The phrase,"interactive cinema", has been thrown around liberally since laserdisc games hit the arcades back in the 80s, but rarely has it lived up to its promise. In fact, with rare exception (Under a Killing Moon and Gabriel Knight 2 are granted pardon), attempts at brining the cinematic experience to gaming under the label has been a dismal failure. French developer Quantic Dream revives the concept from the dead with a fresh take for a new generation, and suddenly it isn't so laughable.
Quantic Dream doesn't rely on the use of FMV to evoke cinema (or more accurately, incorporate low-budget cinema), but rather tries to use some cinematic presentation, and a more character-oriented focus to tell a story and dazzle the player with some dramatic moments much in the same way a film would. It's an approach which seems to be much closer to capturing the reasons why we actually see movies in the first place.
At its heart, Indigo Prophecy is an adventure game, which historically speaking is an excellent kind of system for being able to develop a story and characters in a way that isn't married to any one kind of action or even any action at all. The core of the gameplay involves exploring your environment, and interacting with the people in it. Any action that might come to pass is handles with a system of on-screen cues enacted with the analog sticks very similarly to the "QTE" system found in Shenmue. Some of these QTE sequences add tension, while others are a mildly engaging distraction to occupy the player during some of the game's longer scripted sequences.
The meat of the story centers on Lucas Kane, an ordinary computer tech for a New York bank who one day finds himself out of control of his own body, and brutally stabs a man 3 times in the chest in a diner bathroom. Although he is conscious he has absolutely no ability to resist, as if possessed. When he regains control of himself, the game begins.
A new breed of adventure
Indigo Prophecy gives the player the ability to interact with much of the environment in ways that will produce trivial and not-so-trivial differences. For instance, in the opening scene when forced to deal with the circumstance at hand, players can have Lucas, panic-stricken, run out of the bathroom, out the fire exit and away from the crime scene in a way that will draw quite a bit of attention, and leave Lucas in a poor mental state (characters have a mental health bar which players must monitor lest the character break down). The more careful player can take the time to hide the murder weapon, hide the body, clean up the scene, and wash himself, before calmly walking to the front of the diner, paying his bill, and casually exiting the building. Although most of these decisions won't greatly impact the story, most of them will be acknowledged in some way, which not only gives incentive to explore, it leaves the player feeling more a part of the game's world.
This presents an provocative conflict of interest, however. Most of the story centers around three characters: Lucas Kane, and the two detectives out to solve the murder Carla Valenti, and Tyler Miles. The more thorough the player is with Lucas, the more work they will create for themselves when they take control of Carla or Tyler. This also allows Quantic Dream to tell a less linear story and develop characters from different angles, which pays off nicely.