Cinematic gameplay is a term that seems to have become something of a catchphrase in advertising recently. It looks nice on a box and in trailers at E3…but what does it mean
? With advertising gurus it usually means their game has pretty graphics and/or it depends heavily on cut scenes. Other criteria include story and pacing similar to what you would expect to find in a movie or a camera that moves independent of player control and less emphasis on actual user interactivity then story presentation. Final Fantasy
games tend to be highly cinematic in nature, but you could say God of War
and Resident Evil
features cinematic play. If I had to define cinematic gameplay to someone, I wouldn't give them a list. I would give them a copy of Indigo Prophecy
and tell them to play. Indigo Prophecy
, or Fahrenheit
as it's called on the other side of the pond truly is an interactive movie. Think of it as the bastard offspring of a 3 way mate between choose-your-own-adventure novels, a Hollywood movie, and the old arcade brawlers/shooters where you are suddenly forced to smash a button combo or be annihilated. So IP is the ultimate in cinematic gameplay, but is it fun? Well let's see…
After a short tutorial set in a movie studio and a brief scene in a diner, you will find yourself in a bathroom watching two men. One is casually washing his hands. The other is Lucas Kane, the game's narrator and main protagonist. Lucas appears to be convulsing. The musical score becomes increasingly frantic and the camera starts flashing between Lucas and a third man who is performing some sort of ritual. It soon becomes apparent that he is being controlled and within a few seconds he has brutally murdered the other occupant in the bathroom. Kane stabs the man 3 times in chest and then, just as suddenly as it all began, he becomes aware of himself again only to be horrified and in disbelief over what he has done. Sound like your like typical movie? Enter you. There's one of New York City's finest sitting outside having a cup of joe and you have less then ten minutes to decide how you're going to dispose of a bloody corpse and get home with without being arrested. Oh yes, one more thing: everything that happens to you affects your character's mood and mental stability. You've just murdered an innocent man and you're within a few a shots of getting a game over because of Lucas going insane and turning himself in, or worse, committing suicide right then there. So do you run out the back as fast as possible or do you wash your hands, take your time, and try to act cool? Beginning to sound like a game now?
Have you had enough rhetorical questioning? As you can tell from just that short snippet, Indigo Prophecy
is driven intensely by both its story, your own choices, and by the characters that inhabit its world. While the story often goes long stretches without becoming frantic, it maintains a constant, and building tension that continues to its final moments. The writers of Indigo Prophecy
have largely succeeded in building an excellent story arch that is equal parts thriller, mystery, and sci-fi. Now sometimes the writers over-extend themselves on events can so swing so far that you'll be left just scratching your head or they'll throw in one too many pop culture references (I've seen enough matrix rip-offs thank you), but by and large everything works out. My main complaint against the writing department is that the story often makes large leaps as the plot progresses. Major events go unexplained and characters who before seemed extremely cautious and thoughtful will plunge unthinkingly into unknown situations. I often felt near the end that another 1 hour or so of plot development would have done a lot of good.
How you interact with the story is, for better or worse, what really sets apart Indigo Prophecy
. Most of the time you will simply walk or run around and interact with people and objects: standard adventure gaming. The only twist is that you sometimes have use the control stick to simulate movement (ex. a quarter turn to open a cabinet) and there's often a time limit on how long you have to decide on a dialogue option. These do spice things up at times, particularly the dialogue timer since it can force you to make choices quicker than you might like, but they're nothing major. My only complaint is that camera angles can sometimes make maneuvering an absolute nightmare. It's even worse for PC uses who don't have a controller. However, what really sets this game apart is how it handles action sequences. Instead of truly controlling your character in a fight scene, an animation will begin showing them fighting. As the fight happens, you have to provide a variety of controller inputs successfully or else they fail, usually resulting in death or capture. Typically you will be either following a certain pattern with your control sticks ala Simon Says or you will alternating between the left and right triggers. Much like DDR and its ilk, combinations will be strung together, often simulating movement onscreen. The premise is easy to get used and quickly becomes so natural that you stop paying attention to the fact that you're controlling the action. And you're not, not in the traditional sense. It's more akin to being in a theatre and flinching or moving legs as you watch your hero fighting someone. I suppose one could also mention the sanity system, but it's surprisingly absent from gameplay. While actions will constantly cause you to become more depressed ie insane or happy, there are no consequences except a quick game over if you hit rock bottom, which is very rare. The end result is that actual game play goes to the wayside in favor of really forcing you to interact with the story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't and in the end it's really up to you to decide whether or not you like it.
The only other notable game play convention the Indigo Prophecy
utilizes is the control over multiple characters. You will often switch between Lucas, Carla, and Tyler as well as the occasionally supporting character. This is nothing new. What is interesting is that Carla and Tyler are aligned against Lucas for almost the entire game and in helping one you hurt the other. After all, Carla and Tyler are cops and all they know is an innocent man has murdered. Where one minute you desperately struggle as Lucas to effectively lie to a questioning officer, in one another you work as Tyler to discover forensic evidence that might lead him to suspect Lucas. This leads to all sorts of situations, mostly notably a direct interrogation of Lucas by Carla in his own workplace.
As all of this unfolds almost entirely in the form of dialogue, the whole ship could've been wrecked had the voice casting had been off; thankfully the actors pull it off in spades. The lead roles of Lucas Kane, detective Carla Valenti, and Tyler Miles are all solid. Kane's actor in particular stands out with notes of confused despair and weary resignation, while Carla's actor helps convince you she's more than the stereotypical "independent girl" who's thrown in so often as if to appease the god of feminism. The only one who sometimes disappoints is Tyler Miles, Carla's sidekick and source of comic relief. He has some strong moments, but oft times much of what he has to say is redundant or against the mood at the time. It can be disconcerting to be in the middle of some serious investigation, to switch to Tyler, and then listen to funk music and random quips. The supporting cast, notably Lucas's brother Marcus and Tyler's wife, do a commendable job of convincing you that they're real people. There are the occasional gaffs: under acting is problem common to all as is recycling sound bites. Still, as I said earlier, considered as a whole the quality is excellent.
The rest of the sound department strikes gold as well. Angelo Badalamenti's original compositions work well, with minimalist approach and heavy use of strings. Several licensed bands including Theory of a Deadman
are thoughtfully included at times. The music and sound effects add to the melancholy feeling of a cold New York without attracting undue attention.
Unfortunately, while the audio department triumphs; the graphics guys often fall flat. The engine as whole is dated and while there are some impressive moments, particularly the streets of NYC, there is nothing outstanding as well some notable snares. Textures are fairly unimpressive and several of the character models are noticeably off. While our lead trio generally looks decent, there are several characters that are oddly mutated, such as Tyler's girlfriend. Animations can be stiff and lifeless, particularly those that require rapid movement or facial expression. This can sometimes hinder the acting and fight sequences often suffer as a result. Users with PCs will fair better than those on a console, but there won't be much improvement. Thankfully the art style and camera use often helps to cancel out these defects, but they can't overshadow the games technical deficiencies.
In the end, Quantic Dream's Indigo Prophecy
is bound to provoke some thought among those who play it. It has been heralded by some as ushering in a new wave of gaming style and reviving the languishing adventure genre. Personally, I do not see these things happening. Its various small flaws prevent it from achieving perfection in its niche and many will find Indigo Prophecy's
conventions unappealing. That said, I would highly recommend that you rent the game. It's quite short, even with multiple endings and unlockable content, and the ability to skip to whatever chapter you wish facilitates quick and easy experimentation.
- Well-crafted story line
- Excellent audio at all turns: music, FX, voices
- Innovative presentation using controls and cameras
- Characters generally react and behave maturely and in a life-like manner
- Dated graphics
- Story situations aren't always adequately explained; later half feels rushed.
- Plagued with control problems
- In the American verision (Indigo Prophecy), the scenes with sex or sexual overtones were sloppily edited
- Occasional slow pacing and control scheme will put off some players
- Extremely short
- Sanity system barely effects anything
List of other reviews
IP on Amazon.com
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Indigo Prophecy Videos
1Indigo Prophecy is the US version of Europe's Fahrenheit. Both contain partial nudity as well as sexual themes, drug use, violence, and blood. Indigo Prophecy has been edited to tone some of these scenes down, particulary those with sexuality.
Thanks to Gamespot
for in-game images.