Friday, July 23, 2010

Fahrenheit (Part Four)

Known as Indigo Prophecy in the States, this ambitious title was Quantic Dream's magnum opus until the release of Heavy Rain. Mere days before their newest title was about to be released, Michelle Baldwin and I embarked on the mission of playing the game through together. What was revealed over time was an in-depth analysis of Fahrenheit's timeless artistic style, characterisation and design principles. The following article contains heavy spoilers.

You can find Parts One, Two and Three: here, here and here.


I have now also finished the game, so here are my thoughts on what I now realise to be quite a controversial ending. Overall I really enjoyed it, but it was undermined slightly by Fahrenheit's deviation from its earlier simplicity; it is the simple ideas that worked best in this game, and the ending is a little at odds with the rest of the game because of it. I felt as though the narrative could have followed the pattern of earlier chapters and left far, far more to the discretion of the player. It meant that the finale was far too eager to answer too many questions. We didn't really need to know about the full cast of characters controlling the Oracle, the conspiracy they had created or even how these people were able to control Lucas and others, it was all implied. The complete lack of speculation in the end game lost most of the mystique built up in the game's first half.

That said lots of games leave lots of details to the imagination, so I agree that it was incredibly brave of Quantic Dream to take the direction they did, it just would have been pulled off with a lot more conviction if they had maintained the very careful, measured pacing of the rest of the game.

I continued to find the nostalgic scenes of Marcus and Lucas incredibly grating. I understood the depth of their bond, and I had picked up on the fact that there was something remarkable about Lucas from a very young age, but I honestly would have preferred more time spent on the game's final playable scenes to allow more time for the bold ideas introduced so late on to develop, as the playable elements during these childhood stages were clunky and frustrating when compared to the relative fluidity of the rest of the game.

The conclusion itself was a little too transparent, which meant that only the really out of the blue ideas were left unanswered mainly because they were so left-field. I wasn't at all convinced by the relationship between Lucas and Carla for example, it felt at odds with both of their character paths, and smacked of having a clearly defined "end point" to the game that the narrative was snaking towards. I did like the sense of mistrust that grew throughout the game though, it was almost as if I couldn't completely trust some of the narration going on, what details being said were correct and which weren't, particularly the fact that the game alluded to the fact that Lucas was dead; but there were other facts contradicting that entirely, so there was still enough mystery to feel satisfied, just perhaps not as much as I would have liked.

Fahrenheit seemed to change the importance of some characters on a whim. Tyler was removed from the game all too quickly, while nice to see a conclusion to his story it left me wondering just how important Carla and Tyler's partnership really was. Tiffany was sidelined extremely quickly after a tremendous sacrifice which was never really acknowledged, and in many ways Carla was too, moved from a very powerful lead to Lucas' sidekick in effect. In fact, lots of characters got knocked down a few pegs in the later stages often to the story's detriment -- the Oracle, having been built up to be the main antagonist, was defeated all too easily; and the multiple bad guys that replaced him were never quite as convincing -- the AI, the Mayan, the circle of elders -- just didn't have the momentum or sense of foreboding of that one shadowy figure that amply represented it all and made it far easier to take on board.

To reiterate I did really enjoy the ending and the game as a whole, these thoughts are simply what I would have improved, but as you mentioned the great changes in characterisation were often too big of a leap to take on board. I just had a hard time believing the majority of actions of the characters which up until now I thought had been explained and handled relatively well. Fahrenheit is clearly a massively ambitious game -- that was clear from the start -- and it attempts to end on a similar high but crucially it loses some of the depth of its storytelling through repeated climax; there is simply little to no time to recover or digest what's going on and the complete cycle of lull, build-up and cliffhanger was all but forgotten. Perhaps that's what instigated the name change, an acknowledgement of the high octane sense of drama rather than the themes behind them? While the American name was far more subtle, both suit the game's general message.

Overall, after all the events, and that beautiful, yet chilling ending, I was a little troubled by the amount of power that Lucas had at the end of the game. The world may be safe, but should the world really be content with one man and one family maintaining that much quiet influence? I'm not so sure.


Nice, some really interesting thoughts on the final act that are extra intriguing for me personally given the differences between how we played: you as a first-timer and me making a return visit.

Honestly, you covered my own thoughts about it well, aside from what I obviously conveyed myself earlier. The ending was quite beautiful, but in a "destroyed" sense rather than visual spectacle or, indeed, pleasure. Sure, it was nice to see various aspects of the story resolved and things become a little more peaceful -- that alone makes it beautiful -- but the quiet, perhaps sombre tone I think was intended to get us to reflect on the entirety of the game, rather than any specific part. That's a welcome thing after the issues I described about the final act, particularly how abrupt it was, but with or without those concerns the entire story, the characters who drive it and even the interactive decisions we get to partake in are all worth reflecting on. What we come to know and understand at the beginning of the game is distinctively different to what we learn about the game upon conclusion, and the destruction (of our interpretations, understanding and the mystery delivered throughout) that takes place is beautiful for many, different but crucial reasons that each player will no doubt dwell on differently. Looking at it from a pure videogame medium point of view, I feel that it is significant in the sense that it needed to happen, to not only show a different direction games can follow, but to demonstrate that things don't always have to be a certain way -- a trap that I feel some developers, perhaps without even realising it, find themselves falling into time and time again.

Now that Heavy Rain is out, we don't only get to see what Quantic Dream learned and how they iterated on and changed various things to improve their intended experiences, we also get to see the impact that the Fahrenheit experimentation, if you will, has had on them and indeed, the medium as a whole. Luckily, Heavy Rain was more of a success -- both commercially and in terms of nailing what they wanted to achieve -- so I can only hope that such attention bodes well for the future of the medium. Speaking of Heavy Rain, I'm definitely interested in hearing what you think of that game when you finally play it. My thoughts on it are well documented, but it will be interesting to see what you think having played Fahrenheit so closely to its (spiritual) sequel.

Honestly though, I still can't get over my disappointment with what that third act in Fahrenheit represents, not necessarily for the story but for its characters. All four characters were introduced as compelling people who all had their own unique traits, motivations and interests, which lead to a story that dealt with more realistic issues and themes. Once the more supernatural story elements started to seep in, it felt like those individual qualities either became irrelevant or completely redundant. For someone who appreciated such a stark difference to the generic stereotypes seen in other games, this difference is too imposing on my overall impression of the game. Perhaps playing it again has ruined that initial opinion somewhat, bringing down the flair on what was otherwise an utterly unique and rather amazing experience, but when I think about how Tyler was a pragmatic, happy-go-lucky kind of guy who seriously loved his girlfriend, enjoyed competitive play in a friendly game of Basketball and had a passion for music, I can't help but feel disjointed with the abrupt changes the finale makes. Or what about Carla, a confident and authoritative kind of girl who obsessed over detail and was struggling to come to terms with her fear of confined spaces, a relaxing sparring session alleviating some of the stresses she constantly found herself dealing with? These characters were just... human, and that feeling of emotion and perhaps soul was lost once the fate of the world, the supernatural forces and obligatory reveal of antagonists needed to occur to provide the game's conclusion. Hell, even the severity of a crime such as murder was more relaxing and thus, enjoyable to investigate -- both literally as Carla and Tyler, and figuratively as we continued to learn about Lucas' plight -- than anything expected of us in the end game. It just tarnished what was otherwise something really special, I thought, and I'm left feeling cold after ecstasy over such a special experience.

But, despite my reservations with it, I can overlook any qualms I have with the game and remember it as an experience that I'm thoroughly pleased to have participated in; a story that I was absolutely enthralled by; for featuring characters who resonated with me for multiple, unexpected reasons; and ultimately a game that had to happen, regardless of the success or failure of individual components or indeed, within the medium itself. It wasn't perfect and it was definitely punctuated with countless flaws, but, like the majority of its story, it was human in an industry that knew more about aliens and monsters. That's worth my love, admiration and respect, even if such strong feelings weren't delivered in return.

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