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Indika Review

Devil went down to Russia

It’s about as cliched as you can get in games media to start a review with some variation of “I’ve never played a game quite like X.” Largely because few things are truly that alien in a medium as contracted as this and even fewer are developed in a vacuum. Inspirations run amok, references flow like wine, everything is something else. And yet.

I’ve never played a game quite like Indika. An intensely cinematic, tightly focused narrative adventure that deploys camera work and tonal tools more akin to experimental films than traditional third-person games, it’s a game with a lot on its mind. Indika follows the journey of a 19th-century Russian Orthodox nun Indika as she is unceremoniously kicked out of her isolated covenant into a semi-fictionalised, war-torn countryside. Why was she kicked out? In the simplest terms, the rest of the nuns really don’t dig Indika’s vibe.

Developer Odd Meter hasn’t been shy about the game’s implicit (and explicit) critiques of organised religion and the sorrows it can bring to bear on people like Indika. The game’s opening is a dour tour of the worst of its impulses as Indika navigates menial, thankless tasks in an environment left more frigid by the unsympathetic eyes of the women around her so much as the relentless icy winds. Literally, one of the first moments of outright gameplay in Indika involves carrying buckets of water from a well to a barrel for an excruciatingly long time only for one of the other nuns to tip over the barrel– nobody will want water Indika has touched, after all.

Indika’s journey is perilous, strange, and occasionally dull

Indika is a relatively short experience, landing anywhere between 3-6 hours, but this repetitive and dull upfront work at the well is all the indicator you’ll need in figuring out if this is a game for you. The game isn’t overly complex mechanically, instead highlighting narrative and ambience as you navigate several simple environmental puzzles and basic exploration/traversal segments. But in its rote motions, it echoes some of its themes brilliantly, at least academically speaking. You might not have traditional “fun” with Indika, but to dismiss it because of this misses the whole point of experimental, crunchy art.

Indika’s strained relationship with the church and its emissaries is worsened by her increasingly strained relationship with reality itself, thanks to the literal devil on her shoulder. From the jump, the game is narrated by a goading voice inside her head as Satan himself injects impure and intrusive thoughts into Indika’s head at any given moment. While there is a dedicated prayer button to fend this off, and despite some truly heinous shit pouring from the disembodied voice, there’s a sense that Indika yearns for at least the idea of what the voice is offering her. A life of self-denial and shame in service of an institution that openly despises her has left Indika in an impossible position and that tension finally breaks bad here.

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The voice can become so overwhelming as to fracture reality itself, bathing the gorgeously rendered environments in red and creating simple platforming courses. When Indika prays, the world reforms, but to move ahead she’ll need to balance an act of faith with the voice of sin, reforming and breaking the world over and over to create a pathway. It’s not subtle, as the voice repeats lengthy monologues about Indika’s darkest thoughts and failures, but it is incredibly effective and captivating.

The devil plays tricks on the environment to create puzzles

This is thanks in large part to Indika’s overall commitment to style and quality in almost all facets of its cinematic ideals. The voice work is some of the best in any game this generation; Isabella Inchbald’s Indika and Silas Carson’s take on the devil are all-timer performances, deftly balancing the emotional core of the story with just enough comedic edge to make for a strangely wonderful tonal harmony. The camera work is also expressive and vibrant, deploying angles and cuts we typically never see in games that gives Indika a far greater sense of cinema than even the most expensive AAAA experiences on the market.

It’s also fairly clumsy to play, but how much that bothers you will depend on your palette for its otherwise holistically flavourful ride. Some of the later game sections are too drawn out and awkward, even for a game designed around drawn out, awkward sections, and its pacing can lag behind its ideas as it stretches toward its conclusions. But these are largely product-minded complaints about an artistically-minded experience, so provided you’re not looking for polished edges, there’s more than enough going on in Indika to sink your teeth into.

Final Thoughts

I haven’t even really dug into the meat of the story or the way the game uses surprises bursts of pixel art and explicitly gamey tokens and EXP bars layered on top of its otherwise sombre, realistic visuals. But that’s because I think these things are best experience for yourself as you play, much of the game’s charm isn’t easily conveyed in a review regardless of how flowery I try to make my prose. It’s just a distinctly strange and unapologetically individual experience, embracing the best of what makes this medium so unique in the first place. You should play Indika because we should all play more games like Indika.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Indika Review
Like a prayer
An unapologetically cinematic descent into the darkest parts of the human mind, Indika is a unique and crunchy little experiment that comes alive in its ideas and tone if not always its gameplay.
The Good
Stunning use of cinematic camera techniques
Great voice work and aesthetics
Personally resonate reflections on the church and the human condition
Oddly funny
The Bad
Exploration is a bit meh
Pacing can lag in the second act
8
GET AROUND IT
  • Odd Meter
  • 11 Bit Studios
  • PS5 / Xbox Series X/S / PC
  • May 2, 2024

Indika Review
Like a prayer
An unapologetically cinematic descent into the darkest parts of the human mind, Indika is a unique and crunchy little experiment that comes alive in its ideas and tone if not always its gameplay.
The Good
Stunning use of cinematic camera techniques
Great voice work and aesthetics
Personally resonate reflections on the church and the human condition
Oddly funny
The Bad
Exploration is a bit meh
Pacing can lag in the second act
8
GET AROUND IT
Written By James Wood

One part pretentious academic and one part goofy dickhead, James is often found defending strange games and frowning at the popular ones, but he's happy to play just about everything in between. An unbridled love for FromSoftware's pantheon, a keen eye for vibes first experiences, and an insistence on the Oxford comma have marked his time in the industry.

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