Waking from a trance, you find yourself in a diner's restroom. You've just stabbed a complete stranger to death as he urinated. Blood is on everything -- including you. And to make matters worse, a police officer is sitting outside drinking coffee.
Should you take the time to carefully hide the body and wash up? Or make a mad dash for the subway?
It's the first choice you have to make in Indigo Prophecy, a game that claims every decision you make will change how the plot unfolds. Indigo's story has been hailed as videogames' answer to James Joyce (or at least Dan Brown). But judged by film or novel standards, it doesn't fare well, shamelessly ripping off everything from 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 story -- as Kane and, in a twist, as 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 characters don't help. Take Tyler Miles, a black detective who took 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. Both officers 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.
Yet despite these conventions (and a few eyeroll-inducing plot developments), Indigo's story is mostly fun, in a B-movie sort of way. And the game's moody, elegant soundtrack helps ground the experience when the plot gets too goofy.
Indigo's strongest feature is its pleasingly simple interface. Virtually everything is 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. A particularly great example is when a terrified Carla finds herself stuck among inmates in a pitch-black asylum. As she creeps to safety, 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. You'll often find yourself accidentally backtracking because you can't tell whether you're coming or going. Nothing kills 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. 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.
And while the game is mildly enjoyable the first time through, it takes less than ten hours to see everything it has to offer, leaving you with no incentive to play it again.
Bottom line: a better rental than purchase.