INDIKA Review – A tragicomic journey that ends too soon

Gare – Wednesday, May 1, 2024 4:54 PM
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If you’ve played the demo of INDIKA, you probably understand why it was one of my most anticipated releases of the year – a strange, historical narrative game taking place in a bizarre, alternate version of 19th century Russia that presents its dramatic story with a healthy dose of absurd comedy, developer Odd Meter’s odd little project is something that I can only describe as... a genuine breath of fresh air. 8-bit music, hilariously Monty Python-esque scenes and a macabre tale that dives head-first into questions of faith? That... is quite the gaming cocktail, but it’s exactly what INDIKA conjures up for its audience. And yet, I wish it pushed the envelope a bit more. I wish it went crazier and crazier instead of settling into the all-too-familiar mold of a narrative walking simulator in its second half. There are flashes of brilliance here and there, but I was hoping the game would get bolder and more unorthodox in its style and tone as it went along; it’s still a memorable experience, mind you, just one with lots of unmined potential.

The devil is in the details

INDIKA begins its tale among the walls of a dark, dreary monastery where life is harsh and where people’s hearts are as cold as the snow that covers the buildings like an icy blanket. Enter Indika, a young nun who’s got that “she’s a little confused but she’s got the spirit” vibe about her, doing various chores for the other nuns... until she’s tasked with the (probably) important job of delivering a letter that may or may not contain crucial information. So off she goes, alone, with only the voice of the devil in her head to keep her company. Oh yeah, because that’s also a thing. You’ve got your very own Cortana, if Cortana was a snarky old guy making quips left and right. Honestly, he’s not that bad. Really. Either way, Indika then meets up with an escaped convict called Ilya and the two go on a spiritual (?) journey to find a certain holy MacGuffin that will totally solve all their problems. Probably.

Points of pointlessness

Along the way, questions of religion and free will are raised as you – almost like a 19th century tourist – walk through a world that’s just as depressing as you’d expect, filled with snowy villages, empty steel corridors and silent city streets. I found it difficult not to view INDIKA’s world through a lens of cynicism, especially when even the game itself, through its visuals, writing and gameplay elements, seems to reinforce this idea of banality and pointlessness. The seemingly important spiritual journey ends in despair, violence and drunkenness; figures of authority are shown to be corrupt and sinful, and the game’s anticlimax of an ending brings no resolution, no true catharsis. You collect “points” and “level up”, but it serves no purpose whatsoever. You unlock new skill tiers like Guilt and Repentance, but they serve only to give you more points... which are, as mentioned before, thoroughly pointless. It’s one hell of a visual metaphor, I’ll give it that. Yet despite its crushingly grim tone, INDIKA also has a wonderfully bizarre sense of humor: naturally, the devil’s monologues are always a joy to listen to, but even putting that aside, there are a couple of specific scenes early on in the game that legitimately made me laugh out loud due to how utterly zany and off-the-wall they were. Make no mistake: when INDIKA wants to be funny, it absolutely nails it.

Follow the path

Gameplay-wise, INDIKA is an extremely linear affair, with only minimal opportunities for any kind of exploration. Most of the time, you’ll feel like you’re on rails (and sometimes, you literally are), either having to follow your companion, Ilya, or traverse a path with fake branching points that ultimately force you to just go the way the developers intended for you. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, mind you, and it fits INDIKA’s style quite nicely – just keep in mind that the majority of the game consists of walking from A to B while occasionally solving a puzzle or two. The puzzles themselves are the same kind you might’ve seen in the demo: as in, requiring a bit of thought and logical thinking, but you likely won’t get stuck on any of them for a prolonged amount of time. One you encounter towards the end of the game is actually both inventive and pleasantly surprising in its execution – it’s just a shame these kind of brain teasers don’t happen more often in the game. Which brings me to my next point: one of the most memorable aspects of INDIKA’s demo was the part where our protagonist has to traverse a precarious landscape that shifts and changes whenever the devil is talking in her ear, but reverts back to normal while she’s reciting the Lord’s prayer (which is done by holding down a button). Now, unless my memory is starting to fail, this kind of thing only happens twice during the entire game, and that’s counting the one you’ve already seen in the demo, so... it’s not much. I was hoping the whole “real world vs. demon world” aspect would play a bigger role in the game, and was somewhat disappointed when I realized this was not the case.

A tale of unmined potential

Sadly, this sort of “that’s great, but I wish there was more of it” aftertaste is what characterizes how I feel about every other aspect of INDIKA, including its narrative: while our heroine’s backstory is properly explained (and in a way I’d rather not spoil) and she does technically find what she’s looking for, I sort of expected things to be a touch more fleshed-out overall. After my initial experience with the demo, I was looking forward to a far bigger emphasis on absurdism, and I was sincerely hoping the game would continue to ham things up even more as it went along, potentially becoming a modern Deadly Premonition of sorts. But that never really happens: if anything, things de-escalate the further you get in the story, as the latter half of the adventure consists largely of Indika and Ilya walking through empty factory corridors while philosophizing about religion. Perhaps I set my expectations too high, but I do genuinely think the game could’ve been a touch more adventurous and daring than it ultimately ended up being.

Closing thoughts

INDIKAPlatform: WindowsGenre: AdventureDeveloper: Odd MeterPublisher: 11 bit studiosRelease: 05/08/2024All in all, I just feel like there’s more that could’ve been done with INDIKA, and the fact that the whole thing is only an afternoon long doesn’t help matters, either – my playthrough took me six hours, but I’m a hopelessly sluggish gamer, so expect that number to be considerably lower for most people. Either way, that’s INDIKA in a nutshell: a brilliant premise with a strong beginning that sadly loses a bit of steam towards the end. There’s nothing about it that’s particularly bad: the puzzles are fine, the tragicomic tone is entertaining and the visuals are pure eye candy, but the game ends before it has a chance to fully capitalize on its ideas. That said, I can still more or less recommend it, but maybe temper your expectations a little before diving in.

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