May 28, 2024
Nun narrative adventure, Indika, takes you on an unholy trip but is it a Hail Mary? The Finger Guns review:

I was immediately invested in whatever Indika was when I saw the announcement trailer last year. The hyperealistic characters juxtapose the unconventional use of cinematography, which is then topped off with a voice-over speaking disparagingly about the titular character and her overall faith. Indika is a nun and not a liked one, as she looks like she’s losing her mind in front of her sisters whilst being mocked by potentially, the devil?

Turns out, the game is a third-person narrative adventure from Russian studio Odd Meter. Co-founder of Odd Meter and director of the game, Dmitry Setlov, was inspired by his religious upbringing and the subsequent falling out of religion due to Russia’s current regime. For more context, I recommend checking out Edwin Evans-Thirwell’s article/interview over at Rock Paper Shotgun with Setlov – after reading this review… and then, playing the game because it’s an absolute trip, but not the one I was expecting.

Blinding Faith

Indika takes place in a parallel version of Russia in the 19th century. You play as a young nun in a monastery, as the eponymous Indika laboriously follows her duties to God. She’s bored, having visions as she daydreams and also hearing the devil himself. Her repetitive insubordination has granted her the duty of a lifetime as she is to leave the monastery to deliver a letter, only to go on her most challenging journey yet.

With the devil nagging at her like her true inner monologue, the two are at odds throughout the journey. The devil is not just a voice but sometimes also manifests as you can watch him almost manipulate Indika’s movement in some of the story moments. It makes for some great imagery but also showcases the lack of God we really see in the game, despite being a nun simulator.

There is so much to unpack with the game’s narrative that I don’t think I can express it completely in this review. I have overall left Indika feeling moved. Odd Meter, from a narrative standpoint, has confidently explored the subject of religion with compassion, criticism and melancholy. Indika’s faith – Orthodox Christianity – is often challenged during her journey, whether it’s through the events put upon her or the conversations with the people she meets along the way.

Losing My Religion

Much like the Russian literature the game is inspired by, there’s a bleak and verbose delivery to some of the game’s dialogue. However, it’s written so articulately, and often devoid of any true judgment that it feels personable to the team at Odd Meter. There’s a distinct presence of the team, and maybe more specifically, Setlov’s personal wrestling with religion. Suggesting to me: how ignorantly abiding by prescribed strict parameters despite the injustices in the world is not something to be idle of.

This is all thrown at you through a good portion of the game being cut scenes but also in the game’s quieter moments too. Some of Indika operates as a walking-sim. In these instances, you’re usually left to explore whilst the dialogue carries the narrative. In one chapter, Indika walks through the destroyed villages of Russia off-handedly mentioning that it could have been the US or England, but no presence of a war as I think the reality of war and communism is purposefully left out, letting the despair of religion reign free.

And when it’s not being deep, it is being absurdly hilarious. There’s a banality that comes with the cold and despondent setting of the game, where even the mildly odd sticks out like a sore thumb – in the best way possible. It’s almost necessary in its implementation, otherwise, the game would be a slog. I’m being intentionally vague about almost all of it because the true Kudetz is experiencing all of its absurdities and poignancy for yourself.

A Higher Power

As you can probably tell, I’m a little bit head over heels for the narrative. My interpretations of what the game represents, the thoughtful delivery and how it also delivers some pitch-perfect dark comedy. The gameplay on the other hand, definitely left me wanting a bit more. As I mentioned at the top, Indika is a third-person narrative adventure, in the opening moments of the game you’re walking through the monastery and doing your duties. One of which, is to supply water to a household, this takes a good 5+ minutes to beat, only for it to be instantly diminished.

I get that it was the point, you are partaking in arduous gameplay to invoke the same feeling, but I can’t help but feel there were restraints put in place in service of more time spent on the narrative. You will spend 90% of your time walking, exploring and finding collectibles that add to your religious XP (which is truly a pointless endeavour, the game even tells you so).

The other 5% are very basic environmental puzzles that require you to move a ladder or something else to climb up on to help you move along. These are by far my least favourite moments in the game as there’s not even room to “solve” them because they’re so overtly obvious to begin with.

The Devil Is In The Detail

There are two moments that do stand out that are actually really engaging. This involves the devil making the environment break out and dangerous but when Indika prays (using L2 – it’s an action you can do whenever, fun touch) the level goes back to normal and you kind of go between both states to traverse the environment.

I wish Odd Meter had leaned into that a bit more; plus the 5% that are flashbacks, that is true gameplay that I won’t spoil, but they were a really neat implementation that kept the game feeling fresh. Outside of all that, the gameplay isn’t overall bad to me, but it’ll for sure rub people the wrong way. Maybe if it just leaned into being just a walking sim that delivered the story more passively, as opposed to giving me a mix of highlights and some middling experiences, I would have felt more even about it.

This is also partly due to the environments themselves being such visual feasts. The game’s almost-over attention to detail is really striking. As you go through the rabbit hole of religious quarrels, the game slowly transforms into a dark fairytale. I had to stop for a second at one point and properly look around, to just realise that where I’m standing right now shouldn’t exist. It is extremely uncanny and it’s inserted so benignly that it opened a horrific pit in my stomach.

Unholy Matrimony

What also sells the unsettling direction and dark fairytale environments is the cinematography and overall visual design. Indika is cinematic at its core, Odd Meter has thought about every frame and used the language of cinema so well that it grabbed my attention after seeing the first trailer and kept a hold of me until the very last frame.

The framing of sequences, the constant low-key lighting that presents an uneasy almost horror quality to the game and the composing of Indika within the shots is like watching an A24 movie. Films like Come and See spring to mind if it used more horror-noir tropes, and like Come and See, audio plays an integral part in Indika. The game is full of abrasive sound effects that echo through the chilling environments. Eerie synth leads sit on top of the already foreboding atmosphere and it all amalgamates into one big sinister trip – to the point you wish for sativa instead.

All in all, Indika was one heck of a ride that’ll stick with me for some time. But this is a video game supposed to be played and that aspect of it was just not exciting. It might be giving too much credit to Odd Meter by saying that it’s intentionally drab, but I think that reigns somewhat true when you look at the big picture of what Indika is trying to say. Dare to imbibe yourself and you may be just as hooked as me.

Indika tells a story that tests religion in a deeply nuanced fashion and I must confess I just love what Odd Meter was trying to say. However the gameplay, for the most part, is just serviceable, and not even a dedicated prayer button could lead the game to full salvation.

Indika is available 17th May 2024 on PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series X|S and available now PC via Steam.

Developer: Odd Meter
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios

Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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