Should you take the time to carefully hide the body and wash up? Or do you make a mad dash for the subway?
That's the first choice you have to make in Indigo Prophecy, a game touted as the latest attempt to blur video games and cinema and which claims that every decision you make will change how the plot unfolds. Indigo's story has been hailed as video games' answer to James Joyce (or at least Dan Brown). But judged by film or novel standards, it doesn't fare well. The plot shamelessly rips off everything from The Silence of the Lambs to The Matrix.
You start the game as the confused, possibly insane murderer Lucas Kane, who believes he was being controlled by unseen forces when he committed his crime. As you play through the game as Kane and, in a twist, the detectives investigating his crime you gradually unravel a plot brimming with secret societies, ancient religions and prophecies about wait for it the end of the world.
If the plot strains credulity, the cardboard-cutout characters don't help matters. Take Tyler Miles, a black detective who seems to have taken interior-design tips from SNL's Ladies' Man. His bachelor pad comes complete with psychedelic wallpaper, lava lamp, bearskin rug and half-naked cupcake girlfriend. Then there's his partner on the force: Carla Valenti. She's your standard sexy gal who's still single because she focuses too much on her career (groan). When not investigating homicides, she likes to indulge in an occasional shower or stroll around the apartment in her underwear. (If you like what you see, be sure to pick up the new issue of Playboy, which includes a detailed graphic of Carla topless giving whole new meaning to the phrase fake breasts.) Both cops answer to "Captain Jones," a grouchy, doughnut-chomping police captain who barks cop-thriller clichés like "Now get out there and find that psycho!"
You get the idea.
Indigo's strongest feature is its pleasingly simple interface. Virtually everything can be accomplished using the same few buttons whether it's opening a door, initiating a "quickie" with Tyler's girlfriend, or engaging in superhuman combat against evil forces. When a terrified Carla finds herself stuck among inmates in a pitch-black asylum, you have to use simple, rhythmic button-pressing to regulate her breathing and keep her from hyperventilating. It's delightfully nightmarish and creepy.
What ruins the user-friendly controls is the problematic in-game camera. When your view of the game changes, you'll often find yourself accidentally backtracking because you can't tell whether you're coming or going. Nothing spoils suspense like stumbling around in circles like a drunk.
But Indigo's biggest flaw is that it doesn't live up to its bold promise to allow you to play scriptwriter. The game provides the illusion of control, but when you peer behind the curtain, you realize that only "correct" choices advance the plot everything else results in minor dialogue variations or a game-over screen. Survival becomes an exercise in trial and error; too often, what seems like a reasonable action causes the game to suddenly end.
The game is mildly enjoyable the first time through, but it takes less than 10 hours to see everything it has to offer, leaving you with no incentive to play it again. It's a better rental than it is a purchase.
Platform: PC, PS2, Xbox
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Score (out of 10): 7