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SummaryOriginal, movie-style game that's both retro and revolutionary. Stunning.
The Good--Disclaimer--- [I played the European version of this game, being a European. The only differences are that it's called "Fahrenheit" and that the sex scenes haven't been removed and the nudity isn't blurred. Whilst the sex scenes aren't exactly necessary, especially seeing as it's difficult to justify why viewing sex is necessary in any visual story-telling medium except to titillate, they're so soft-core that it doesn't seem worthwhile taking them out to me, and the game is a 16+ anyway. Also, call me biased, but "Fahrenheit" is a much better name than "Indigo Prophecy". It's more symbolic and references the cool juxtaposition in the game's plot of the temperature falling all over the world as the tension among the characters is rising.]
The reason I write reviews for Mobygames is to exorcise myself of the ghost of a great game after I finish it. Most of my real life friends don't play games, so this is the only option I have if I want to talk about my funky digital experiences. With 'Fahrenheit' though, this is going to prove difficult. Not because the game isn't great, because it's bloody marvelous, but because so much of why I love it is down to the story and the character development. I'm tortured by not being able to reveal one of the most well structured stories in a game that I've ever played.
This title is giving serious gamers everywhere hope, and with good reason. One of computer gaming histories great tragedies was the death of the point-and-click adventure. It fueled the argument that games are a negative force on us and our kids by virtually eliminating the last remaining genre that required intelligence and lateral-thinking, and also, story-telling in games from then on pretty much went out with the bathwater. There was usually a flimsy plot which only progressed at the start and the end because the rest of it was spent with you doing the 'actual game stuff': jumping over things, shooting things, building things, collecting 100 gold, whatever. Of course, adventure games themselves weren't much better because in many of them, to open the door to your own bedroom, you still had to combine the portable meat tenderizer with the stuffed turkey with the inflatable bikini with the string.
So welcome to the first game ever (perhaps) where the story and the game are moving at the same time! Next to each other! In sync! You don't break off from the plot to fight some bad guys, it's always moving forward, and yet you're still playing, you're not just watching. The effect of this is so strong that it makes 'Fahrenheit' almost impossible to quit once you've started. The game begins with a murder in a diner. You play the murderer and have to flee the area. After that, you play the two detectives who are investigating the crime scene. Then next, it's the murderer having got home safely to his apartment...where something else happens...and on it goes. No cutting away to something else unrelated. No meaningless objectives. Just a tight, focused narrative that never stops progressing but still manages to stay simple and interesting.
The control system is so fluid and simple that the idea alone is one of near-genius. Available actions appear at the top of the screen and you do them by sliding your mouse in the appropriate direction while holding down a button. You can walk to a door, open it, go up to a vending machine, get a coffee, and drink it in one fluid motion, all of the time feeling in control.
Scenes like this are punctuated with action sequences, which are always relevant to the plot of course. These are controlled using button-tapping and a system where lights appear on the screen and you have to press the corresponding keys. Fail to press the right keys quick enough and depending on the situation, your character could be killed or simply just miss out on some useful information. The genius of this system is it's simplicity and, because of it's reliance on skill, the tension it generates in you. You'll find yourself staring at the screen unblinking, pulling off dexterous finger movements and trying not to panic. The action sequences themselves, that is, the animation, choreography and direction, are so incredible that I'm going to mention them again later.
In the manual, the director, David Cage, has written a little article explaining what he was trying to do with 'Fahrenheit'. This is a small excerpt:
"I was under the impression that video games were only exploiting a tiny part of their amazing creative potential, because they concentrated on 'Action' and totally neglected a fundamental element of human experience - emotion"
He's clearly never played 'Kana -Little Sister-', but nevertheless, 'Fahrenheit' has a far greater emotional content than many games around at the moment, especially those of non-Far-East origin. There are beautifully tender moments, such as Lucas Kane playing a soft ballad on his guitar in his empty and desolate apartment while his life is beginning to crumble around him; genuinely scary moments, such as an escape from an asylum during a blackout, which is played in first-person with the character's terrified whimpering being one of the only things you're listening to; moments of extreme emotional tension, where things are clearly being left unsaid; and action sequences so thrilling that they'll leave you breathless.
So yeah, those action sequences: they're motion captured. Because you're not fully 'controlling' them and are instead just mimicking the on screen action with the keyboard to help your character, 'Quantic Dream' have been able to have every movement digitized in using real stuntmen. At times it simply looks real and, watching your character, who by this time you really care about, making impossible leaps over building tops in the middle of a heavy blizzard whilst being pursued by police helicopters, and then escaping by running along the side of a building, with you frantically tapping buttons to help him, as the strings on the soundtrack reach their emotional cadenza will frankly stay in your memory for a while.
There are multiple ways to complete some scenes. In the first one, where you basically have to just get the hell out of the diner, you can do it quickly without bothering to cover your tracks, but then you'll leave more traces for the detectives to find afterwards (who you also play, so you'll be making your job EASIER in that scene if you do the first section badly, how cool is that?). If, as Lucas Kane, you leave the diner and get into a taxi, you can then, as one of the detectives, find a clue by later looking at the official taxi destinations for that day and Lucas Kane's address from the employee roster of the bank that he works at. You can finish the game badly and prematurely in all sorts of ways, by making so many bad decisions as the detectives that they resign, or by making so many as Lucas that he commits suicide, or dies, or goes insane, or turns himself in. And there are multiple endings you can get by finishing the game fully.
Impressed yet? You should be. There's more good stuff, but it doesn't matter. This is clearly a must-buy.
The BadI would complain that all the major characters are extremely beautiful specimens, but the developers probably had difficulty with faces that are more average and I'd rather look at Lucas (who at times looks like an even more handsome version of Montgomery Clift) and Carla than some of the minor characters who continue the computer game tradition of looking like life-sized rubber dolls that have been repeatedly hit in the face with a spade. Still, Carla didn't need to be so attractive. If 'Quantic Dream' were REALLY cool and daring then they could have created a strong, independent, secure woman of average looks. A feminist icon for the computer game world. And people wonder why more girls don't play games...
It's disappointing that most of the scenes don't have as many variable outcomes as the first few. The game also tries to trick you into being less linear than it is by having events like a phone ringing happening in what feels like "real time", when it's actually a scripted moment that sets the phone to ring in 5 seconds or whatever, which you triggered by walking through a door.
Unfortunately, the plot loses it's way towards the end and brings in some unnecessary elements. What saves it is Lucas Kane's incredible character development, but that brings up another snag in that his is always the more interesting line of the story and, since you know he's fundamentally innocent, you don't really want to help the people who are trying to catch him. The intentions of David Cage, the game director, were highly noble but perhaps he underestimated just how much empathy people can feel with the characters when a story is interactive.
You may have some issues with the button-hammering part of the control system. All you have to do is press left and right as quickly as possible and it's not difficult or frequent, but I personally don't like doing it because I worry about stupid things like wearing those keys out. It's not great, but it is tense and it requires physical effort, which is good and is just what is needed.
Whilst the story is excellent and the pacing and character development even better, the script can be a little bit cheesy. Lines like "My story is the one where an ordinary guy has something extraordinary happen to him" and "All I know is, nothing is ever going to be the same again" don't exactly wow you with their novelty. It doesn't help that technology still isn't anywhere near to being able to render all the complex expressions of the human face, so it's left up to the voice acting, which is done well, but contains slightly dodgy accents here and there. Lucas comes off best, he has a great speaking voice and (presumably because the technology isn't capable of doing otherwise) a mostly deadpan expression which actually does a very good job of showing the guy's torment. Think Montgomery Clift again.
'Fahrenheit' owes a massive debt to 'The Matrix' in it's action sequences, but this is better than that film. It's tale of an ordinary guy going through hell in order to discover his inner awesomeness is done more successfully than the famous movie, because said movie starred Keanu Reeves. A casting decision on the Wachowski brothers part equivalent to God making the most beautiful woman in the world and then giving her one eye.
Finally, the endings are far too short! Why do developers always do this?!
The Bottom LineI read an article yesterday arguing that all films based on games will be awful, like 'Doom' and 'Tomb Raider', because they have to choose games that don't have stories. Games and films are so closely linked that, with the all the games with high-quality plots, "the film is already there". Surely none more so than 'Fahrenheit', which would have made a fantastic movie but practically is one already.
I feel optimistic. Even though there is only one other review for this game so far on Mobygames, I reckon that eventually this will be regarded as a classic, because the story is what people always remember and come back to in adventure games, not the puzzles. For proof, look at how many glowing reviews 'Loom' has, which is so easy that a chimp could complete it. 'Fahrenheit's style of story-telling shows immense promise. Hopefully we'll see a lot more games like it.
I've just called this an adventure game. Is it even that? If it is, then it's the best since 'Grim Fandango' without question, but there are too many action sequences and not enough puzzles for it to fit that description comfortably. If it's an action adventure then it's the same genre as 'Tomb Raider', which it clearly isn't.
Maybe it's just original. An original, brilliant game which has thrown up some ideas that show enormous potential. Yeah, that sounds good enough to me.