it was used to add “challenge”.
You must also manage the mental state of your three characters. When traumatic stuff happens the character will lose a bit of mental stability. Success and comfort will restore it. If a character bottoms out they commit suicide – game over. This is really only a problem for Lucas, who is dealing with the aftermath of the murder, the threat of arrest, freaky visions, bad health, and a couple of dysfunctional relationships. The guy is a mess, and you have to be careful if you don’t want him to implode on you. Carla and Tyler – the two detectives chasing him – have their own problems, but they seem so minor compared to what Lucas is dealing with that it seems almost insulting for them to have their own sanity meters.
Once in a while the game will give you an action sequence. A pair of Simon Says circles appears on-screen. You move the thumbsticks (or, if you’re a masochist, press the keyboard buttons) in the directions indicated and your little avatar will proceed to kick butt and take names. The sequences are pretty exciting, which is a shame since you miss them while staring fixedly at your Simon Says circles. Have a friend over so that while you’re waggling the sticks they can enjoy the sequence on your behalf.
A lot of people liked these action events. I found them to be more of an annoyance. Without them, this would be the closest thing to a playable drama we’ve ever seen. I’m interested in Indigo Prophesy not for the game it is, but for the game it could have been. Perhaps even for the game they nearly made by accident.
(We would like to apologize in advance for the infantile nature of today’s comic. Thank you. – mgmt. )
A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.
The Gameplay is the Story
Some advice to game developers on how to stop ruining good stories with bad cutscenes.
Here is a 13 part series where I talk about programming games, programming languages, and programming problems.
So what happens when a SOFTWARE engineer tries to review hardware? This. This happens.
The Terrible New Thing
Fidget spinners are ruining education! We need to... oh, never mind the fad is over. This is not the first time we've had a dumb moral panic.