The first thing you notice about Fahrenheit is its substitution of ‘new game’ for ‘new movie’. It’s a mere indication of what is to come and the ambitious intent of its developer; to tell a story and create a game that sacrifices neither narrative or interactivity. To do this, writer and director David Cage must sell his audience a gameplay model that allows them not to influence the overall plot, but to dictate how each scene plays out.
We begin in the restroom of a quiet New York restaurant, its patrons sheltering from the bitter cold outside. Bearing witness to the action as it unfolds, we see a possessed man brutally stab another to death, before realising that we are in fact to play as the murderer, Lucas Kane. Regaining our senses, should we attempt to hide the body before the policeman at the bar arrives or clean up and get away as fast as possible?
Like many games, until the right outcome is found by the player, the plot won’t progress any further. If someone walks in on you mopping up the blood from the tiled floor, you’ll be arrested and the story will begin again at the start of the scene. You must escape from the restroom, but each minor action that you take to alter the way in which you do so can affect the story in a similarly small way at a later stage. Sparing a few seconds to take a possession of yours with you from the diner won’t help you get away, but it could make it harder for the police as they hunt for clues to track you down. It’s the amount and consequences of seemingly insignificant choices that mask the linear nature of Fahrenheit so well, allowing you to influence proceedings without altering the story in a negative way.
Back at the diner, detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles arrive to examine the scene and here the second strand of the story takes off. Fahrenheit daringly asks you to undo your own work and contradict yourself, working as both the hunters and the hunted. Throughout the game, the plot switches between the contrasting viewpoints, which often meet and eventually converge as the story progresses.
This method of conveying the narrative allows Fahrenheit the freedom to alter its pace without sacrificing the atmosphere that it’s previously built up. As Kane, you always feel under pressure, urged to do things quickly before the police arrive or your cover is blown. It’s a welcome break then, when the game switches to Carla and Tyler whose job is more meticulous and free of the stresses that come with Kane’s escape and evasion. The constant intensity of being chased could prove too strong for some, so alternating the game’s viewpoint is a effective device in keeping its pace under control.
Cage also takes the time to explore each of the main character’s life and background aside from the case. Tyler’s relationship and debt problems, Carla’s fear of confined spaces and Lucas’ childhood are all dealt with, played out through sections that are both crucial and insignificant to the unfolding plot. It’s the game’s clever inclusion of a mental health meter which makes you care what they feel though, rising and falling in response to their physical and emotional needs. The higher it stays, the better your chance of success, while if it drops to zero it’s game over as your alter ego becomes mad with frustration and depression. Fahrenheit doesn’t just go out of its way to explore its cast, it creates a rare level of engagement with characters that encourages the player to do what’s best for them.
Fahrenheit’s interface is much the same as a lot of adventure games out there, with context-sensitive areas holding the key to interaction. Moving your character around with the left analogue stick, you’ll come across areas that trigger one or more icons to appear at the top of your screen, which are then acted upon using the right stick. The direction of movement for each action corresponds logically to events on screen, so pushing a door will require you to press up, while pulling a door will have you pushing down on the stick. While finding the context-sensitive areas can sometimes be tricky, the organic nature of the interaction and the ease of which you can carry them out makes them feel more natural than conventional button presses.
This isn’t a tale of sedate wandering though, and Fahrenheit’s action sequences are intricately woven into the fabric of the game. When, for instance, Kane must dodge an enemy or play a guitar, a couple of coloured circles appear in the centre of the screen. Players simply have to move the analogue sticks in the same direction and order that quadrants of the circles light up in, almost like a rhythm game. Two other techniques are used to perform a few of the game’s minor action segments such as balancing on a beam or to control breathing, asking the player to alternately press L1 and R1 either quickly or to keep a slider in the centre of a horizontal bar. These interfaces vary in difficulty and situation, providing an efficient way to deliver action within what is fundamentally an adventure game.
Conversations have a huge part to play in the game and Fahrenheit treats them in a typically inventive way. Players are usually given multiple options, often contrasting, which can be selected using the same right analogue stick movement that accompanies the game’s other actions. Pressure is subtly applied through the inclusion of a timer that forces you to think quickly as you would have to in a real conversation, reacting often through gut instinct rather than careful consideration. You’re also often only given a couple of questions or strands of a discussion to get the information you need, so choosing your responses carefully within the time frame allowed is something you learn to master.
Fahrenheit’s intuitive gameplay mechanics swap from traditional problem solving to all out action just as seamlessly as the story alternates between the hunters and the hunted, making for a thoroughly engrossing experience. The pacing and plot are also skillfully entwined, moving from one scene to another, be it an epic set piece or a comic interlude. When it comes to creating an accessible and enthralling interactive adventure, Cage has nailed down the gameplay model perfectly.
It’s therefore great to find that a game with such admirable gameplay mechanics is accompanied by suitably proficient visuals. The five year old PlayStation 2 may not be the most powerful platform around, but what Quantic Dream - the developer - has done with the available graphical capability is commendable. The frame rate is solid and reliable, animation is true to life and textures are convincing. Each character has a finely detailed, smooth look about them and each environment that they visit has real atmosphere and presence. The game’s lighting isn’t overly complex either, but when it is used, it’s done to great effect.
Fahrenheit doesn’t have the sharpest graphics, but its art direction and sense of style works so well with the rest of the game that it almost doesn’t matter. The cut scenes and the main gameplay are both rendered in real time with the same engine and are letterboxed with black borders, so the transition from one to another is so seamless that you’ll rarely notice. Cage also takes cues from 24, slicing up the screen to show different aspects of the same event, which only adds to the polished nature of the visuals.
As with almost all third-person games, the camera is a point of contention in Fahrenheit. Fixed viewpoints indoors are cycled with R1 and L1, with the camera able to pan around using the right analogue stick, while outside the L2 button serves to give you a viewpoint directly behind your character. There are occasions where the camera and controls combine to leave you slightly out of touch with what’s going on, but this rarely affects the game to such an extent that you suffer.
Fahrenheit’s sound is another shining example of its high production values, showing just how crucial hiring the right composer and voice talent can be. As the narrative alternates from highs to lows, the audio switches from upbeat tracks to tense melodies accordingly. Music doesn’t usually come up as something you remember about a game, but Fahrenheit would be completely different if it wasn’t for the excellent soundtrack.
For all of its many positives, Fahrenheit has one clear weakness and ironically it’s the story which lets it down. Although fantastic for the greater part of the game, the plot in the final quarter and the characters within it lose almost all of their credibility, as Cage throws in more new questions than he could ever answer. Spiraling off with increasingly far-fetched and unnecessary plotlines, the story and the actions of the lead characters become implausible to the point that you wonder if the same person wrote the entire script.
Despite the ending, Fahrenheit’s story still manages to satisfy and you’ll want to go back to tell it again, no matter how slight a deviation you put on it the second or third time round. David Cage and the team at Quantic Dream have accomplished what they set out to, producing a game that integrates narrative and gameplay so tightly that they almost seem inseparable. It was always going to be an ambitious undertaking, and even though the story trips up at the last hurdle, the game remains true to its endeavour. Fahrenheit raises the bar for the genre and is undoubtedly one of the finest adventure games of this or any generation.
Nine out of ten