Recently remastered in HD for PC and iOS, Quantic Dream's Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the States) set the standard for cinematic adventure games years before Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls came along. Want to know why?
With a twisted story, ordinary characters in strange circumstances and advanced cinematic storytelling, playing Fahrenheit back in 2005 on the Xbox, PC or PlayStation 2 was the closest gaming has yet come to an interactive movie experience.
Of course it was still only a video game.
"Hi, my name is David Cage. I am the writer and director of Fahrenheit."
I was so jealous of David Cage when I played through the tutorial for Fahrenheit way back in 2005. The age of the digital video game actor was dawning, and here he was, in his sweater and blue jeans, explaining how to play his game from virtual space. My representative in this grand lesson didn't even get eyes.
Playing the tutorial before launching into the game proper is essential. Not only does it teach you the skills required to play, it also sets up a somewhat whimsical vibe that makes the transition to the game's stunning opening even more jarring.
After a brief monologue and some signature Quantic Dream sweeping camera shots (see the company's first game, Omikron: The Nomad Soul) the player is introduced to one of the main characters of the game -- as he dtabs a man to death in a dirty diner bathroom.
Welcome to Fahrenheit!
In one of the most desperate video game opening scenes I've experienced, the player suddenly finds themselves in the shoes of one Lucas Kane, straddling a corpse and holding a bloody knife in the restroom of a diner frequented by New York's finest.
Unlike early adventure games in which such situations have a clear set of actions that must be performed before progressing, Fahrenheit leaves it up to the player. Do you run out of the restroom covered in blood? Do you hide the body, mop the floor and wash your hands before making your exit? Do you linger too long and get discovered by the off-duty police officer having a cup of coffee after his shift?
No choice is insignificant, especially considering that not only do you play Lucas Kane, unwilling murderer, you also play the police detectives tasked with taking him down.
Law and Order
Should Lucas escape his sticky situation we're shortly introduced to the game's other two primary protagonists.
Carla Valenti is the most hard-working detective on the force, known for her strong work ethic, no-nonsense attitude and having absolutely no personal life because of it. Her partner, Tyler Miles, is one of my favourite characters in a video game ever. More on him later.
In the blink of an eye the game switches from desperate murder scene clean-up to police procedural, and the intricately interwoven aspects of Fahrenheit's story emerges. Carla and Tyler are on the trail of Lucas Kane, and Kane's actions in the opening of the game stand to either help or hinder their investigation.
For example, if Kane runs out of the diner without paying his tab, the waitress/witness will have a harder time coming up with an image composite of his face later in the game.
Take your time, pay your tab and put your best face forward, and maybe the options narrow a bit, giving her a better chance.
After the initial play through, once the player sees how the various story threads are connected, the urge to go back and tangle those threads is overwhelming. I've played through Fahrenheit at least half a dozen times between the original release and the recent HD re-release on iOS and Steam, and it's never been quite the same.
Life Or Death Decisions
You've got a protagonist dealing with suddenly becoming a murderer. Then something like this happens.
Following a meeting with his Roman Catholic priest brother, Lucas encounters a chance for redemption, as often follow meetings with priests. A young boy is about to fall into an icy pond and drown. Should Lucas save him and risk being exposed by the cop from the diner who just happens to be wandering through the part at the same time?
No matter how many times I play through this moment, I've never been able to bring myself to not save the child.
I have watched videos of what happens however, and what happens is a massive hit to the character's Mental Health bar, bringing Lucas Kane one step closer to suicide.
Your Mental Elf
Back to you, David Cage.
Makes me giggle every time. Which it shouldn't, as it's serious business. Like a sanity meter in a horror game, the Mental Health meter in Fahrenheit is a clever way to quantify the psychological state of ordinary characters involved in extraordinary events.
Take Lucas' initial struggle with this involuntarily manslaughter. How does a person process such a thing? One could simply go through the motions, taking comfort in the familiar trappings of normal day-to-day life. Taking a piss. Checking email. Drinking some milk.
These actions add points to your Mental Health meter, keeping your characters stable and on-point. But what if Lucas can't handle the pressure? What if he tries to drink his worries away?
Yes, in Fahrenheit your character can take his own life, which while somewhat shocking comes across as a logical reaction to the events of the game's opening.
My suggestion? Play it safe. Take time to drink a little water, read some emails and never pass up a toilet. You'll need all the mental health you'll get for later in the game.
Shit Goes Crazy
In the interest of not spoiling the game for those of you looking to pick it up on Steam and/or iOS, I'll just leave this here -- a child of great power, an ancient Mayan oracle and a clan of artificially intelligent beings. Also super powers, resurrection and psychics.
Fahrenheit gets really strange, really quickly, and just when you think you've figured out what's going on, another spanner is thrown into the works. There are games you can begin playing and almost immediately guess how they are going to end. Fahrenheit is the antithesis to one of those.
It would all be too much, if not for the efforts of one man.
Tyler Miles Is The Man
Carla Valenti's partner is Tyler Miles. Brought up in the New York street gang scene, Tyler decided one day he'd rather work on the side of the angels, but he's still got quite a bit of the devil in him. He's the lazy, laid-back counterpoint to Carla's straight-laced stoicism. He is the man.
A man who pees when he has to pee.
A man who knows the true value of mood music.
A man who can't take a shower...
...or enter the office...
...without some funky riffs playing.
Tyler Miles is the sort of police detective I've always wanted to be. He's the reason my MP3 player always has a little funk on it, just in case I need to make a grand entrance no one else but me will notice.
As Foretold By Prophecy
And so one of the greatest adventure games of all time was born, and now reborn through an HD remastered version available now for PC and iPad. It's the same game I remember with enhanced textures -- textures that can be turned off on the fly for those looking to preserve the original experience.
I say turn them off. Enjoy Fahrenheit the way it was originally presented, again and again and again.