INDIKA Review – Thou Shalt Ponder Good & Evil in This Tragicomic Nun Game

9.3/10

Short and sweet, INDIKA uses the third-person adventure game medium to tell a compelling story of a young nun struggling with life, good and evil, and the voice of the devil in her head. The influence of both serious cinema and Russian philosophical novels come together to form the most compelling game I've played so far this year. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll feel weird, and you'll wonder what the word "evil" really means anyway.

Games are, first and foremost, an entertainment medium. In recent years, they’ve even trended towards revenue generation as their primary goal, with publishers worrying less about the entertainment factor and focusing instead on their titles being dopamine drips with microtransactions. But every so often, a game comes along with something to say — a game like INDIKA.

You know devs aren’t messing around when they list influences like arthouse filmmakers Yorgos Lanthimos and Ari Aster, and Russian authors like Dostoevsky and Mikhail Bulgakov — if you recognize any of those names, you can probably guess at the kind of game INDIKA dev Odd Meter set out to make. If you don’t know who the heck those people are, suffice to say they make movies or write books that make you think, and that make you feel a certain type of way (uncomfortable, mainly). After playing through INDIKA in one sitting, I can confidently say that it made me feel things, and think things, more so than any game I’ve played since Disco Elysium.

indika review view russian convent
Odd Meter is a Russian developer who fled the country at the start of the invasion of Ukraine; perhaps unsurprisingly, the Russia of INDIKA is a place of both beauty and darkness

As it ought to — INDIKA is first and foremost a 3rd-person narrative adventure game, telling the story of a titular young nun in an alternate version of a pre-revolution Russia (late 19th or early 20th century) who gets sent out of the convent to deliver a letter. Her fellow sisters all believe she’s cursed, and for good reason — she hears the voice of the devil, sees strange things, and acts rather odd as a result. In her attempt to deliver the letter, Indika ends up on an adventure that takes her quite far from the convent. Along the way, she meets an escaped convict, Ilia, giving Indika someone to talk to besides the voice in her head. Together, they make their way to a nearby cathedral, where they seek a holy relic they hope will grant them healing (for the convict’s necrotic arm) and absolution (for Indika’s self-ascribed sins).

I could sit here and simply list all the great moments throughout the narrative, as there are many. In particular, the scene in which the two characters meet — which manages to be terrifying, violent, and also contain slapstick comedy — is going to live in my head for a long time. The pacing is great, with your understanding of Indika slowly growing as you watch her react to the twists and turns of the story. The writing is excellent, and the small cast of characters all feel like real people. The voice of the devil in your head shows up often, but not too often. The voice actor for the devil sounds simultaneously mocking, friendly, and insidious — just like you’d expect the devil to sound.

indika review two characters
Why can a small company do this, but Bethesda can’t?

The character models add to the realness of the characters, with Indika’s facial model and expressions as a particular stand out. While there is a bit of jank with the falling animations, there is a lot of attention to detail with how Indika moves, and she feels very alive when she isn’t awkwardly stepping off of 2-foot drops. Unreal Engine 4 is used to great effect overall in INDIKA — the texture of Indika’s hood almost mesmerized me with its gentle fluttering as she walked. Equal care is shown with regard to the environments; although they do sometimes feel like video game levels, many of the areas succeed in feeling like real places.

It won’t always be simply walking through these places, however — Indika features a decent amount of puzzles, from the usual “move and use the ladder to reach the thing that lets you progress” to significantly trickier tasks. The puzzles are well-designed, with none taking me more than a few minutes to figure out, and all of them making me feel oh-so-very-smart when I solved them. There’s good variety in the puzzles as well, and you basically never have to do the same thing more than once (with one exception, but it was my favorite puzzle, and I was happy to see it again). It does sometimes feel silly how often Indika has to use giant cranes to progress, but that is probably by design, as the game often takes breaks from being dark and serious to have a little fun.

indika review man in mouth
Whether this is “a little fun” or more “wtf” is a matter of taste, I suppose

Most of the time you’ll be treading dark water with INDIKA’s narrative, however. Big themes get tackled, from free will to the meaning of evil, often via conversations Indika has with the voice in her head or with Ilia. Sometimes it feels a bit too spoon-fed, but that’s more than made up for by all the subtle story-telling and symbolism present throughout the game. There’s a lot to notice if you’re paying attention, and much of what the developers are trying to say isn’t explicitly stated by the characters.

One way the game does this to great effect is with the arcade game elements in INDIKA. Ever present on the UI are your total points; you can gain points by religious icons and texts, by lighting shrines, or by completing some objectives. You’ll even level up a few times — but none of this matters. Your level, and the points, have no real effect on the game — a loading screen even tells you at one point not to worry about points, because “points are pointless”.

indika review points page
There’s a lot more detail we could get into about how the game challenges and subverts what video games are supposed to be, but part of the fun is discovering it for yourself

The points system has old-school pixel graphics, which seem very out of place at first, but almost certainly has symbolic meaning. This old-school gaming vibe continues in some flashback mini-games that tell the story of how Indika ended up in the convent. These flashbacks are part of what makes the pacing so good, as they break up the bleakness of Russian snow and machinery with some color and fun platforming. Like the puzzles, the minigames are just the right amount of challenging: usually necessitating a few retries, but never feeling impossible.

Even if you are struggling to make a jump in one of the minigames (or dying during one of the handful of puzzles where that can happen), the game is very, very generous with its checkpoints — you’ll never have to replay more than a few seconds of the level to get to where you died. The game also features a level select with a lot of granularity, so if you want to replay a specific section, it’s easy to do so.

indika arcade racer review
In this racing minigame, you’ll slow down if you go onto the grass — one more example of the devs’ attention to detail

The sound design deserves special mention, largely due to how carefully sound is used. Music shows up often, but generally for not too long. The music is quite unique sounding, and hard to describe (you should just go listen to it). Most of the time, you’ll only hear the footsteps of you and your companion, either crunching through snow or echoing down dark hallways; rather than ambient music, the wind or the creak of machinery breaks the silence. It’s incredibly effective design, and is a great example of auditory “show, don’t tell”. I shouldn’t need eerie music to tell me that I should feel creeped out, the game should make a creepy place and then have me walk through it — and that’s exactly what INDIKA does.

Really, the whole game is one big example of “show, don’t tell” done right. It’s not Faulkner — you won’t need the CliffsNotes to follow the plot — but INDIKA trusts the player to make their own meaning from the game’s narrative and mechanics. While characters might discuss philosophical topics, the game doesn’t hand you a conclusion; instead, it offers digital food for thought — and what a meal it was.

indika review indika and ilia on train
Indika’s expression is basically how I felt after finishing the game

I finished the game in around 4 and 1/2 hours, which is fairly quick, but felt like the right length for the narrative. (At time of writing, we’re waiting to hear what the price of the game will be on release). A portion of the revenue generated from INDIKA will be donated to aid children affected by the war in Ukraine, which might also help you decide if it’s worth the price of admission. All told, if you prefer your games on the dark and thoughtful side — and enjoy the odd puzzle and platforming — INDIKA is an easy pickup.

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DanielD
DanielD

Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.

Articles: 1579
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