[Note: the following review will contain spoilers for Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and may be potentially triggery for racism and sexism]
Imagine waking up somewhere knowing that you’ve just killed someone. Say, you’re in the restroom of a diner, , there’s a body in the middle of the floor. Ohshit, there’s a cop in the diner, and you have a few minutes to clean up before he comes in for a bathroom break and discovers the body.
That’s how Fahrenheit (AKA Indigo Prophecy) begins.
Fahrenheit is an adventure game from Quantic Dream, makers of Heavy Rain. The story is told from the perspective of multiple characters. You initially control Lucas, the average guy turned murderer, as he attempts to escape the diner before the cop inside discovers the grisly crime, but, in a twist, you also play as the cops (Carla and Tyler) trying to track him down and arrest him.
Besides the perspective switches, gameplay consists of two different “modes”, you have your more adventure0y bits, where you wander around and manipulate objects (you manipulate objects and a character’s movement by moving the mouse in the indicated direction, and you have your “action” segments, which are basically quick time events. Unlike other adventure games, Fahrenheit is not about pixel hunting and combining X with Y to make Z, it’s about making choices in a timely manner (which is why some argue that it’s more of an interactive story than a game).
But you aren’t just helping Lucas avoid the cops and helping the cops catch Lucas, you also need to monitor the mental health of your characters. Certain actions (drinking milk, going to the bathroom) have a positive effect on your mental state, while others (failing to make progress on the investigation) have negative effects. Basically it’s a sanity meter, and if your characters’ meter gets too low, they could end up committing suicide. At times, the game will even throw you a curveball where succeeding at QTEs will cause a loss of points. In fact, there’s one particularly annoying sequence where Carla will lose a significant amount of points, and you just need to sit back and deal with it.
I should also mention that you’re on the clock for many of these adventure sequences, and this does a wonderful job of building up tension (especially when the game does a split screen to show you where your adversary is at any given moment.) There’s also time limits for dialogue choices. In an early example, Lucas wakes up in his apartment, he gets up, takes some meds for his headache (do not take with alcohol), goes into the bathroom, bandages his bloody wrists (they’re bloody from him carving symbols into them), pauses for a pee break, and takes a shower.
Oh, and then he starts hallucinating about giant bugs, and screams. Suddenly, there’s a cop banging on the door, and he only has a few minutes to hide all evidence of last night’s murder before the cop bursts in and arrests him.
When I first played through this scene, I hadn’t dressed yet, so I frantically ran back to my room and got dressed. I thought I had done everything there was to do, but it turns out I forgot to hide a bloody rag (by picking it up and bringing it to the dryer). Oops, the cop arrested me, game over. If you’re looking for a game that will help you wind down and relax, this is not it, although it does lead to some wonderfully tense moments (like guiding a claustrophobic character through a Silence of the Lambs-esque sequence where you need to move her while directing her to breathe). There’s some really great storytelling in Fahrenheit, think of it as a cross between L.A. Noire and Silent Hill. I was all ready to recommend this game to anyone who likes a thrilling, at times terrifying interactive storytelling experience. There’s some great atmosphere (very melancholic), tension, and the occasional creepy moment to keep things interesting.
And then the story craps itself and dies.
This is where I have to get quite spoilery, so look away now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Throughout the game, Lucas keeps having these hallucinations (particularly hallucinations of giant mites) and the player is left wondering “So, is this guy nuts, or what?” Late in the game, Carla and Tyler head to Lucas’ apartment to arrest him. They kick down the door, and discover something like a summoning circle on the floor and a whole lot of crazy in the bathroom and bedroom. At this point, the player is probably seriously questioning Lucas’ sanity.
Not much later, it’s abruptly revealed that nope, it’s just a setup by the shadowy ancient conspiracy, Carla swallows this line (from Lucas, by the way, and at this point she a) knows he’s the killer, and b) knows that he has had an episode at work and decides to team up with Lucas because things seem weird.
What follows is perhaps the most awkward, abrupt “romance” I’ve ever seen in a video game. It’s so horribly done that i actually shouted “OH HELL NO!” at my computer screen at four in the morning. The characters aren’t just Strangled by the Red String, they’re strangled, and then the red string jumps up and down on their corpses.
The game is also not very kind to it’s female characters. When she’s not doing investigatory work, Carla spends less time being a badass cop and more time trying to fend off panic attacks from claustrophobia (but don’t worry, there are nice men around who will rescue her). In a particularly rage-inducing moment, after giving you the option to save nearly every other character marked for death, a character is fridged for Lucas’ manpain, as if he didn’t already have enough of that, and don’t get me started on Jade.
Oh, and while I’m on the subject, let’s talk about Tyler. Tyler is Carla’s partner who happens to be black. There’s some tension between him and his girlfriend (wife?) Sam (who is white, BTW). It seems he’s having problems with work/life balance. I didn’t really find this problematic, in fact, I liked that Tyler was in an interracial relationship, and every relationship has their ups and downs (you can choose to repair the relationship).
And then there’s his theme music. It’s this cheesy hip-hop thing that’s sort of funny but also sort of eyebrow-raising.
Then you get to one of his longest scenes–a basketball game where the stakes are that he has to pay $200 ($100 which he owes, $200 because it’s double-or-nothing) to his skinny white coworker.
I suppose YMMV on whether any of this is especially problematic. There’s also a scene between Tyler and an Asian bookstore owner who pretty much runs through a checklist of “old master” traits–turns out he’s from Brooklyn and puts that act on for his customers: “I’ve never even left Long Island!”
I should also mention the only (that we know) gay character in the whole game. I would say it’s not a bad portrayal, he does play up the “magical queer” stereotype as a joke thing, but he’s just kind of average otherwise (plus he knows not to stop by a lady’s apartment without wine and tarot cards in hand).
Apart from the race and gender trouble, one thing I found aggravating about the game was the controls. For starters, anyone who does not allocate movement keys to W, S, A, and D deserves to sit down with mouse and keyboard and play the whole game through with their broken controls.
You see, QTEs in this game rely on the player using both hands to push buttons, since my hands are usually already hovering over the WASD keys naturally, it makes perfect sense to use them for movement. I’m wondering if the devs were using a keyboard where the arrow keys are closer to the letters.
I just checked, I see no keyboard like that.
I also thought that the QTEs came too fast too soon in the game. By the end of the game, I was used to it, but at the beginning I was failing QTE sequence after QTE sequence, and I can see where it would become a problem because some QTE sequences can be fatal. I definitely recommend remapping your keys if you’re playing this with a mouse or keyboard. I remapped mine as WASD for movement and arrow keys for “secondary” movements (QTEs, basically). I also had an issue with some of the dialogue options, namely that your responses consist of a word, and at times I was left wondering whether “Alone” meant Lucas wanted to be alone or something else (turns out he wanted to talk about how he was single and couldn’t get over his ex). I also found character faces kind of hilarious and a little creepy, although graphics as a whole aren’t terrible.
Overall, Fahrenheit could have been an awesome game that was unfortunately ruined (if TV Tropes is accurate) by executive meddling. It’s really unfortunate, because there’s some great atmosphere and storytelling under the pile of problematic elements and whacky Matrix-style fight scenes.
Oh, and did I mention Fahrenheit has an interactive (consensual) sex scene in addition to the fan service-y shower scene and topless people everywhere (both sexes)? Yeah, it does, Fox News would have a field day. Needless to say, if you want to try it but would prefer less nudity, you want Indigo Prophecy, if you don’t care, GOG.com has Fahrenheit for sale. It’s really a shame that such a great game went in the direction it did. It feels like Mass Effect 3 all over again.