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 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. Director David Cage was fed up with videogames’ emphasis on action and their emotional soullessness, and his state-of-mind led directly to the creation of this game. As Brad Gallaway of GameCritics.com writes:
… 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." Amen to that. And Cage’s success is due in large part to the well-written story and substantial production values.
My major gripe is simply that there’s hardly any connective tissue between the game’s beginning and conclusion. 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. For a game that aspired to telling a better story, certain story elements in this game are just plain missing-in-action.
On the other hand, it's hard to stay too upset with Indigo Prophesy because it's 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, while licensed songs like Martina Topley-Bird's "Sandpaper Kisses" add to the atmosphere. Quantic Dream has taken a leap forward, and that’s something they should be commended for. But as the flaws in this offering show, the ultimate success of interactive narrative has yet to be written.
Indigo Prophecy is rated M (Mature 17+) by the ESRB for Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol and Violence. This game can also be found on PC and PS2.