Friday, September 30, 2005

Indigo Prophecy: Enjoyable Experiment

Well, according to an in-game progress indicator, I'm 23% of the way through the narrative, and while that's probably not as far as I'd like to be before sounding off on it, I can't really think of anything else to talk about at the moment. So, for anyone living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, Indigo Prophecy is a innovative new game in which you play a man who's committed a grisly murder in a New York diner and who has no idea why he did so, feeling as if he was not in control of his actions. According to its creator, it is an experiment in interactive storytelling, serving as evidence that a game can have both a good story and enjoyable gameplay without sacrificing one over the other. So, you take control of all of the major players (including both the killer and the detectives trying to stop him) and move the plot forward by your own actions. In fact, the plot can change according not only to your choices, but also your failures, when most games would simply stop. I just recently got control of one of the detectives, who was using a composite sketching program to draw the killer from a witnesses' testimony. I finished to the best of my ability and had the witness commit to the drawing, and was then told by the game that it looked nothing like the main character (about which I was a little angry, actually), so I'm guessing that the police will have a harder time identifying him when I'm playing as him again later. But, since this is a game that encourages multiple playthroughs to see different branches of the story, I just shrugged it off and moved on.

The game gives you control over these characters using a fun and intuitive interface that tasks the left analog stick with moving and the right analog stick with interacting with your environment via context-sensitive movements. Want to have a cup of coffee? Drag your right stick out and around in a counter-clockwise motion to pour the cup, then pull it up to your lips to drink. Change you mind 1/2-way through? Stop pulling it up and he'll sit the coffee back down without having any. This interface is extended to NPC interactions by giving you a choice of conversation topics (represented by a sometimes vague one or two words) which you pick from by pushing the right stick in the indicated direction.

This interface would kind of bog down during intense action, though, so the game presents a different interface for action sequences. These sequences proceed through a choreographed set of movements, and give you onscreen prompts for how to perform those movements using both sticks in conjunction, represented by a pair of indicators (one for each stick), each consisting of 4 coloured directional possibilities. About to get run over by a car? The indicators on the screen light up and tell you to press both sticks to the right in order to dive out of the way. Failure to perform such movements correctly might result in everything from stumbling or missing a punch to, well, getting hit by a car, which would probably be a game over. The required movements are generally pretty intuitive, and ramp up in complexity as the task itself gets more complex. For instance, playing the guitar well is a bit more complicated than diving out of the way of a car.

So, you might be thinking that all of this fighting and car-diving sounds pretty stressful. Well, you'd be right. In fact, each of your characters has a stress meter that goes up or down according to their actions. Feeling tense? Have a cup o' joe, go to the washroom, or put on some tunes to shed a bit of tension. I have yet to see anything clearly result from my stress level, as I've been doing a good job of keeping my characters calm, but the instruction booklet claims that if your character gets depressed enough, they may kill themselves, which would likely be game over. The fun part is that you, as the player, can get pretty stressed too, and the game seems to try and stress you out as best it can. Waking up in the middle of the night with all of the doors and windows open after you closed them is pretty stressful both to you and your character. During the first sequence, after you do your dirty deed, you have to dispose of the evidence and escape, but after a while the screen splits and you see the cop at the bar start to get up and head to the bathroom, which results in panic and usually mistakes. Similarly, if, during an action sequence, you screw up, you start to panic, and more screw-ups result.

One thing that might not be immediately evident when you start the game is that there is a significant supernatural component to the story. Your main character manifests strange powers, and, during an interesting day on the job (he's an IT guy at a bank), everything goes crazy and the supernatural stuff makes itself front and centre. Since that point, I feel that the game's taken on a bit of a Silent Hill feeling, where I open every door with the fear of what kind of terrifying hellscape I'll find waiting for me on the other side (although these fears have been largely unfounded thus far). I'm not quite sold on all of this stuff yet, but I'm curious to see where it all goes.

The only real criticism I have of the game thus far is the hidden bonuses. Throughout the game, there are hidden cards that give you bonus points which you can use to unlock bonus feature outside the main game, like "making of" videos and character artwork. While a cute idea, it's yet another annoying thing for me to collect (which I was hoping to find respite from with this game), and I find it serves to kind of remove me from the narrative and remind me that I'm playing a game, which is unwelcome. When I show up to meet my brother at the park, I shouldn't have to go traipsing along side trails to look for cards before approaching him.

Also, it might be worth mentioning that I had a bad glitch early on, when the camera got stuck outside the diner in which you start and my game then froze, but I've had no problems since, so I'm hoping it was a one-time problem. Other than that, it's been a fun ride thus far, and I'm going to go play some more right now.


Blogger Requiem said...

Hurry up and beat it a couple of times and let me have a go.

Friday, September 30, 2005 3:27:00 PM  
Anonymous N. O. Scott said...

Yeah I forgot to mention the card thing, and I had the exact same complaint.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 1:40:00 PM  

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