Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fahrenheit (Part One)

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.


This is my first experience with Fahrenheit, and my subsequent reaction must not be that different from those people experiencing Heavy Rain for the first time. What becomes apparent very quickly in the game's opening moments is Fahrenheit is quite unlike anything I have played before. My first instinct is to reflect on how much I have underestimated this game, and astonishment firstly at both it's subject matter, then how I've successfully managed to avoid the little details of what makes it stylistically and narratively quite remarkable for quite so long.

The fact it asks me from the outset to create a "New Movie" is very telling; the cinematic style is extremely compelling. As a massive internet multitasker I can't help but quietly withdraw from the other things that I have running and sink into the style and power of the opening moments of the game. The first shot of Lucas is incredibly emotive and I'm already getting a sense of the hopelessness of his character, as the opening moments of the game has already flirted with the issues of murder, suicide, and existentialism. I feel inspired by the feelings that Fahrenheit is creating, most notably tension and intrigue.

Unlike most games where I feel I have a good understanding of the boundaries of the game from the offset, Fahrenheit undermines this by dumping me at the heart of a murder performed by Lucas that I have no control over -- much like himself I am disorientated and confused for a good portion of the game, running from one moment to another my actions are reactionary caused by quick fire decisions and tension. Fahrenheit seems to follow the typical movie archetype of crises, calm and climax that even the best games frequently fall short of, in short I am blown away.

Fahrenheit's gestures and actions deserve a mention at this point -- I am not a massive fan of Quick Time Events, but I will concede that this game marks a rare moment in gaming where they are a) completely suited to the subject matter and b) completely justifiable given the context, so far at least. I will have to see if my feelings about this change.

I like the character of Carla, it's extremely refreshing to see an intelligent female character in a position of authority in a videogame. I secretly hope that she finds Lucas, but I am deeply torn between the varying desires of the main characters, how to influence them, and who to help. I'm sure I've already made a few mistakes but I am playing with my own moral compass, choosing to save the child knowing it would reveal Lucas to the police officer -- a deeply powerful moment of quiet recognition -- but also completely messing up the suspect photo-fit by not taking the situation at all seriously. I suspect both of these differently motivated decisions will come back to haunt me in different ways.


Before I go on with the things I'm eager to speak about, I find it interesting that you're almost certain you have made mistakes. That's an interesting way to look at how your reactionary actions in gameplay affect not only the events/story occurring on screen, but also the way you reflect upon those situations afterwards. I can understand it, and the haste with which some decisions need to be made can leave the feeling that your choice was the wrong one, but at the same time that seems to be exactly the point of the game. The choice in actions, both positive and negative, are there to not only offer everyone something different or make way for water-cooler discussions afterwards, but to also ensure that what your experience is with the game is truly yours, no matter how you've interpreted the events or responded to them. With this in mind, I wouldn't consider any of the decisions I've made to be mistakes per se, but rather the result of my mental reflexes and what that quick-fire response deemed to be the right answer. Call it instinct, call it an uninformed choice based on what seemed best at the time, but whatever it can be called, it was mine and that's the story that I have participated in -- for better or for worse. I just thought the distinction between our approaches was worth considering, momentarily. Thoughts?

Now onto my personal experience with the opening few hours of the game. As you know this isn't the first time I have played through Fahrenheit; way back in 2005 when the game was originally released I played through it and found it then to be incredible, precisely for the same reasons you're contemplating now. It was -- and I'd argue still is -- unlike anything else I had played previously, and its mature approach to the stories it was trying to tell was perfect in a time where juvenile humour (such as in the GTA games), things that explode (insert FPS game here) and the excitement for the next generation of consoles were the order of the day. But what got to me the most back then was two things in particular: the cinematic, film-styled presentation that you've already mentioned and, more importantly, the way it develops its four main characters -- all of which, for those who may not be aware of the game, are fully playable.

It was here where the game shined for me and again came at a time that I needed it to, my transition into maturity and adulthood an integral part of my life back then. Instead of faceless mutes or characters with the depth of a piece of cheese, Fahrenheit presented four remarkably different characters that each had their own backgrounds, were intriguing enough to compel me to find out more and, perhaps most importantly, were grounded in reality during the time of space marines and aliens. It was just sublime back then and now that I'm revisiting it, I can safely say that it still holds up superbly today.

The first thing that struck me upon this subsequent playthrough was just how well it holds up. It may not look that good anymore, with character models in particular looking blocky at times, but the general presentation and fidelity of the graphics is still impressive by today's standards. Perhaps this is helped, in part, by the cinematic presentation the game so desperately tries to convey, and admittedly the game's 'levels' are quite linear -- the play possibilities within coming from mundane yet necessary interactions (such as getting a glass of water; more on this soon) as opposed to grand scale action-affairs -- but regardless of the reasons why, it was a pleasant surprise for someone who is perhaps too familiar with current generation flair and spectacle.

Aside from that, the most interesting thing for me was how easily and quickly it hooked me in. I was expecting this playthrough to just be a nostalgic distraction: to reminisce about a game I loved and always felt was underrated, as well as preparation for what Heavy Rain may bring; but instead I got a game whose intrigue, mystery and fittingly (given the game's focus on such matters), its abundance of small yet effective choices, combine to form something that truly is unlike anything else out there. It's this last point that has been hammered home the most, and the one I cannot emphasise enough when discussing it now: Fahrenheit is utterly unique, attempts to push the boundaries of the medium in ways that it needs to be pushed in, even if such efforts end up being unsuccessful, and provides a central story that is defined by its maturity, mystery and measured characters. There are no stereotypical characters created to appeal as conduits to the gameplay here, just four people each with their own idiosyncrasies and personalities that are captivating in an industry still obsessed with generic no-names.

Which conveniently brings me to my segue-way over to you; now that you've had time to play it and consider some of your thoughts, how do you feel about the characters and the depth they bring to both the game and our impressions (not to mention interest) of them? And the story? Has that been interesting to you as well? What would you consider Fahrenheit's primary focus: plot, or the characters that drive it? I'm particularly interested in your thoughts on Carla, as well as smaller female characters such as Tiffany.

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow.

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