Howdy, all. Welcome to this in depth look at Quantic Dream’s cinematic thriller, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy for you North Americans), released on the PS2 and Xbox in 2005, and the PC in 2007. ‘Quantic Dream?’ I hear you say. ‘Aren’t they the guys behind the popular PS3 game Heavy Rain?’ Why yes, font of all gaming knowledge, they are. However, what you may not know is that 5 years before Heavy Rains release, the studio were just letting their second baby, Fahrenheit, go out play in the big, bad, gaming world. It was not a failed venture by any means, and I know many of you have at least heard of this game. However, the fact that it has been on the market for 5 years more than Heavy rain and sold less than half the copies (800,000 vs 2 million plus) would certainly suggest that Fahrenheit passed many gamers.
With that background out of the way, it’s time to jump into the game itself. The term ‘game’ can only really be applied loosely in this case. ‘Interactive film’ would probably be a more fitting description. The story starts with Lucas Kane, the game’s main playable character, stabbing an innocent man to death in a New York diner’s bathroom. The twist is that Kane, at the time of the murder, is in a trance, unaware of what he is doing and unable to control his actions. When he wakes up, he is horrified by the scene around him, and confused as to how his arms became covered in bizarre symbols. A large portion of the game is focuses on Lucas’s story: his struggle to escape the clutches of the law, come to terms with what he has done and find out exactly what happened in that diner’s dingy bathroom. When you’re not controlling Lucas, you are usually controlling Carla Valenti or Tyler Miles, the duo of detectives that have been assigned to solve the murder that the player knows Lucas has committed.
Throughout the game, the paths of all the playable characters become wonderfully interwoven. Taking controller of a murderer, desperate to clear his name and detectives who are trying to do the exact opposite is a very interesting story mechanic indeed. One moment, you’ll be doing everything to make sure that Lucas doesn’t face life behind bars, the next, you’ll be drawing the duo of detectives ever closer to the scent that Lucas leaves in his wake. It creates a tense atmosphere full of anticipation and excitement; one in which scenes play out in your head before they do on screen, and guessing what is going to happen next is half the fun.
Dictating the flow of the battle between Lucas and New York’s finest is not all that the player will do in this game, and in fact only makes up a small part of the game’s content. the small matter of trying to fathom how on earth a average man on the street can be manipulated into slamming a knife into the chest of a total stranger. You are plunged into this aspect of the same early on, and as you explore its depths you realise nothing is ever as it seems. Lucas starts having hallucinations, which eventually force him out of his office job and into a world of darkness and despair. Alone and confused, he seeks a spiritual medium in the hope of uncovering the mystery of the moment that changed his life. Without giving too much of the story away, let me say that it involves generous lashings of the supernatural as well as a Mayan Oracle and a small girl with unimaginable power.
All of the characters in Fahrenheit are developed extremely effectively, with subtle touches that leave you feeling like you really know and understand the people you are seeing on screen. Detective Valenti’s hard working attitude and attention to detail quickly feel totally natural, and the way in which she becomes embroiled in the game’s central plot is brilliantly done. Detective Tyler’s comical quips provide the perfect buffer to his partner’s serious tendencies, and his laid-back attitude quickly grows on the player character. Despite the strengths of both these characters, it is Lucas who really steals the show: his slow descent into ever-increasing levels of madness, combined with his determination to prove himself innocent makes living in his world a thoroughly enjoyable and curious experience.
The story of all these characters, as well as being interesting, are also (to some extent) dynamic. The story will always flow down a linear path, but the twist and turns that litter this path can be, to some extent, moulded by the player. All three of the characters will have decisions to make throughout the game, and the influence that your decisions make will be apparent as you progress. To give an example, during the game’s opening act, after the murder, Lucas has the chance to make a quick dash for it or stay behind and clean up the evidence before leaving quietly. The path you take will alter the evidence that the detectives are able to discover and thus the ease with which they can get onto Lucas’s trail. This element of choice adds another layer of intrigue to a story that already penetrates depths far beyond the limit of most other games.
So I’ve managed to get this far without mentioning the gameplay. Don’t worry, it’s there, and it provides a huge departure from video game norm. On the whole, characters are controlled with nothing else than the two analogue sticks. The gameplay varies between 2 different styles: one reserved for more mundane, less action orientated tasks, and one for the games pivotal scenes and action sequences. This first style will have you controlling the character’s movements with the left stick in the traditional manner, whilst using the right stick to interact with objects. You’ll be walking around Lucas’s apartments, checking his answering machine, and looking at photographs. Sometimes, you’ll use the analogue sticks to mimic the actions of the character on screen (playing with a yoyo, for example, involves intense thumb twiddling action). This first gameplay style, in general, serves as a way of transporting the player between areas in which you will use the second style of control, but it’s also implemented in some stealth and puzzle solving sequences, which don’t prove to be as strong as the rest of the game.
This second style comes into play during ‘important’ events in the game – chase sequences, conversations that are central to the plot, and combat (of which there isn’t all that much). These involve heavily scripted sequences with which the player interacts largely through a rhythm based mini game. On screen, you will see two squares that will light up to indicate to the player in which direction to push the analogue sticks. The speed of this mini-game varies depending on the intensity of the action (and the difficulty level with which you set). A couple of slip-ups are easily forgiven, but if you’re too out of sync with the action around you, you will be forced to watch your character fail and the scene will restart. Sometimes, in moments of intense struggle, you will be forced to pound on your controller’s shoulder buttons as quickly as you can, trying to get out of a sticky situation. These set pieces sequences are very well done, and the positioning of the stick indicators on screen mean that you’ll be able to both concentrate on what you’re doing and on what is going on in the background. And trust me, you’ll want to see what’s going on – many of the action sequences look like they could’ve come straight out of a number of top action movies.
In addition to all of this, you have your character’s mental health to worry about. This is indicated by a ‘sanity’ meter, which ranges (rather ominously) from wretched to neutral, and certain actions will either improve your mental health or lead to a steady decline in your clarity of thought. For example, manipulating a conversation so that it turns in your favour may gain you sanity. Having a hallucination that makes your character fill his pants, however, will reduce your sanity (and your available number of clothes). Run out of sanity, and that’s it. It’s reload time. Other than indicating your character’s mood, this meter doesn’t do much other than provide an annoying distraction, and is the one element of the gameplay that I didn’t enjoy.
Elsewhere, in the graphical department, all is well. Technically, the graphics are nothing special, but stylistically they really add to the dark, mysterious atmosphere of the game, contrasting a drab colour palate with striking images. Other clever touches occur when the view changes to split screen mode, giving you a glimpse into what is happening away from your character. Seeing an NYPD officer discovering your hidden evidence ramps up the tension and gives your actions some sort of context. As a negative, the camera can be awkward in the non-scripted sections of the game. Staying in a fixed position, it will stop you from interacting with an object that you know is only a few feet in front of you. The sound design is excellent. The voice actors come across as genuine, and there is no cheese to be seen (other than with a few of Tyler’s one-liners). Contextual sounds help contribute to the fantastic atmosphere, and the alternative soundtrack really does a great job of mirroring the changes in tempo that happen during the game.
As with every game, there are some aspects that are a few notches below perfect. The story, as well as it progresses, starts to become a bit far-fetched towards the end, introducing an array of nonsensical themes that the main characters struggle to hold together in a meaningful way, and only one of the game’s three endings leaves you fully satisfied. Additionally, performing mundane tasks over and over again can get a little boring, and you get the sense that the developers were trying to show off what the controls could do rather than have the game unfold naturally. Nevertheless, none of these gripes do enough to ruin the game, and, despite the ending, the story will no doubt pull you through to its conclusion. With innovative gameplay, a complicated mesh of stories and characters you really care about, you should really give Fahrenheit a go. It’s conclusion may not leave your desires completely fulfilled, but you’ll get enough unexpected twists and turns throughout its 10 hour story to earn this game a place on your ‘to play’ list. Pick it up cheap second hand and immerse yourself in a game world unlike any other.