3: Fahrenheit

Publisher: Atari
Developer: Quantic Dream
Year: 2005
Platform: Windows; Playstation 2; Xbox; Xbox 360

ReviewWow.

That was my reaction after completing this adventure. To be honest, that was my reaction about every fifteen minutes while playing. About two or three times a decade I play a game that blows my mind with its innovation and storytelling.  This is one of those games.

The movie-like introduction carries you through New York City to a little diner where you see one man murder another in cold blood, right there in the restroom.  The murderer is you, Lucas Kane. The game takes off from there, and while it’s obvious that Lucas, in a trance, was being controlled by something else during the murder, there isn’t any time to worry about that at the moment. A cop is drinking coffee just outside, and you have to figure out how to get out of there without being caught.

The premise is good enough in its own right, but the way the game treats your predicament is where Fahrenheit really shines. Do you want to bolt out of there and head for the subway tunnel? Or do you want to clean things up, wash your hands, hide the murder weapon, and casually stroll out of the diner? Either way, you only have a few minutes, and nearly every action you take has repercussions later. Bolt out of there frantically, and your mood meter drops (and if it drops too low, Lucas will commit suicide or go insane). Cleaning everything up will improve your mood, but it’ll give you less time to escape the police. And the witnesses will remember everything you did and report it to the police accordingly.

Speaking of the police, you’ll also be playing Carla Valenti and Miles Tyler who are investigating the crime. You can switch between the two officers most any time, and they’ll provide different information based on the way they investigate. You’ll also play as Lucas’ brother Markus, a priest who will struggle between his faith in his Lord and his faith in his brother. Sometimes, the game will have you debating over how hard you should follow a character’s motivations, because you know it’s in direct conflict with another character you control. All four are developed very well, and I cared about all of them to some extent while playing. The performances (including the supporting cast) look as natural as you’ll see in a computer game, and the narration itself blends seamlessly with each scene.

Throughout the game, Lucas will be learning about what happened, trying to gain the trust of his brother and avoiding the police. The police will be doing their best to find Lucas. And while Fahrenheit was not billed as a pure adventure, it really has what I think most adventurers are pining for. People have realistic motivations. Puzzles are in the form of game-related problems; none are inappropriate to the situation at hand. Some require strategic planning, such as distracting guards to make it through an area. There is no inventory, though you will pick up objects at times and use them shortly thereafter. And, bless their hearts, you can actually die in this game. Not only that, puzzles have multiple solutions, with some leaving you better off in the long run. There are even three different endings.

However, the designers added an action element to the game which is going to appeal to some and turn off (if not completely alienate) others. Many scenes require quick reflexes and hand-eye coordination, such as playing a pick-up basketball game, or diving away from police cruisers. The game will flash a “GET READY!” sign before presenting you with two Simon-esque patterns. For example, it will quickly flash a sequence of lights that you must copy in order to successfully complete that action sequence. There are three difficulty levels, and the easier the setting, the less of the sequence you have to perform correctly to move on. In some scenes, you have to perform anywhere from ten to twenty of these sequences in rapid succession, all while trying to watch what’s going on in the background. Furthermore, there are other scenes (such as pulling someone up from the edge of a balcony, or balancing on a high beam), where you must alternately mash two buttons for a predetermined length of time to complete the sequence.

From what I’ve read, these action scenes are very difficult using a keyboard and mouse, so I took the advice of other reviewers and bought myself a dual analog joystick, in my case, the Logitech Rumblepad 2. So yeah, I also got to enjoy the controller vibrating in my hands during intense moments. For me, these parts of the game were exhilarating.  I had the difficulty setting on medium and managed to make it through without ever dying (though I did die in other scenes where button-mashing wasn’t required), but I have excellent hand-eye coordination.  I was also able to enjoy the scenes in the background while still focusing on the button mashing. Many people will have a hard time with this, even on the game’s easy setting. If the sound of this turns you off, or if simple action games like Super Mario Bros. gave you fits, you’ll probably become frustrated with Fahrenheit on the whole and should probably avoid it.

I could nitpick this game all day long (e.g. how can these guys be outside when the weather is 70 degrees below zero and not have their exposed skin freeze instantly?), but the only real quibble I have is with the conversation system. Conversations happen in real time, so there’s no pausing for two minutes to figure out what you want to say.  When a player asks you a question, a list of two to four responses will appear on the screen, and you must select one before the timer runs out. If you don’t select anything, the players will continue to talk on their own. While the game won’t let you miss anything vital to completing the game, you’ll miss out on quite a few helpful details if you don’t participate.  The frustrating aspect is that oftentimes your choice of responses are condensed to single words.  Sometimes their meaning is obvious. I could figure out that Suspect/Bizarre meant “Did you see anything bizarre about the suspect?” But I had no idea that News meant “So is there anything new in your life lately?” It’s hard to make appropriate choices when you’re not sure what your choices even are.

Obviously, the game has a ton of replay value, as there are thousands of ways the game can be played out. Granted, most of the differences are just in the details, as no matter what choices you make, the plot eventually pigeonholes you into just a few different ending sequences. But it is the fine attention to these details that makes Fahrenheit such a delight. And you don’t have to start the game over just to see something you missed. You can replay any chapter you like and experiment with different conversations and actions. Of course, I wanted to check out all of the fun ways to kill Lucas. And trust me, there are plenty of ways to do that! Many have complained about the endgame for its sudden and bizarre plot twist, and I can’t say I disagree. But I did enjoy the final boss battle and all three endings just the same, so it didn’t ruin my enjoyment.

The soundtrack is above average, though at times is just a little cheesy. The graphics are wonderful, with obvious inspiration from The Matrix. Character movement is about as realistic as I’ve seen in an adventure game, with facial details a marked improvement over other engines. Switching camera angles and moving the guys around takes a while to get used to, but is not too clumsy. The game is rated Mature for strong language, violence, adult themes, and sexual situations. To keep that mature rating in America (retitled Indigo Prophecy), they removed some non-gratuitous sex scenes. Apparently, animated nipples are more impressionable than brutal, gory murders.

If you like your games to have a little action and a little tension, but are still primarily told with narrative and dialogue rather than guns, then I can’t recommend Fahrenheit enough.

Contemporary RatingHigh.

Cruelty RatingMerciful. You always get taken back to the beginning of a scene if you die.

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3 thoughts on “3: Fahrenheit

  1. It was an OK game. The simon-says concept was neat at first — office and the apartment scene — but it got old after awhile. Been too long to recall why else it’s not a great game in my mind, but I guess it just didn’t grab me. Turned into “here’s the story, play simon says to advance it”. So maybe the story just lost my interest.

    One thing that would have been nice to know was that super-quick reactions weren’t necessary and were actually harder for the game to read your simon-says responses accurately. I kept failing in a scene towards the end of the game, and after googling found out that going slower would not harm you. So I reacted a little slower and it actually picked up on my controller input correctly the first time.

    • Boy, you’re a Debbie Downer this week.

      One thing I’ve noticed is that i have been ranking stealth based games pretty high. Guess I don’t like confrontation.

  2. I would’ve agreed with everything in this review (the tense atmosphere with Carla in the records room is a great moment)… right up until the last couple of hours. Everything flies off the tracks so badly, it ruined a lot of the good will I’d built up for the game.

    I still enjoyed the experience overall, but it goes downhill.

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