Bargain Bin Laden #28: Indigo Prophecy

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We haven’t done this in a while, but you should be pleased (or horrified) to know that I’ve offered to officially take over Bargain Bin Laden for a while, lest Destructoid fans be without knowledge of the best games currently hiding out in bargain bins across America. This week, we take a look at a game that I actually know as Fahrenheit, but was changed to Indigo Prophecy for the US market, so it wouldn’t be confused with Michael Moore. Nobody needs to be confused with Michael Moore.

Indigo Prophecy (which is easier to spell than Fahrenheit) was a game with lofty goals and no small share of ambition. It was a game that endeavored to take storytelling in the medium to a whole new level and provide the depth of character and plot that some gamers have been crying out for. While not 100% successful, Indigo Prophecy did many things right, and took us very close to the edge of truly engaging videogame exposition. 

Hit the jump to re-enter the world of Lucas Kane and its shocking, bloody introduction.

Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit (Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC)
Developed by:

Quantic Dream
September 20th, 2005
Bargain Binned:
$12.99 (Xbox) or $14.99 (PS2) on Gamestop, 300 Goozex Points

For your money, there are very few deep and dark gameplay experiences that beat out Indigo Prophecy. Indigo‘s main story is a cat and mouse tale of a killer and his would-be captors, except you take on the role of both parties in the chase. As Lucas Kain, you are on the run for a murder you commited, but had no control over. As Tyler Miles and Carla Valenti of the NYPD, you’re on the tail of the killer, struggling against a bizarre murder case and ethnic diversity going too far. 

The game’s introduction is one of the most memorable of all time, as it throws you right in at the deep end. Lucas Kain has killed a man savagely in the bathroom of a restaurant, seemingly having been under the influence of a trance-like state of mind. As Lucas snaps out of it and realizes what he’s done, you are handed the reigns and left to figure out what the man’s next move is. From outside, you are given knowledge that a cop is on his way, unaware as yet of the grisly deed. You have to make it out of the building and to the safety of your apartment without arousing suspicion and with only limited time on your side.

This shocking, grim and frantic opener set the scene for the tense gameplay experience that would make Indigo Prophecy‘s first half truly classic and the wealth of choice within a linear plot remains expertly pulled off. With blood on your hands and a body at your feet, what do you do first? Hide the body? Clean up the blood? Just burst out the door and run as fast as you can? It’s up to you, and this is what Prophecy attempted to advocate above all else – choice. Though your goal remains set in stone, your approach lends itself a level of flexibility.

Also of note is how your actions as one character affects your circumstances as others. When you take over the dual role of Carla and Tyler, you will investigate the crime scene as it was left when you were controlling Lucas. You will get the chance to impede — or expediate — the paths of the characters in this manner. The cause-and-effect gameplay wasn’t as fully realized as it could have been, but it was certainly a step in the right direction, a step that game companies still don’t seem keen in following.

Another thing that sets this game apart from the crowd is its control method. Though characters are controlled via the left analog stick, actions are completed with the right stick, and it’s moved in different directions pertaining to different situations. For instance, to push a door open, one pushes up on the stick. If you want to open say, a cupboard door, press left or right. More complex actions will include more involved stick manipulation. The controls are certainly still unique even today, but not without flaws. I never found it particularly intuitive when I played the game, and it never truly became second nature to me as all good control schemes should. It never helped that the onscreen indicators telling you what to do with the sticks are, to be fair, pretty crap. Small and obscure and trying too hard to look stylish instead of functional, the indicators are shockingly poor.

Another major problem is the handling of the characters themselves. With a hard-to-control camera and characters that moved spastically at times, and it can be a fight to keep your character from staggering around like a drunk college girl on her way to forced-entry central. While one gets used to it, it makes for a frustrating few hours.

Much of the game is about finding clues, talking to people, and generally unravelling this big, bloodsoaked mess, but a high dose of adrenaline-pumping action is served via the gift of interactive cutscenes. At various points, Lucas must contend with evil visions and other nefarious forces out to get him, and the only way he can is with quickfire, rythm action-style gameplay. Following onscreen commands, you have to push the analog sticks in the right direction to help Lucas escape the various catastrophes that befall him. Some of these scenes are, in a word, mindblowing, as the onscreen visuals merge with your frantic stick pushing to create some of the most thrilling gameplay possible for what is, essentially, just moving your thumbs around.

Interspersed with these action sequences is an altogether more sadistic one that simulates a character’s strenuous actions by having you rapidly alternating between pressing the L1 and the R1 buttons. Yeah, the bloody shoulder buttons. Really quickly. Before the Wii ever came along, there was a game that could tire you out just while sitting on your ass, and this was the one. I almost hurt myself with those shoulder button sequences.

As well as all this, mental health is another important factor of the game. Adverse situations affect your character’s emotions, and likewise, fortunate circumstances and good news improves their attitude. If you let your character get too distressed, they can become a wreck and eventually suicidal, leading to the inevitable game over. Though it’s not hugely impactful as far as gameplay goes, it’s yet another interesting new feature that keeps your mind active as you fret over your character’s emotional wellbeing and start to get pensive just as they do.

This is definitely a game that, for all its methodical, crime-drama roots, never seems to let you rest. You’re constantly thinking and acting, having to answer questions quickly or get something done before you’re rumbled. Under pressure it’s easy to mess up, especially when things are suddenly thrown at you, but the autosave is very good, and save points are liberally spread around, so there’s not much backtracking to be done should things go awry, which is to be expected, given the amount of new concepts that bombard you. Sometimes you’ll be served up a plate of fresh, unknown gameplay with no warning or explanation and be expected to run with it on the fly. I guess that’s how the characters are feeling too, though.

The plot of the game is equal parts triumph and tragedy. The first three quarters of it is great — there’s a slow build up, with some nice character development and a real sense of mystery. In the final portions of the game though, all sense of pacing is thrown out of the window as twist follows twist and details are rushed by you at the speed of light. I won’t spoil anything, but by the end of it, I was nothing but amused at just how silly the whole story had gotten. The beginning of it, however, is certainly very well written and engrossing, with a high level of drama and more than a few nervewracking moments.

Ultimately though, no words can do Indigo Prophecy justice, as it’s one of those titles that really demands firsthand experience. Filled to the brim with fantastic ideas, the game certainly comes closer to realizing its goals than many other games with equally high conceptual ambitions. Yes, it’s got some flaws, but the ultimate package is a satisfying one and is well worth your time. If you’ve never tried the title out, I implore you to do so, because you might just be pleasantly surprised. It was never going to set the world alight, but it certainly started a pleasant, warm fire.

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