New York City, 2009. Heavy snow is falling as the camera pans behind a nondescript diner and through the bathroom window. In one of the stalls sits Lucas Kane, carving some type of infernal symbol into his forearms with a steak knife. Another man walks in, and Lucas emerges from his hiding place, staggering like a puppet on a string. Three fateful stabs down the other man… and then you’re in control.
What do you do? Hide the body? Mop up the blood? Conceal the murder weapon? Wash the blood off your hands? Before long, the right side of the screen shows a police officer eating in the diner. You’ve got to leave, and fast. As I’m about to rush out, the waitress calls me back. I ignore her, and as the door slams, she tells me I forgot to pay my bill.
As the scene ends, the perspective shifts, and now I’m controlling detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles as they show up on the crime scene. How interesting, Carla thinks, that the suspect took the time to mop up the blood, even though someone could’ve walked in on him at any time. How strange, Tyler remarks, that the suspect didn’t take the victim’s wallet. He obviously wasn’t interested in money.
So begins Indigo Prophecy, a game that takes the moniker of “interactive movie” very seriously. Switching between a killer convinced of his innocence and two detectives who have no knowledge of his situation is a fantastic way to instill player agency and build dramatic tension. Every decision feels like it has consequences, and you’ll really feel torn when you have to help one side and hurt the other.
This is due in large part to the well-written story and substantial production values. I won’t spoil anything about the former, but I do have one rather substantial gripe: it jumps from a first act to a third act with almost no exposition in between. Imagine if The Matrix jumped from Neo still being plugged into the system to his becoming the One, and you’ll get a better sense of what I mean.
I’m not really all that upset, though, because this is the first game I’ve played in quite a while that actually made me care about the characters. Quality voice acting really helps in this area–David Gasman really nails the persona of Lucas with a range somewhere between determination and despair. Angelo Badalamenti‘s (Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive) score sets the dark, brooding tone, and songs like Martina Topley-Bird‘s “Sandpaper Kisses” really add to the atmosphere.
Brad Gallaway of GameCritics.com writes:
On page two of the instruction manual, director David Cage states that his dissatisfaction with videogames’ emphasis on action and neglect of emotion led him to create Indigo Prophecy. He clearly states that the game’s goal is to sacrifice neither the interactivity nor the narrative in an attempt to create an experience that is richer and deeper than “killing monsters in corridors and shooting crates to find ammunition.” He goes on to suggest that the medium of videogames and its very nature of interactivity are still in their creative infancy, with many avenues still open for exploration. At the end of this introduction, he closes by saying that he hopes Indigo Prophecy will leave a lasting impression–essentially hoping that this work will be an influential one. In my estimation, Quantic Dream and David Cage have succeeded on all counts.
I’m going to have to agree. Thanks, Quantic Dream, for putting narrative back into gaming.