Title: Indigo Prophecy
Genre: Adventure (Interactive Cinema)
Platform: Xbox (also available for PC and PS2)
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+) – Blood,Partial Nudity,Sexual Themes,Strong Language,Use of Drugs and Alcohol,Violence
Developer: Quantic Dream
Release Date: 9/20/05
Official Website: Fahrenheitgame.com
Several years ago, around the late 80’s or so, adventure games were all the rage. They were some of the most popular and prolific games to grace PCs. Adventure games were the bread and butter for companies like Sierra, with their King’s Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest, and Quest for Glory (Hero’s Quest) series. The adventure genre really put Sierra on the map. Another company well known for adventure games was Lucas Arts, which produced the extremely popular Monkey Island series, as well as the excellent Full Throttle and the cult favorite Maniac Mansion..
Adventure games were a different beast than typical action games, which are more about button mashing, shooting or jumping at the right time. Instead they were more all about exploration and thinking on your feet. You would be often put in a situation, and your job was to explore your environment, see what options you had available, and proceed accordingly. Some tasks had multiple ways of doing things, and it was up to you to decide how to solve the puzzles. Despite the incredible popularity of adventure games at the time, for whatever reason, they have been extremely rare in the present day.
The adventure genre has been all but dead for a while, but there has been the occasional title that fits in, such as Runaway: A Road Adventure, but there has been a definite lack of this type of title that gamers such as myself used to love. And Quantic Dream came along in hopes of filling that gap.
David Cage, the man who created and runs Quantic Dream, has only one other title under his belt. Omikron – The Nomad Soul, was released in 1999 and features David Bowie as not only the composer of the soundtrack, but also an actor in the game. Now Cage has created what he calls “interactive cinema”, which is, in essence, an old school adventure game. Touting multiple branching storylines, told from multiple perspectives, all that change based on the decisions you make in the game, Quantic Dream set out to create a truly unique game experience.
Did they succeed? Is Indigo Prophecy (aka Fahrenheit outside of North America) a return to the adventure genre from the glory days of PC gaming? Or even better, is it an evolution? I guess you’ll have to read on to find out…
The story is anything but your run-of-the-mill game. The game begins in a diner, where an middle-aged guy is in a bathroom taking a leak, when all of a sudden some guy comes out of one of the stalls and stabs him to death. The guy is Lucas Kane, and he isn’t a murderer. Somehow he was forced to do what he did, and now he has to get the hell out after cleaning up after himself as best as he can.
Once he’s out, the scene shifts and we are introduced to our OTHER protagonist, Carla Valenti, who is a cop with the NYPD. She and her partner, Tyler Miles, are assigned to a case at a diner where a man is found murdered in a bathroom. It’s your job while controlling Carla and Tyler to find out as much information as you can while gathering as much evidence as possible.
This sets the tone of the story. You control both sides of this case. As Lucas, you are trying to run from the law and find out just what the hell happened, who forced to you kill and innocent man, and why. As Carla and Tyler, your job is to hunt down the murderer and find out what links the diner murder to some that occurred years earlier, and a new one that occurred a day or two after.
The story is really deep and complex, and is quite engrossing. It’s mysterious without being so mysterious that it doesn’t make sense. And the dialogue is well written as well. David Cage did a good job in crafting a unique and interesting story that plays like a good book, where you can’t wait to find out what happens at the end.
The graphics are good, but not great. Each character has a very distinct look and feel to them, but they just feel blocky at times. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that it’s a cross platform game and they have to cater to the weakest system (PS2 of course).
The characters have pretty good facial expressions, and each one is pretty good with the lip sync movements. The only real problem I have is that for whatever reason, Carla furrows her brow a lot, and it just doesn’t look right. I guess all eyebrow movements look kind of off, but it’s much more apparent on her than it is on Lucas or Tyler.
I have to give them some props for the way they handle changing clothes. All characters change clothes at some point or another, or put on a jacket or something. Each time there is a clothes change, they have to change to a different model. Rather than doing a cut, they usually pan away for a moment, then pan back, or use items to obstruct the model while it’s switched out. This may make no sense to someone who isn’t into both graphic arts and cinema, but I was rather impressed with how they handled it.
The environments are also very well designed. Every area is extremely detailed and definitely has a lived in look. There is the relatively tidy diner, and Lucas’ cluttered apartment, and Carla’s spotless by comparison apartment. Neither of them have much in the way of food though. And when you are in exploration mode, you have ultimate control of the camera. There are default camera positions, but you can switch or rotate cameras, temporarily move your field of vision, or even look out of the character’s eyes in third person view. Clearly, David Cage doesn’t want to hide anything from you, and this gives you a greater level of visual control than almost any other game I’ve played.
The only other problem I have is with some of the animation. For the most part, the animation is very top notch. Quantic Dream used some very good motion capture technology to try to get the animation to look as human as possible, but there are a few times when it doesn’t look very fluid. I can’t think of any specific moments off the top of my head though, so they are pretty rare.
Overall, the graphics are really good, but would have been better if they could have made the game for just the Xbox or the PC. Having to work with the PS2 probably caused them to have to settle for less than spectacular graphics.
The score was composed by Angelo Badalamenti who is best known for scoring Twin Peaks and Lost Highway. His music in Indigo Prophecy is nothing short of spectacular. The music is so emotional and tactile, and it just goes perfectly with the tone of the game. When Lucas is running from the cops, you know it’s a dire situation, but because of the music, you can TASTE the tension, it’s that palpable. The only qualm I have at all with the music is that there is an action type them (like a battle theme in an RPG) that is played quite a bit, and it’s slightly repetitive, but it’s really not that bad at all.
There was also some licensed music in the game. It was by people I had never heard of (including a few songs by a band called “Theory of a Dead Man”), and despite that, all of them fit the spot they were in perfectly. For example, one song played during a basketball minigame, and another during a romantic moment between Tyler and his woman. All of the licensed music fit in perfectly with their respective scenes.
Voice acting is also top notch. None of the voice actors are people I’ve heard of, but they all appear to have done voice acting work before (most in Syberia II or Atlantis 3). Each one fits their role extremely well, and every one is also directed well. None of the voices really sounded out of place to me, and all of them did a great job conveying the emotion that they were portraying. The guy who plays Lucas especially deserves some props for this emotional acting.
Overall, the sound and music is just as good as your average movie, if not better. David Cage has said that he wanted Badalamenti to be his composer from the start, and both of them did a great job together crafting an aural experience not unlike one in a movie.
Gameplay and Control
Here is what will really set this game apart from any other. Since it is an “interactive cinema” game, you will be watching a lot, but you won’t often put down your controller. How can that be? Well, there are several control methods in the game, and I’ll go over them all here.
First and foremost, are what I call “exploration” sections, where you actively control the characters and investigate your environment. Your left thumbstick moves, and all of your investigating is done with the right thumbstick. Whenever you can look at or interact with something, it will show an icon at the top of the screen which indicates a direction to move the thumbstick in to select that action. In many cases, you have multiple actions you can take. And sometimes, you will climb up or down, and you will have to do a more complex movement on the thumbstick, like holding left then circling around to the top. This control method is so simple, yet so brilliant, while at the same time being so unique. I’m sure this is an idea that other games will probably steal.
You use the right thumbstick also when you are holding conversations. When you have a choice of a question or topic to bring up, you have a little countdown fuse at the top of the screen, and you must quickly pick a topic of conversation before it runs down. What you choose directly reflects how much information your characters receive, so choose wisely.
The countdown fuse is a common occurrence. There are parts of the game where you have to quickly achieve a goal before the time runs out. Near the beginning of the game, you wake up in bed and your arms and bed sheets are covered with blood, so you go take a shower. While in there, a policeman starts banging on your door wanting in. You have to quickly get dressed, and hide and incriminating evidence before you let him in (or if you run out of time, he bangs the door down, at which point you’re screwed). There are very few sections of the game that don’t have some sort of time limit involved, yet it never really is a bother.
Another control method comes when your character is being physical. Like if you are trying to pull someone up from a ledge, or swimming out of a lake. When this happens, there is a meter at the bottom, and your goal is to alternately pull the L and R triggers to raise the meter to the top of the bar. In most cases this is easy, but there were a few times where it was just annoying, and you have to do it pretty fast, and it ends up wearing out your hands. This is really the only annoying control method in the game, but I think I remember David Cage saying he intended it to be somewhat straining because he wanted you to FEEL the physical exertion that your characters are going through.
Next is one of the most used, and one of the coolest control schemes in the game. Well, I think it’s cool. Others may find it annoying, but I think it goes well. Whenever there is a big action sequence, you have several little dots at the top of the screen, and you have 2 multicolored circles in the middle of the screen. Each direction of the circle has a color, and when a color lights up, you are supposed to move that thumbstick (left or right, corresponding with which side the circle is on) in whatever direction lights up. It’s REALLY super simple, and is really easy to pull off. Well, it’s not easy to do all the time, because usually you have to be REALLY fast in moving the sticks in the right directions. The dots at the top of the screen are how many lives you have. If you lose all your lives, you have to go back from your previous save, which the game saves for you. And really, this control scheme with the control sticks rocks, and it works basically like the QTE did on Shenmue, where you “control” action sequences, except it’s pulled off much better here.
There are a few other limited use control schemes. For example, you will occasionally control Carla in first person mode, where you will have to hit L and R to control her breathing. If her breathing gets out of control, she freaks out and you lose. There is also an event where you use L and R to stay balanced on a beam. There are also two “sneaky sneaky” type stages which I didn’t really like, but they were pretty short.
The control systems really are perfect for this game. It plays like a movie, but it feels like you have a lot of control of it. Even in moments where you are watching scenes, you usually have SOMETHING to do (usually the “simon says” left and right thumbstick movement). Oh, and before you think it’s a walk in the park, every character has a Mental Status meter. Your actions usually give you positive or negative mental status. If you do a good job in running away from the cops, you get positive mental status. Or if you find something that causes you despair, you lose mental status. If your meter hits the bottom, you either go crazy or kill yourself (as Lucas) or quit the police force (as Carla or Tyler). So that gives you an incentive to think about your actions rather than just trying everything willy nilly. You have to think about how they’ll react to your actions.
You want a reason to replay the game? That’s easy. Not only are there several different endings (3 main endings, with two sub-endings each), but there are also several points that the game can end (all considered “bad” endings, usually involving Lucas getting caught or dying). Not only that, but every step of the way is different as well. I played the demo (which is just the bathroom scene at the beginning) over and over and came out with 5 different ways of handling the situation, I think.
In addition to story replayability, there are bonus card hidden (usually in plain sight) all throughout the game. Each gives you points, which you can use to unlock movies, galleries, soundtracks, etc. That gives you added incentive to play through multiple times, if you didn’t get enough points the first time around. I was able to find enough of them that I was able to unlock all of the bonus features after the first win. And some of the movies are pretty amusing, and there is a sequences section where you can replay some of the big action or minigame sequences in the game. And a couple of extra ones that aren’t in the game. Overall, these were a really cool addition.
It’s hard for me to rate this because the game itself isn’t that HARD. It does have multiple difficulties (I’m on Normal), which is nice, but still, I don’t see how they could really make it harder. The only real difficulty in the game comes from the “simon says” type events. You have to be pretty quick on your toes with those to complete them. The “alternate L and R trigger” events are more annoying than difficult though. Still, all those events do progressively get harder, but not much so. If you’ve got pretty good hand eye coordination, it never gets all that difficult.
Making a movie you interact with isn’t that original. It’s been tried before, and has usually failed. That being said, nobody has really tired to make an interactive movie experience like this before. David Cage has done a masterful job of crafting the game like a movie, while making your actions clearly and absolutely affect the outcome of the story. That is unique in itself. In addition, this score is based on a Developer Diary of David’s I read, so I’d recommend reading it as well. It explains just how he thought up the idea of the game and how he went about tackling it. It’s great, great stuff.
As I said before, the game is like a good book, or a can of Pringles. Once you start, you don’t want to stop. The only times I did stop were when I absolutely had to because I had to do something else (like sleep, for example) and when there were annoying moments in the game that I couldn’t get past. That’s why the score is lowered, because I shouldn’t WANT to put the game down after annoying moments.
This game probably wouldn’t appeal much to the average player. For one thing, it’s rated M, and for another, even though it’s got its fair share of blood and killing, it’s not about blowing up stuff. Oh, and it takes thought during much of the game. That being said, it WILL appeal to people who want something different, something that doesn’t involve all the crap that so many other popular games have. This is a game that will be successful because it is what others aren’t. It’s kind of like Katamari Damacy, except totally different. And it should especially appeal to some of those old school gamers who like to explore their characters environments and have control over the story more.
Oh, and for you pervs out there, you’ll be happy to know that there is nudity in this game. At one point, Carla takes a shower and you can actually see her boobs! They never show it straight on though, so no nipple that I could see. You’d probably be better off seeing her in Playboy, where she probably has a higher render shot.
The scope of this game is grand. And the vision that David Cage had for it was also grand, and from what I can tell, he was able to achieve his vision. So Mr. Cage, this score goes to you, for thinking about what gaming was, what you wanted gaming to be, and for achieving that goal. I hope that you continue to be this forward thinking in your future endeavors. I fear though that the success this game brings will also bring about clones of it, by other companies as well as Quantic Dream. I guess time will tell.
Gameplay and Control: 9.0
Appeal Factor: 6.0
Short Attention Span Summary
This game is a lot of fun, and is definitely something off the beaten path of the current gaming realm. David Cage deserves a lot of credit for taking this game in a different direction, and hopefully gamers will speak with their dollars and say that YES, we want different and innovative games. If you would like a movie that you control, or were one of the old school adventure game fans, then this game is for you.