Friday, 6 April 2012

Indigo Prophecy: Game Design Review

Indigo Prophecy is an action adventure game created by a French studio Quantic Dream that also made the well-received Omikron: The Nomad Soul. Indigo Prophecy tells the story of Lucas Kane who becomes possessed and murders a man. The game switches mostly between him and the detective's pursuing him. It is simply put a riveting and a must play game.

In retrospect and from a strictly interface and game design perspective, the interactivity is actually as minimalistic as any other adventure game, perhaps even more so than normal. Generally the interactivity is aroud Resident Evil level. In Indigo Prophecy, you can interact with only handful of objects and the game practically locks you in an area consisting of one or two rooms. Aside from one or two sequences, you really only need to combine object A with object B in most cases and this is very straight forward. It's pretty clear what you need to do most of them. Yet I (and many others) found it very enjoyable more so than many other games. The only difference from other action games is that being that the actions the player performs on the controller or keyboard are more related to what they see on screen. i.e pushing a door open requires to player to push the the joystick forward as if they were pushing the door open.

Reading the walkthrough after finishing the game, the game is extremely linear and while you can affect minor portions of the story, there are less than a handful of optional scenes you can unlock.

Upon reflection I wondered why exactly I and other reviewers enjoyed the game so much. How can a game which is so linear get such a high metacritic score? There are several very polished aspects of the game which I can identify.

Attention to detail - The rooms you walk around in aren't just boring corridors or generic rooms. The rooms give you clues and hints as to the lives of the people living in them. In other words atmosphere.

Easy to use interface
- The interface is extremely easy to use and only requires several buttons. It almost never gets in the way of what you're trying to do.

Strong Storyline and good editing - Every single character you encounter and can talk with reveals something interesting about the game world or plays an important part in the story. Just as importantly the game is well-written and maintains good pacing.

Lack of interaction - As a player I was never really stuck in a location for long. In most cases the lack of things to do meant the action I did try would reveal to me more about the world or advance the story in some way. Most actions were significant in the sense that I was always uncovering information or advancing the plot. Lack of pixel hunting was a big thing for me.

There are however a number of glaring problems with the game.

Action sequences and mini-games - The main weakness of the game in my opinon were the quick time action sequences using the PAR system. Basically, during certain action sequences or mini-games you push the twin joysticks on your controller up down left or right as directed by the game. The actual onscreen action was really cool especially later on in the game with the matrix style action sequences but I felt it really disconnected me from the game. Here are a couple of examples: There is a morgue sequence in the game where Carla observes the coroner examine the body, you have to press the sequences in order for Carla to understand what the coroner is saying. Completely immersion breaking in this case, what does pressing the up down left right have to do with understanding the coroner's medical terms? Maybe a better way would have been a dialogue where you question the coroner based on wounds you find on the body or something like that or where you have to manipulate tools and the corpse to get the answer.

Another example are the vision sequences where you see through the eyes of one of the other characters in the game. As before you have to follow the onscreen instructions which have absolutely no bearing on the dialogue heavy vision sequences. It would have been better instead to actually take control of the other character or have some sort of puzzle sequence where you have to figure the order of the dialogue or piece together the evidence in a logical fashion.

So what would be a good action sequence in contrast? Well one game sequence that I thought was done really well in the game was a scene in which the female detective enters the police department archives but suffers from claustrophobia and you slowly and carefully have to go through the archives and solve a puzzle by moving some shelves. The game switches to first person perspective You can hear her breath as she gets more tense and while walking have to carefully reduce her fear through button presses. I have to say it was an extremely effective sequence despite the fact that nothing really happened. It really conveyed the sense of helplessness in a very effective way. This was repeated in an asylum later in the game which really upped the ante and was just as terrifying. More so because you were trapped with insane patients.

Lack of interaction - Despite saying lack of interaction helped the game I also believe lack of interaction is also one of the the game's minor but glaring weakness. This isn't so much a problem during timed scenes or action sequences such as the opening scene where you have to race around doing things but during the normal exploration sequences, I don't understand why there couldn't be more interaction, more chatting and more things to do in these slow paced areas. I would have to liked to be more of a detective and investigate but the exploration bits really start to decrease the further you go into the game which is a shame really.

Linearity - I really enjoyed the story but I was expecting major multiple plots depending on who you sided with. As it turns out there really aren't multiple plots to the game. Just one over arching plot with very minor details changed as a result of your actions. I think its better to have a well-polished well written character drivenlinear adventure game like this rather than a adventure with plenty of plotlines but lack of focus. Still I hope that future games by Quantic will capitalise upon this basic formula and create games which do have major diverging plots in the gameplay and therefore more replayability. Unfortunately the most recent game by Quantic, Heavy Rain, as I understand still suffers from this problem.

Overall I enjoyed it and any story driven action gamer or adventure gamer will enjoy this.

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