Adventure Gamers gives Indigo Prophecy "Two thumbs left-right-down-right-taptaptaptap-UP!"
If that unusual endorsement sounds like a cross between a game review and a movie critique, then it truly reflects the unique nature of the product that inspired it. Every once in a loooong while, an ambitious title comes out that's determined to break down the barriers that exist between the two media, demanding that we throw our preconceptions out the window and accept it on its own terms. Typically producing a lot of scratched heads, perplexed looks, and unsatisfactory sales, there have been some qualified successes in the past, from Blade Runner to The Last Express to Shadow of Destiny. Now Indigo Prophecy seeks to claim a place alongside its progressive predecessors, though no doubt hoping for better results at the box offi... I mean, retail outlets.
French developer Quantic Dream is unapologetic in referring to Indigo Prophecy as an "interactive drama". Even the main menu refers to the option of "New Movie", and the truth of that claim quickly becomes apparent. It's not that it ISN'T a game; it simply refuses to be defined by its gameplay characteristics, focusing instead (or at least equally) on an unparalleled cinematic presentation that's fully dependent on player control. Once you've sifted through all the semantic mumbo jumbo, what this means is that, unlike conventional titles where gameplay consists of overcoming challenges intended to hinder your progress, the primary goal in Indigo Prophecy is experiencing the story itself, and guiding its course in tangible, innovative ways. The good news is that when the game maintains this single-minded vision, it offers a worthy adventure unlike any other. Unfortunately, it does ultimately succumb to far too many "gamey" activities that break the narrative immersion it works so hard to create. The result is a title with something of an identity crisis that doesn't quite blend media so much as confuses them at times. As such, it's still a bold step forward with plenty to recommend, but not without losing its balance along the way.
In case you've been frozen in a cryogenic sleep for the past few months, Indigo Prophecy (known in Europe by its original title, Fahrenheit) is a paranormal thriller set in New York City. Outside, the temperature drops dangerously as a relentless winter storm descends on the city, while indoors a series of inexplicable murders has begun, with random strangers brutally killing each other with ritualistic precision. One of these killers is Lucas Kane, the game's central (though not only) protagonist. When we first meet Lucas in a diner restroom, he is entranced by a disturbing vision that compels him to viciously stab a defenseless man. As he snaps out of his homicidal hypnosis, he is shocked and horrified at the atrocity before him. With no memory of committing the crime, yet still holding the bloody weapon, Lucas knows he must evade capture in order to discover the truth behind his unwilling involvement.
From this intensely personal beginning, the story eventually snowballs into a convoluted mess of occult themes, from ancient Mayan mythology to apocalyptic prophesies to rivaling secret societies. As the game progresses, the plot holes become bigger and narrative credibility drops faster than the mercury. Normally I'd be more critical of a story handled so clumsily, but Indigo Prophecy is no ordinary game (recurring theme here) and its storytelling more than atones with its immersive, multi-layered, interactive techniques. You may not believe where the story is taking you, but you'll feel far too involved to give up the journey.
As we gain control of our fugitive anti-hero, we're faced with something rarely experienced in adventure games: choice. Not simply "right or wrong" choice, either. Lucas has quite a few equally legitimate options for escaping his immediate dilemma, and it's entirely up to the player to decide on a course of action. This opening scenario has been well-documented in previews and offered first-hand in the playable demo, so I won't go into detail here, but you need to think quickly and act smartly (or vice versa), as how you leave the crime scene has a direct bearing on the police investigation to follow.
This element of choice is the most highly-touted aspect of Indigo Prophecy, and there's no question that the game offers far more player options than traditional titles. Quantic Dream refers to this as a "rubber band" approach to storytelling, allowing enough narrative flexibility to let each player stretch, pull, and twist it into a unique experience. However, the advanced hype over this feature has likely created unrealistic expectations that the game simply will not be able to fulfill, as this particular rubber band isn't nearly as elastic as the opening would lead the player to believe. In fact, the game becomes increasingly -- and even rigidly -- linear at times. This really isn't a criticism, though, as it's inevitable for any narrative-driven experience. Sure, it'd be great to significantly impact the story with our choices, but it just can't be done without losing all kinds of continuity (or without a massive budget to accommodate each alternative).
Outside of a few exceptions, IP can't even really be said to have branching paths, as each individual choice tends to have only a superficial effect on the plot. So while the game may appear to offer freedom of choice, what it really offers is illusion of choice, created more with smoke and mirrors than with genuine influence. Fortunately, for the most part it does so successfully. It may not quite be the David Copperfield of gaming, but it does perform enough sleight of hand to make you feel... if not exactly in control of your fate, then at least an occasional contributor to it. Set your expectations accordingly, and you'll view this as a definite strength of the game, not a weakness. It's unfair to fault the game for such limitations when they're only exposed by pushing well beyond existing boundaries.
One of the rabbits pulled from Quantic's hat is the use of several playable characters, which helps create a more tangible sense of cause-and-effect, at least at first. In an interesting twist, you'll play Indigo Prophecy as both hunter and hunted. No sooner will you have directed Lucas to temporary safety, you'll return as detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, assigned to track the killer down. As much as I liked the concept, I wondered how such a game of cat-and-mouse against myself would play out, as it struck me a bit like playing both sides of a card game -- not a lot of suspense when you already know what's in the other hand. As it turns out, this anticipation also proved to be somewhat misguided, as the characters' paths rarely intersect, and the direct consequences of either side's actions have no substantial effect on the other. Instead, the various roles (you'll also briefly control Lucas' brother, Markus) play out more conventionally as different perspectives of the same larger story.
Fortunately, each character is surprisingly complex and nuanced, as the game delves as deeply into their personal lives as their professional ones. Love, fear, guilt, faith, despair... you name it, Indigo Prophecy boldly embraces the emotional concerns of its protagonists. This is another aspect that sets the game apart from the norm, and it's certainly a welcome addition. But it isn't just a bonus. In fact, the psychological condition of your characters is the main area of consequence for your choices. Each character has a mental health bar that rises and falls according to the story unfolding. Make an upsetting decision and you'll lose points; take a favourable course of action and you'll gain points. The only discernible in-game effect of this gauge is if you lose all your points, as your character will either go mad or commit suicide. Admittedly, this is fun to do once or twice, but when the novelty wears off, you'll generally find yourself making the perfectly reasonable choices available, which will keep your characters stable enough to progress the story as necessary. Still, it's another element that makes it SEEM like your decisions are important, even as you start to realize they rarely are to any degree.
If the "interactive" part of Indigo Prophecy comes with some caveats, however, the "dramatic" component requires no such qualifiers. From start to finish, the game demonstrates an inspired audio and visual presentation that really helps bring the experience to life. IP features an instrumental soundtrack by the acclaimed Angelo Badalamenti, who, as a veteran composer for David Lynch films, must have felt right at home in creating original scores for this eerie, supernatural tale. The soundtrack is judiciously used and provides a wonderful ambience throughout, without ever being overbearing. There is also a nice mix of licensed songs that adds a refreshing change of pace and an individual tone for the respective playable characters. Even the voice acting is consistently well performed by all of the game's characters. My only complaint here is that, despite the quality of the delivery, several of the actors are overused in multiple roles; an ill-advised compromise which I found rather distracting.
Esthetically, the game's real-time 3D graphics look decent, though their console limitations ensure that they're less than cutting edge technology. Even optimized on PC at 1600x1200 resolution, the visuals retain a slightly grainy appearance and blocky character models, though these distinctions will matter only to the most discriminating graphics snob. On the plus side, this means the settings can be scaled way back without sacrificing too much quality, making the game accessible to people even with (relatively) low-end computers.
These technical issues don't tell the whole story, though, as it's the small design touches and strong cinematic elements that make the game so visually immersive. Unlike the static environments afflicting so many adventure games, the world of Indigo Prophecy feels dynamic and alive, whether from children playing in the park, cars driving by (and honking if you get in the way), or the ever-present oppressive winter elements. It isn't just the gameworld that's fully realized, either. Every character in the game, no matter how minor, has a distinct individual appearance, and facial characteristics are both detailed and wonderfully expressive. Lip synching is excellent, and physical animations are fluid and natural, which can be attributed to Quantic's extensive use of motion capture. While none of these factors alone may seem significant, collectively these sorts of subtle details add an engaging realism that draws you further into the story.Continued on the next page...