Fahrenheit (a.k.a. Indigo Prophecy)
Quantic Dream first appeared on the game making scene in 1999 with their sprawling, eclectic effort entitled Omikron: The Nomad Soul. Featuring a soundtrack by David Bowie, it was a 3rd person action adventure, the main premise of which was that your character could hop into the soul of a new body should the present one fail you (thus the sub-title). Omikron was certainly ambitious and perhaps a bit ahead of its time, marred slightly by the clunky shooting sequences, though the martial arts style combat was better handled through extensive use of motion capture.
Moving forward to late 2005, and we see an even bolder Quantic Dream emerge. Still led by the dynamic David Cage, the creative force behind Omikron, you get the sense that Fahrenheit is the type of game that David always wanted to make, and that it is the advances in technology over the years that have allowed him to fully realise his dreams. How well this vision was translated into a gaming experience will be mulled over by The Two Steves shortly.
The game is titled as Indigo Prophecy in North America. The name change was apparently to avoid confusion with the Fahrenheit 9/11 film. The only other difference between the two versions is that some sexually explicit scenes were omitted from Indigo Prophecy. From this, we can only surmise that in North America the sight of a torso being ripped apart is preferable to a naked one, because there is enough violence in this game to garner an age 15+ rating in Europe.
Fahrenheit opens in a diner on a bitter cold night in New York City. The main protagonist, Lucas Kane, is sitting in a stall in the men's room in a trance-like state, carving arcane symbols into his forearms with a kitchen knife. Another customer is at the sink, unaware of Lucas' presence. Triggered by one of the strange visions that have been playing out in his head, Lucas suddenly moves from the stall and stabs the other man to death in a ritualistic fashion. It soon becomes apparent that Lucas had never before met the man he killed. What could possibly drive a person to murder a complete stranger so brutally? And so the scene is set for this supernatural thriller.
First things first. If you're a 'traditional' adventure game player who couldn't get past that sequence in Still Life without someone sending you a saved game, then you won't even last through the opening 15 minutes of Fahrenheit. And then it gets worse. Still with me? Good. I opted for the XBOX version of Fahrenheit because knowing the type of game it was, I thought the console controls would be more manageable than on the PC. You'll have to read both our viewpoints to ascertain which control system was easier, but the thing that really irked me about the XBOX controls was the way climbing sequences were implemented. Subtlety was not the order of the day here, and I literally had to grind the thumbsticks into the edges of their circular slots to make any progress. My thumbs are still aching two days after the event.
This game is in essence an interactive film. To keep it moving along with the appropriate pacing, the player is periodically asked to perform abstract actions with the controls. In the case of the XBOX, this mostly involved using the left and right thumbsticks to track a series of lighted segments that are superimposed on the screen (something akin to playing Simon Says). To signify that one of these sequences is approaching, a GET READY! message appears on the screen. You will learn to dread the sight of this message. The consequences of failing a sequence might only be that you fail to read someone's mind, which gives you an advantage during conversation, or you might lose a 'life'. You only have a fixed number of lives to work with (through exploration you can find additional bonus lives in some areas to top up with). There are also sequences where you have to alternately pull the left/right buttons rhythmically to maintain a slider in the correct position. And finally, even conversations are conducted under pressure. You have only a few seconds in which to make your next conversation choice. I suppose this is the way things go with conversations in real life, but adventurers in general might expect a little more time to dither over their answers.
Fortunately, there are configurable levels of difficulty for the arcade sequences. I went for Easy, and that was still difficult enough even for this veteran gamer. I shudder to think what Hard must be like. The game automatically saves at certain crucial points, so you don't really have to worry too much about having to play a whole chapter over again as far as the action sequences are concerned... on the other hand, make a poor choice in conversation and you will be forced to. Unfortunately, it was a while before I twigged that I could backtrack and play any chapter over again in order to improve the outcome. And in the first occurrence of this particular game play element that I ever recall seeing, you must also maintain your characters' mental health throughout the game or they will go insane. Aside from losing lives, attempting to come out of a chapter with better mental health for your character is another reason to replay.
Speaking of which, you actually get to play three of the central characters during the course of the game, and in a unique twist on this theme, kudos must go to Quantic Dream for allowing you to play both a hunted criminal and the detectives that are hunting him virtually at the same time. There is even a moment, much like in the brilliant novel Marathon Man (William Goldman, 1974) where events suddenly converge and the main protagonists meet without realising it.
But that's a definite high point; there are some lows as well. From my perspective, Fahrenheit is essentially one huge resurrection fallacy, whereby you have to keep dying or going to prison to find out what you shouldn't have done, then replaying the chapter to obtain the 'right' outcome. Now I know how Pavlov's poor dog must have felt.
There are something like 40+ chapters in Fahrenheit, and it will probably take you 20-odd real time hours to get through, just to give you an idea of the game's longevity. Of course, this all depends on how often you decide to replay chapters. There are multiple endings, but they are all precipitated during the last three chapters of play. Thus this becomes yet another game where the multiple ending aspect seems almost an afterthought, unlike the venerable Pandora Directive, where stuffing up a particularly important conversation with Tex's romantic interest, Chelsee, at the very beginning of the game propelled you towards a different class of ending altogether.
On the other hand, I feel that Quantic Dream have realised what was most likely their main goal in successfully producing one of the first interactive films that is truly interactive, with some great cinematic moments. Perhaps their next effort will go a step further, and they'll devise a way for us to better appreciate the action scenes without having to Simon Says our way through them! And finally, the soundtrack is way cool. It's power rock interlaced with some very nice ballads by a band called Theory of a Deadman, from Vancouver, Canada. Right up my alley.
Whilst Steve played the XBOX, I played the PC, and the action sequences were no easier. Despite Steve's sore thumbs, I think a gamepad would be preferable, otherwise you have to press gang 8 separate fingers into action in order to complete the lighted sequences. You can configure your keyboard to suit yourself, and you will settle into it, but people allergic to even the mildest degree of keyboard manipulation will be breaking out in hives at an alarming rate.
You will either loathe or learn to live with the controls. I doubt anyone will love them, despite their stated attempt to make you feel more involved in the actions by in some way mimicking the real life actions. I suppose furiously pecking the left and right arrows during an exertion sequence in some way represents an energetic struggle, but other than the dance sequence where the button pressing had a rhythm and cadence that did fit the on-screen events, I did not feel that the keyboard or mouse actions in any way conveyed a sense of participation. It was generally something to be endured, whilst the up and down mouse movement during the sex scene was just lame.
Which is a shame, because underneath these sequences Farenheit has some spectacular moments.
Whether this game will be a cross over classic remains to be seen but I came to adventure games via some true classics of the action/adventure genre (Outcast and Realms of the Haunting being two of them). They showed to me the depth that an adventure element brings to what otherwise can be a fairly shallow shooting fest, albeit enjoyable in its own way. And Fahrenheit certainly has some stunning elements in its game play, its presentation, and even its storyline (although it's let down by a very weak ending).
Steve is right that it's an interactive movie, and the motion capture for the animation is exceptional. Some of the scenes are straight out of movies like The Matrix, and it's a shame you have to focus on the flashing lights to get the action sequences right, because it pretty much prevents you from actually watching the scene going on. In a nice touch, some of the action scenes can be watched simply as a movie via the bonus material which you can unlock as you progress through the game, but not all of them. They should have all been made available in this way, as they really are worth watching uninterrupted by the frenetic poking of keyboard buttons.
There are other action things to do apart from those already mentioned. Climb a few fences and drainpipes, sneak through a military complex, and go target shooting to name a few. These do not involve the finger sequences, and are more straightforward as a result, although sneaking took more than a few attempts.
You have a lot of control over the camera and the view from your character perspective, switching easily from third to first person, and being able to rotate the camera round the character. I don't recall having camera problems even once. There are several occasions where split screens are used not just to show multiple perspectives or protagonists, but also as part of a puzzle design. These added to the cinematic feel, and I felt were well used throughout.
The characterisation is generally good to exceptional, although the doubling up of the same actor on two of the main character voices just seemed lazy, good though he is. Having a strong female lead is also something to be applauded.
The resurrection aspect Steve spoke about didn't bother me too much, although it is a little galling to do something and have it produce a negative result for no obvious reason. But life can be like that, and it didn't happen to me a lot. I only ever went back and replayed one chapter from the start and this was in order to try and save some of my own lives, and the ends I reached in the game because I made a wrong choice were not many and easily avoided. Plus there were plenty of ways to get mental health up, particularly to an adventurer who is used to doing pretty much everything there is to do, so a choice leading to a decrease in mental health could usually be remedied by doing something else close at hand.
Many choices and actions will affect your mental health. You don't have to do everything, and you might adopt a cautious approach to avoid negative effects, but there is a lot to do and fiddle with, and most adventure game players will open every cupboard and drawer, and generally poke around. Which gives the game an exploratory depth that other action/adventure games often lack.
You can find bonus points as you play as well as the few extra lives, and these are what are used to unlock the extras through the bonus screen. Spend them as you go, or wait until the end. They have no effect on game play but can provide a less frantic interlude. Other extras apart from those mentioned include some "making of" videos, some extra in-game games, and some movie scenes not contained in the game itself (avoid the dance scene if even fleeting nudity offends).
Finally, Steve is spot on about the music. You can unlock all the songs through the bonus screen and listen to them at your leisure. Music is a matter of taste of course, but I will likely try and hunt down a few of the performers.
Re-jig the control system and there is no doubt you would be on the verge of an outstanding game. Even with the foibles of the controls, both of us agree that this game was well worth the price of admission. It will infuriate as many people as it enthralls, but Fahrenheit is an action/adventure game that well satisfies both halves of that equation, and which contains some damn fine gaming moments.
Copyright © The Two Steves 2006.
All rights reserved.
Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP, Pentium III 800MHz, 256MB RAM, 2.5 GB disc space, 6x DVD ROM drive (available also on CD), 32 MB video card, DirectX 9.0 (included) or higher.
Also available for XBOX and PS2.