indika review

Indika Review – Arthouse Of Worship

A nun-convent-ional journey.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the moment was. Whether it was the opening’s swift cut from a colourful, pixelated arcade minigame to a full 10-minute stint of slowly walking pails of water back and forth from a well, rendered in painstaking detail. Or maybe the section where I had to hold down a dedicated “pray” button to stop the physical space around me from tearing at the seams. Then again, perhaps it was the ascent through a hazy tuna canning factory where I had to cross a cavernous silo while avoiding being smacked over the edge by rows of giant fish while secretly conversing with the devil. It was in at least one of these moments, or maybe another still, that I came to the firm realisation that Indika is something truly special.

indika review

I ought to offer a little more context, I suppose. The product of a studio comprised mostly of Russian ex-pats, now working out of Kazakhstan as a result of their opposition to the country’s war on Ukraine, Indika is a artfully-crafted jaunt across an alternate version of 19th-century Russia that stars a displaced nun caught up in an escaped convict’s pilgrimage of faith to have his gangrenous arm blessed by a holy relic. Indika, the titular lead, also happens to be possessed by a sharp-tongued demon, adding another layer to the religiously-charged and frequently unnerving journey which takes clear inspiration from filmmakers like Yorgos Lanthimos, Ari Aster, and Darren Aronofsky.

indika review

I’d hate to go into too great detail at all about what makes Indika’s story as compelling as it is for fear of giving too much away, but the best parts of it see developer Odd Meter exploring the many complexities of faith and faith-based cultural systems, and quite directly challenging the Russian Orthodoxy in moments. The game broaches topics from religiously-sanctioned violence to the foils of sexual repression in clergy, at times with almost too little hesitation to stomach, but it manages to do so without getting in the way of itself or the immediate journey. The messages are there, if you’re willing to peer beneath the veil of its arthouse-inspired direction and penchant for nonsense, but you’re just as welcome to simply enjoy the ride.

Indika’s is a journey of the linear, third-person adventure flavour, offering little in agency but a clever degree of variety. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the fantastic What Remains of Edith Finch, frequently presenting new scenes as conceptually and mechanically-unique vignettes and then turfing those new gameplay ideas as quickly as they arrived. It’s especially true of the occasional interlude where Indika introspects and remembers pieces of her past, which are exhibited as 2D pixel art scenes with their own retro mechanics like isometric racing or simple platforming. There are some inspired puzzles and sequences in the “real” world of the game too, though there are also a couple of comparatively boring box-pushing, lever-pulling type bits peppered in there for good measure.

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indika review

Everything in the more grounded version of Indika’s reality is rendered in particularly striking detail, which is both impressive given the team of less than 20, but also hugely important to the entire production. The way Indika composes herself around others, the way she holds herself, and retreats into herself in the face of persecution or of cruelty, are as essential to understanding how the world sees Indika as those retro gameplay interludes are to understanding how she sees the world. Over roughly four hours you’re pulled to and fro between atrocity, absurdity and banal lucidity and it works as well as it does because of a studio with a firm grasp of visual and technical language and its filmic inspirations, along with some stellar performances from the main cast.

indika review

My only real gripe with the game’s presentation has been the odd few technical issues I encountered when playing on PS5. There were moments where the game’s performance would tank quite drastically, though they’re mercifully few and far between. The impact of a couple of cutscenes was also mitigated somewhat by distracting visual bugs, but again this is an otherwise very impressive effort given the team’s size and resources.

It should also be noted that there are some scenes in Indika which are quite confronting, and it was disappointing to see that there’s no warning given or option to skip (off-screen but heavily implied) moments of sexual violence. There’s a nudity toggle, but the sole scene it applies actually happens to be one of the sweeter and more positive moments of the entire game.

indika review
Conclusion
Indika is a thoroughly compelling work that succeeds in throwing out the narrative adventure game rulebook and building on processes from all forms of art to create something wholly unique. It's a brisk, bold, frequently dark, sharply critical and deeply weird thing that deserves to be played by anyone with the stomach.
Positives
Bleak but utterly charming story
Wonderful art direction throughout
Unique approaches to gameplay and direction
Very decent performances from the cast
Negatives
Occasional performance hiccups on PS5
Concerning lack of content warnings
8.5