Played to completion?: Yes
A truly unique and innovative take on the all-but-dead adventure game, Indigo Prophecy is a murder mystery built around the twist that we know whodunnit from the first scene: you. While bewildered murderer Lucas Kane attempts to sort out what supernatural force compelled him to kill a total stranger, the player also takes control of the detectives on his trail, creating an interesting metagame of self-conflict: the better the player does on one side of the investigation, the harder s/he makes it for him/herself on the other side. Utilizing an interesting dual-stick control scheme and avoiding the traditional ridiculous puzzles which plague the genre, the game focuses on the telling of its story first and foremost, to its players’ benefit.
What I liked:
If the adventure game genre is to be reborn, let it be like this. Game designers take note: we don’t need a lot of stupid roadblock puzzles to pad out gameplay. Make the game about thinking and feeling, not about picking up every piece of trash we pass that isn’t nailed down and playing second-guess-the-designer to match each with the appropriate puzzle. The context-sensitive stick-motion controls (press down on the right stick to look down at the newspaper at your feet, or sweep up and to the left to hoist yourself over the fence) root the gameplay in the setting, making you feel like you are interacting with these physical spaces. The rhythm mini-games for the action sequences, though overused, are clever and often grueling. And the use of multiple player characters working at cross purposes makes the player feel like a participant in the storytelling rather than a recipient.
In the early chapters of the game, the storytelling is riveting, developing an atmosphere of entropy throughout that you must fight back against. Instead of health bars, the characters each have a meter tracking their emotional state ranging from normal to wrecked (a statement regarding the mood of the game), which story events will periodically drain and the player must maintain by participating in normal, comfort-food type of behaviors. That strumming on a guitar or taking a moment to raid the fridge can be all that stands between you and a mental breakdown is a powerful statement about the nature of being human.
What I’d have done differently:
Despite its strong start, near the half-way point of the plot (right about the time Lucas Kane starts to think he’s in the Matrix) the game’s storytelling goes down the drain fast. The plot begins to feel like a Frankenstein’s monster of stitched-together elements from other, better stories. Secret societies, Mayan mythology, artificial intelligences, alien artifacts; everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in with little regard for logic, and a few especially offensive scenes (the aforementioned Matrix envy and a shameless ripoff of Silence of the Lambs) leave you wondering if you’re playing the same murder mystery game you started. Most upsetting is the apparent abandonment of any sense of character motivation as Detective Carla Valenti teams up with the murderer she has been tracking for no obvious reason, and ends up sleeping with him shortly after. Ugh. Bad game plots are nothing new, but the fact that this one started off so strongly, and that as an adventure game it functions so well otherwise, makes it sting. What could have been a great game is instead merely ok.
I hope this game is not the last of its kind. I want to play the secret, good second half that I know must exist. May some dedicated game developer, whose love of adventure games hasn’t yet been snuffed out by the doomsayers, take this system and use it to tell a story that reminds us why adventure games were great.
Would I recommend it?: Yes, with reservations. Adventure fans will be the most receptive to it conceptually, but perhaps also the most disappointed by its plot.