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Indika

Indika

A divine journey with the devil as your companion.

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You have to think outside the box to stand out in today's gaming world, and Odd Meter certainly does that. The small studio, formerly based in Moscow but now based in Kazakhstan (I don't think I need to explain the reason for this move), has delivered a game that mixes theological debates, bleak Russian winter landscapes and strange 8-bit elements. It shouldn't work, but it does. Very much so.

We are somewhere in Russia, far to the east and towards the end of the 19th century. Terrible upheavals are underway in the great empire, but that's not what our young heroine Indika, a virtuous and submissive nun in a medieval convent, is concerned about. It hardly sounds like the most gruelling occupation, and Indika initially does little to disprove that assumption. One of your first tasks is to fill a bucket with water from the monastery well. You painstakingly retrieve the water from the well and trudge through the dirty snow. Not once, not twice, but five times. And what is your reward? A nun knocks over the bucket and showers you with a volley of surprisingly un-Christian insults.

Then the mood is set. Indika obviously wants to teach you something, but after playing it through, I'm not quite sure what exactly it is. This isn't just because I'm a bit of a slow learner or lack knowledge about the orthodox branch of Christianity. No, it's more likely because while the initial points are hammered home with heavy, repetitive gameplay, the heavy moral lesson is quickly dropped in favour of a fun, crazy and not a little touching road trip.

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After the initial humiliation, Indika is tasked with delivering a letter to another monastery a day's journey away. There are no enemies to defeat along the way, nor will you find food, warmth or other resources despite the bitter cold and Indika's humble robes. Instead, you must solve a series of puzzles that almost always require you to manipulate the environment in one way or another. It often boils down to pulling a lever or pushing some boxes, which we've seen a thousand times before. But it doesn't matter, because every single challenge is well put together. There are no glowing or overzealous helpers who, after two seconds, practically hand you the solution. It's simply not necessary.

Early in the game, you climb onto the roof of a dilapidated building. There's a removable safe, so logically you try to push it to a corner where it looks like you can - just barely - reach a ledge. The problem is that the unstable roof moves with the weight, so it actually ends up being further up when you've moved the safe. I won't reveal the specific way forward here, but simply note that the game very often tempts you with an easy solution, only to complicate the puzzle with an interesting twist that often requires you to keep your eyes and ears open.

Besides being good gameplay design, this also supports the game's critical view on dogmatic religion: Simple solutions are not the way forward, and the world is more complicated than that. However, a single lesson from monastic life will still benefit the player. It's good to know your limitations. Indika proves to be a surprisingly resourceful character, and she is good at manipulating machines and climbing over small elevations. But she is no Super Mario. Her limited abilities combined with environments that never contain many interactable elements is another reason why the game design works. Once you understand the premise of the game, you're never really in doubt about where to look for a solution or in which direction to move through the seemingly confusing environments. It's good design, but you could perhaps wish for a little more originality in some of the puzzles. In particular, the segments where you alternately suppress your doubts and allow them to be expressed to change the environments could have been used a little better. It's visually beautiful, but I think Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, for example, makes better use of the protagonist's psychology to solve puzzles.

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Visually, Indika is the definition of a diamond in the rough. The textures are not particularly polished and the animations are slightly stiff and clunky. Don't worry about being snow-blind either, because the atmospheric and dynamic lighting that we so often see in games of this generation is only present to an extremely limited degree. Still, there is a kind of raw beauty to the dilapidated Russian provincial towns and drab factory halls that you have to move through. Even the sky is grey and drab, and the limited colour palette reminiscent of the Xbox 360/PS3 era really adds to the atmosphere. The same goes for the snow, it's not the chalky white, clean kind we know from other games that would almost get you stopped at an airport. No, it's dirty, heavy, and in several places is trampled into muddy black slush. I love it.

It's not all dirt, darkness and cold. Along the way, we experience a series of flashbacks to Indika's childhood that play out like little retro games with beautiful and colourful pixel graphics. Although the mini-games are, well, small, they break up the game effectively, and the same can be said for a segment where you get to ride some kind of futuristic steam bike. The dreary presentation is also enlivened by pixelated points that you are continuously awarded on your journey. You can spend them on a comical skill tree that has absolutely no effect on the game's gameplay, as the developer himself warns during a loading screen. However, I will reveal that the points - like almost everything else in the game - have a bearing on the game's story and themes.

Indika

The story is Indica's greatest strength. The game takes "only" three to four hours, but you are still left with the feeling of having been on a long journey - you get to experience so much in that short time. Initially, it's almost like a dark comedy as you meet inept soldiers, drunken commanders and many other colourful characters. You also run into escaped convict Ilya, who ends up accompanying you on your journey. Your other travelling companion is your own doubting thoughts, manifested in Ilya's head as the devil himself. As you get closer to your destination, however, it's as if you gradually shrink and you're suddenly faced with monstrous beasts and caviar boxes the size of oil drums. The atmosphere is now a different kind of bleak, and you have to fight your way through sad, overwhelming factories reminiscent of Inside and Limbo.

It all comes to an evocative conclusion, but it's the journey and not the destination that matters. As mentioned, you are accompanied by both the convict Ilya and the devil in your thoughts, and both the inner and outer dialogue is nothing short of excellent. Although the topics are heavy and philosophical, the dialogue flows naturally and there is plenty of humour along the way. At the same time, it's surprisingly exciting to follow the theological discussion, as religious dogma is constantly challenged by counter-arguments taken out of pure logic or the dirty reality of the sad Russian farming community. I wonder if the authors have read their Dostoevsky? You can hear it all in acceptable British, but do yourself a favour and turn on the Russian voices instead. I didn't understand a word, but my impression is that the voice acting here is of a higher quality, as the pitch is better suited to what is happening.

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As mentioned, Indika is a bit unpolished. Technically, the game lags, and on the PS5 the camera is often a bit heavy, and the game definitely wavers in faith when it comes to sticking to 60 fps. Yes, to cut to the chase, the technical performance is just not good enough. However, this can all be forgiven, because with fairly simple means Odd Meter manages to build a seamless gaming experience that entertains along the way and leaves you with food for thought.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+
Top-notch dialogue and story. Simple but well-designed puzzles. Atmospheric visual design.
-
Several aspects appear a bit raw. Coughs and snorts on console.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Indika

REVIEW. Written by Jakob Hansen

A divine journey with the devil as your companion.



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