Indika Review – Pray for Us Sinners

Indika Review

I’ve said it many times. In the vast ocean of copycats, sequels, and remakes, a video game that aspires to be different is welcome. When that game has a substantive theme or unique style, so much the better. Odd Meter’s Indika checks those boxes. It’s weird, sometimes confused and inconsistent, but it looks like almost nothing else and has a narrative and imagery unlike any I’ve experienced in a game.

We’ll Have Nun of That

Odd Meter is a developer that relocated from Russia to Kazakhstan. While normally a developer’s origin is irrelevant to their games, in Indika’s case, that move is significant for several reasons. For one, Indika is suffused with the architecture, dark humor, irony, and culture of Russia, especially that of the Russian Orthodox Church. Second, the studio moved in large part due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Odd Meter has a strong identity that challenges political and aesthetic norms. Of course, no matter the developer’s politics, a game is at heart a form of interactive entertainment. That’s the standard by which it has to be evaluated.

I’ll try not to spoil much of anything about Indika because there are some genuine shocks and surprises along the way. Fundamentally, Indika — the character — is a young nun in an alternative history, late 19th century Russia. Immense clockwork machines fill rooms at the convent and gas-powered bicycles plow through the snow. By and large, though, it’s a relatable and recognizable slice of history filled with military conflict, cruelty, and the humor of hopelessness. The tone and theme are thoroughly Russian, bringing to mind authors like Gogol and Dostoevsky, not to mention a handful of filmmakers.

Hearing Voices

The plot of Indika is, on the surface, fairly coherent. Indika is a young nun who has a history of hearing voices and seeing hallucinatory images, like dancing characters coming out of a priest’s mouth. The voice in Indika’s head may or may not be the devil. She may or may not suffer from mental illness or genuinely inspired religious visions. She definitely has a few secrets tucked away. Indika is sent on a quest to deliver a letter to a nearby monastery, thus beginning her adventure.

To describe the story further would ruin a lot of both the player’s and Indika’s surprises. But I can say that Indika — the game and the character — explores a lot of interesting themes, including sin, temptation and redemption, mental illness, and the not-especially-benign influences of the Church. Indika is treated cruelly by her peers but we learn early on that she’s neither innocent nor unable to defend herself. There’s a surprising amount of violence and sexual content in the game. Let’s face it, the devil isn’t necessarily a comforting voice. Very few games, if any, have explored these themes.

A Walk in the Woods

Indika has a striking, nearly monochromatic aesthetic that can be artistic and culturally authentic. Some of the characters, like Indika herself, are top-notch, expressive and affecting. Others seem less technically polished like they’ve dropped in from a long-ago game. The sense of physical and emotional bleakness is palpable. The developer has a strong connection to Russian architecture and iconography and it shows. There are stretches when Indika is suddenly relieved of its cold palette, and these are almost shocking. Rarely do we notice a game’s cinematography. Framing and composition are notable and help tell Indika’s uncomfortable tale.

The game’s often peculiar, philosophical, and surreal dialogue is generally very well acted by its trio of leads. Its music is spare and rarely draws attention to itself and the environmental audio is likewise understated. In terms of performance, I had some definite issues with stutters and framerate drops, so there’s some room for optimization.

The Devil is in the Details

If Indika stuck to its narrative adventure game structure, it would be a truly impressive exploration of a memorable character and themes. It’s a puzzle-heavy title, but most of the puzzles are pretty reasonable and logical, given enough thought. Where Indika fails to fully convince is in its mechanics. In some cases, there are choices that undercut the power of the narrative. In general, these are where the developer chooses to gamify the experience. For example, there are collectibles that earn points, but the developer clearly notes that the points mean nothing. Iconic-sounding chip tune music accompanies an otherwise serious sequence.

There are also several places when Indika wants to be an action game, where precisely timed inputs are betrayed by sluggish controls and movement. Less-than-perfect responses result in a fail state and repeated attempts. Quite often, mechanics are poorly explained or telegraphed. Several times, the developers change up both the style and controls of the game, using pixel art minigames to tell Indika’s backstory. The why of it makes a narrative sense, but the implementation can be frustrating. Having to replay an unskippable mini-game undercut not only the game’s goodwill but also slowed the pacing and the story’s building momentum. Those sections disrespect the game’s potential, but worse, they sometimes disrespect the player’s time.

Fail State

Indika has a compelling and genuinely original story to tell. It’s by turns darkly humorous, thought-provoking, philosophically challenging, and emotionally shocking. It’s weird, too, but sometimes more attached to its off-kilter elements than it should be. Things like ignoring fun and narrative consistency for the sake of being quirky feel like missteps when they waste the player’s time or slow the pace. Indika is definitely original and sometimes daring, but stumbles a bit in its execution. Imperfect or not, I can’t help but admire the look of the game, the memorable characters, and the audacious themes.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Weird and different
  • Interesting themes and story
  • Can be visually striking
  • Thoughtful

The Bad

  • Annoying minigames
  • Choppy movement
  • Hit-and-miss pacing
  • Some forgettable puzzles