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Indigo Prophecy (Xbox)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168833)
Written on  :  May 04, 2007
Platform  :  Xbox
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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Re-defines the concept of interactive movie

The Good

"Fahrenheit" ("Indigo Prophecy" in America) was made by Quantic Dream, the same company that created the remarkable Nomad Soul, an action adventure set in a huge world that you were free to explore. I think that "Nomad Soul" was a very original game with plenty of creative content. I was glad to discover that the next product of the talented developers, "Fahrenheit", turned out to be equally creative, and in many ways a truly ground-breaking game.

The most important thing about "Fahrenheit" is its concept. This game is like a manifestation of an idea. It is obvious that the developers tried something very new when they were creating this game, and from the first moment, you notice how original the whole thing is.

"Fahrenheit" tries to solve the "adventure problem". Since the prolonged agony of adventure games has begun, various developers started looking for the cure. One of the most common recipes was inclusion of action elements and reduction of puzzles. This was most clearly visible in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. It had a few action sequences, and the rest of the gameplay was dedicated to exploration and dialogues.

While "Dreamfall" was certainly an interesting game, it failed to find a new formula for adventure games. No amount of action sequences or puzzle-less gameplay can change the basic concept of an adventure: run around, talk to people, watch cut-scenes, advance the story. Shenmue tried to solve this with a massive world that was like a goal in itself: the core of the gameplay became exploration. That was by the way quite similar to what "Nomad Soul" tried to do. But those were still not fundamental changes.

The real fundamental change is "Fahrenheit", and it chooses quite a different direction, almost the opposite one. "Fahrenheit" is based on the concept of an "interactive movie". Most interactive movies failed, because they were very thin gameplay-wise; the experience was reduced to watching long cut-scenes while occasionally picking up a choice, like for example in Tender Loving Care. This was also more or less the way Japanese adventure worked, although they were more "interactive novels" than interactive movies. Such games could be saved only by exceptionally strong story and content, otherwise they would be of no interest at all.

"Fahrenheit" is also an "interactive movie". It was clearly a conscious, deliberate decision: even on the main screen, there is a "New Movie" option instead of "New Game". So, is it once again one of those gameplay-poor things that can be barely classified as games? Not in the least. It's a real game with plenty of gameplay, but this gameplay is totally integrated into the movie.

You see, in most games you play for a while, watch a cut scene, then play again. The game and the movie are strictly separated. The popular gimmick that was used in Half Life was just that - a gimmick. You could move and control the camera during the cut scenes, but those were the only things you could do. You had no influence on the cut scenes. You weren't really playing, you were just given an illusion that you were doing something beside just watching. Not so in "Fahrenheit". Here, the cut scenes require you to actively participate in them, to direct them, so to say. That was a fantastic idea, to say the least.

The designers probably drew their inspiration from Shenmue for this concept. In Shenmue games, there were so-called quick-time events; you were watching a cut scene and had to press the right buttons at the right time to direct it the right way. If you failed, the heroes of the game failed too. But while in "Shenmue" those quick-time events were more like mini-games, in "Fahrenheit" they are taken very seriously and are implemented in such a way that they become genuinely exciting.

Imagine that you are not just watching a tense action scene: you are participating in it. It's still a cut scene, it doesn't look like a part of gameplay, but there is still gameplay in it! Movie and game move at the same pace, simultaneously; they are perfectly synchronized. I'm sure I'm not describing it very well, and I'm positive you should try the game yourself to see what I'm talking about. I'll just say that the concept works great and is one of the cornerstones of what "Fahrenheit" tries to achieve: a new level of interactive movie.

But don't think for a moment that the whole game consists of those quick-time events. No, they are used primarily for action cut scenes, where they serve their goal the best possible way. But since a movie cannot be composed entirely of action scenes, there is also another kind of gameplay in "Fahrenheit". I would call it "classic adventure gameplay" if it weren't so uniquely executed.

The interaction with the environment is done in a very original manner. Instead of just pressing a button, what you have to do is to imitate the action you are trying to perform. For example, if you are trying to pick something up, chances are you'll have to move the analog stick up (in the PC version, you'll have to hold a mouse button and move the mouse). If you are climbing on something, you'll have to do a circular movement. Since there aren't many movements you can do with the analog stick or with the mouse, there's little variety in them; but it is still a very refreshing and original idea. When you open a door, you really feel that you're opening a door; the movement you perform is like pressing a door handle. The entire interaction is done this way; even dialogue trees should be picked up like that.

Another great idea is the split-screen. Quite often the screen will split into two sections; usually one of them will be showing your character, while the other will display what is happening around him. This seemingly simple feature works wonders, creating an extremely tense atmosphere and unparalleled feeling of suspense. Imagine that you're trying to run away before the police arrives, and actually see the policemen approaching while you are moving! Once again, movie and gameplay work simultaneously.

With all those features included, it is a wonder that the game still leaves enough room for exploration. Even though the game is built like a suspenseful movie, there are optional items to pick up, optional actions to perform, optional dialogue trees to pursue, and all kinds of other things - you can even hunt for "bonus points" scattered around, to unlock bonus cut scenes. One of them shows a strip-tease dance one of the game's characters performs for her boyfriend, so I hope you understand how important it is to hunt for those bonus points.

One of the best things about this game is its non-linearity. There are many moments during which different actions will lead to different outcomes. Depending on the actions you choose to perform, you'll drive the story into a different direction, and reach different endings. The game has a surprisingly high replay value, something which is very rare among adventure games. There are some truly memorable scenes in the game which will challenge your moral values. In one of them, you'll have to decide whether you want to save a boy who fell into icy water, exposing yourself to a witness who might turn you in to the police, or run for your life, abandoning the boy. Will you save yourself, or save a child who is dying in front of your eyes? That's a tough choice, and there are others like this one. For example, at one point one of the protagonists will have to choose between his job and his girlfriend. All those choices actually influence the story, unlike in some other games. Yes, "Dreamfall", I'm looking at you.

With all those good things to say about the gameplay, how about the movie part? Are those interactive cut scenes really worth watching? To this, I can only say that even if "Fahrenheit" were a real movie, without any gameplay at all, I'd still watch and enjoy it. As a movie, "Fahrenheit" is simply professional. It has some of the best motion capture I've ever seen in game, making the 3D models look like real artists. The voice acting is certainly above average. The direction is impeccable. It is evident that the game was handled by professional directors. The action sequences are breath-taking, even though they tend to be over-the-top, clearly drawing inspiration from the Matrix movie.

"Fahrenheit" is nearly non-stop action, both game- and movie-wise. The suspense it creates is simply incredible. Even the most peaceful scenes are often interrupted by sudden action sequences or violent flashbacks. It is as if the game always reminds you of its presence. No matter what you do in the game, there's always a feeling of extreme urgency. At any given moment, something can happen. And it does happen, sometimes at a moment when you least expect it.

"Fahrenheit" has an exceptionally strong personality. The graphical style, the music, the gameplay concept, the story - everything is combined into a unique package that is simply unlike anything you've seen before. It is one of those games that you'll have to try; no words can describe it, and no amount of praise can adequately reflect the influence it has on the player. It is extremely addictive; it is nearly impossible to stop playing the game once you start it. I played it seven hours non-stop, then went to bed, and the first thing I did the next morning was turning on my Xbox and completing the game.

The story of "Fahrenheit" has one of the best beginnings you'll come across. From the very first scene, it is thrilling and suspenseful. And it remains so until the end. It doesn't matter that the story has its weak moments and in the end relies on some serious clichés. The important thing is the way it is told - in a movie-like fashion, with gripping tension, which makes us forget the inconsistencies it might have had. But even with those inconsistencies, the story is excellent and will surely captivate you in its own right, regardless of the game's other merits. It is fairly short, so we won't have much insight into the characters' souls: you can't expect an epic story in Japanese RPG style, with psychological depth and complex motivations. It is a story of an action movie-game, and as such, it delivers more that one would require.

I particularly liked the fact that the game has adult content. It's time games realize they are more than just toys for kids and teenagers. So far, most of the sex scenes I've seen in games were too explicit, like in hentai games. Scenes such as the wonderful love scene in Gabriel Knight III were exception rather than rule. Some RPGs had love stories, but there were no erotic scenes in them. "Fahrenheit" does it just right: it has erotic scenes which actually have something to do with love. There is nothing too explicit here; don't expect to see too much, just enjoy the tenderness and the intimacy of the scenes. There are, however, some brief moments of nudity, which is always a plus in my book.

By the way, if you can, get the UK version, because the US version is censored. It seems that it is forbidden to show in games what has long found its way into mainstream movies and even TV shows: naked human body. I suppose that making love without clothes is much more immoral than blowing out people's brains with a gun. Apparently, murder is a lesser sin than sex in North American moral codex. Yes to guns, no to nipples, so to say. Really, if you're American, better import the UK version and show those morons that they can go to hell with their stupid censorship.

The Bad

I guess you've already heard many times about the disappointing ending of "Fahrenheit" and how its story goes downhill halfway through. To be fair, I think it would be extremely hard to come up with a reasonable explanation for the whole mystery; in one way or another, the solution was bound to be a disappointment. But I feel that there was still no need to resort to such obvious clichés. I can't say much for fear of spoiling the story, but let's say that you'll see things that are simply out of place in the world of "Fahrenheit". Clichés work in games like Final Fantasy because everyone understands that what's happening there is just a variation on mythical archetypes; we recognize the same old epic story and plot twists and feel comfortable because of that, the same way as we do when watching a soap opera. That's a different type of story-telling, one that actually must rely on clichés in order to exist. But "Fahrenheit" wanted to be as close as possible to reality. It clearly wanted us to take everything seriously, it began with an original move that promised a different kind of story. That's why the clichés that eventually appear in "Fahrenheit" hurt much more than, say, in a Metal Gear Solid game. You can choose to ignore them and concentrate on the other great stuff the game has to offer, but it can't be denied that the story suffers greatly because of that. One of those cliché plot twists (the identity of the Purple Clan) is so bad that I really couldn't understand how the developers allowed it. It is as if they were afraid that "Fahrenheit" would be too mature for the crowd to understand, and inserted something that even a Matrix clone would be ashamed to include. Fortunately, it comes quite late in the game and doesn't quite succeed ruining the story completely.

Maybe if they bothered to explain the whole thing better, those clichés wouldn't seem so obvious. I feel that there was precious little information given to us in the end of the game. What do we really learn about the two clans? Nearly nothing. We have a vague idea of what they are, but nothing is explained in detail. Some more background information wouldn't have hurt this story.

I loved the quick-time events, but I think there were a little bit too many of them, and some of them didn't really make sense. They worked great in all those action-loaded scenes, during chases and fights, but it was a bit weird to press buttons while watching a totally peaceful scene without any action at all. I recall a scene which showed the Oracle talking to the members of the Orange Clan; during this conversation, I had to press buttons. For what? The Oracle is not one of the playable characters, nor are the clan members. Was I pressing buttons to help the Oracle? Or to disturb him? It almost felt as if the developers loved their own concept too much. Sure, it was cool, but there is no need to overdo things.

The Bottom Line

+ Incredible movie-like presentation
+ Incredible suspense
+ Ground-breaking gameplay concept
+ Very strong personality
+ Good story line...
- ...with occasional bad clichés
- Action sequences don't always make sense

"Fahrenheit" doesn't have the best story line around, but it doesn't matter. Story is not the reason for this game's extraordinary quality. It's the new gameplay concept, coupled with outstanding presentation, that makes "Fahrenheit" a classic in my book. It's a game that was created with a specific philosophy in mind, and one that was taken seriously by its creators. It took chances, and it didn't succeed in everything; but it showed what can be done if you treat the concept of a video game properly, as a form of art with interaction possibilities. It strikes a nearly perfect balance between art and entertainment. I hope very much that this game receives enough recognition to influence others and to change the shape of gaming in the future.