The phrase ‘Interactive Movie’ has been around since the SEGA CD days; any thoughts of trash like Night Trap and its ilk, though, are likely to cause vomiting. So far no game has ever managed to live up to the tag, either offering below-par story-telling or their ‘interactivity’ merely pointing to a few nicely rendered background objects that have descriptions like: ‘A lovely lamp’ or ‘The candle burns brightly’. But now gaming is taking a leap forward, with new technology hopefully bringing with it more sophisticated software, and the chances of us getting a game that matches interesting narrative with immersive gameplay are multiplied. But forget that idea; forget the incoming new technologies for a moment. The future is here; the future is Fahrenheit.
Let’s get this straight right from the beginning: Fahrenheit is the first example of next-gen gaming. I’m not talking in technical terms, although the graphics are top-notch, but the whole narrative, presentation and themes contained in the game are far and above what we’ve had before. Developer Quantic Dream have certainly done themselves proud throughout. Even the tutorial mode is a break from the norm, giving you a room to try out and practise the controls, all the while given prompts by the game’s creator David Cage who makes a cameo appearance in-game. It’s a good start to a very good game.
And as soon as you start the game proper things get better and better. The opening scene shows the main character Lucas Kane, seemingly in a trance, savagely murdering another man in a Diners toilet. It’s presented using many cinematic techniques including a multi-perspective view of the action, popularised recently in the TV series 24. As Lucas comes to, you gain control of him and are presented with the first major dilemma, what do you do with the body? There are many different ways of completing this scenario; I have found at least seven. I won’t give away anything at this early stage but bear in mind that your choices now will greatly affect the story and gameplay later on.
Remember the 24-style visual used to tell the intro? Well, it’s not just used for story-telling – the danger facing Lucas in the diner is made even tenser when the game plays its first split perspective trick on you. As if it wasn’t bad enough for him, Kane is about to be joined in the toilet by one of New York City’s finest doughnut gobbling cops who finds the grisly scene rather strange. If you didn’t leave in time this could be a very short game but if you leave in too much of a hurry you could bring some unwanted attention to yourself. Either way, this is a pretty bizarre crime scene that requires the work of two NYPD officers; enter stage left: Carla Valenti and her partner, the funktastic Tyler Miles.
These are two more of the four characters you will play during the game and it’s the relationship between the detectives and Lucas that provides the most interesting story and game elements. For instance, when you first get to control Carla and Miles at the Diner you need to hunt around for clues, interview witnesses and generally attempt to piece together as much evidence as possible. Anything you find could affect whether or not Lucas is named as the main suspect and send him to jail before he can work out what has happened.
Think you can skip the investigating and give Kane an easy life? Well, no, actually, you see each character has a mood bar. Kane has a sanity meter that indicates whether he is feeling calm or in danger of going insane; Carla is looking for job satisfaction so if she doesn’t feel like she’s making a difference in the case she could resign. Carrying out different actions (even simply washing Lucas’s hands at the Diner) can affect their sanity and you can get some pretty devastating or uplifting news from most conversations. It’s not just a gimmick either; how the characters are feeling changes actions or conversation choices available to you. It’s this balancing act that makes Fahrenheit so interesting and there are many instances where you’ll regret certain actions as they can affect the other characters. Seeing the same story from a different perspective adds depth to the narrative that Hollywood itself would be proud of.
But what good is a great story if the game plays like a dog? Well, it’s kind of hard to stick Fahrenheit into any one genre; the opening chapter plays like an old-fashioned adventure game like Monkey Island, but some moments feel like Silent Hill and the QTEs (Quick-time events) throw up all manner of diverse challenges. It seems to straddle genres with ease. You may expect such a game to have horrendously difficult controls but thankfully the interface system here is just as fresh and innovative as the yarn being spun before you. Movement is assigned to the left analogue stick, while commands (visible at the top of the screen) are performed by pressing the right stick in the desired direction. It may take a little while to get used to but it is certainly intuitive once you grasp it.
The same can be said of the game’s QTE moments. While they are very similar to those in Shenmue and Resident Evil 4 there is certainly more variety present here, with some pretty intense challenges later on. They come in two forms: physical and mental. The first represents moments when the characters must perform a physical challenge like swimming or using gym equipment and are a simple case of tapping the L and R buttons alternatively. The mental challenges are a bit more cerebral and quite challenging, helping your character through a hallucination or, in the case of the detectives, giving insight into other person’s thoughts. When these happen two circles appear in the centre of the screen, representing the analogue sticks, in what is a more complicated version of Simon Says; if say, the top of each circle is lit up you have to press the sticks up. Be ready for some tired thumbs as some of them can be pretty long.
So is Fahrenheit a game without flaws? Not really, but most of them are a result of current technology not being able to match the developer’s vision. There are times when the story would have been so much more compelling if it had the extra oomph of next-gen power behind it, particularly with the character models and voice-synching. The only common technical fault is with the camera, which can get stuck in all sorts of places in some of the smaller locations. Elsewhere, the stealth-filled flashback sequences (featuring the fourth playable character, Lucas’ brother Marcus Kane) are well implemented but do seem a little out of place next to the rest of the game. Finally, some of the character situations seem a little, ahem, stretched towards the end (you’ll see what I mean when you get there). As you’d expect there are multiple endings but it’s a shame the game doesn’t last longer — it still clocks in at a respectable 12 hours though and you’ll no doubt want to play through it a few times.
It’s hard not to go on and on about this game. The best way to understand its quality is to go out and buy it, this is certainly a title that deserves all the success it gets and is a great way to show the greater media that this industry isn’t full of guns, death and Hot Coffee.