Retrospective #002: Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy
Continuing on from the first in this series of retrospective looks at games from days gone by. Fahrenheit or Indigo Prohecy in North America is a game with filmic aspirations that becomes a milieu of poor mechanics and obstructive gameplay. Read on to find out more on a game you may have neglected.
Game Retrospective Irony
It seems ironic that a game striving for a meaningful resonance and filmic presentation to end up becoming one of the most unsatisfying game experiences that exists in the illustrious annals of past consoles and generations.
Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in North America) is a below average film nestled in stringent and glaringly obvious gaming ticks that really hamper the often cerebral story implementation.
Chasing Yourself in Fahrenheit
You play as three characters throughout the game in Lucas Kane, Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles. The game opens to Lucas murdering someone in a cafe restroom, being controlled via some Mayan spirit, he decides to seek a solution to this problem and fight both police forces and new world order style agencies while slowly becoming superhuman.
Carla is a detective along with Tyler and you will play as both in order to discover clues to track and hunt Lucas after the restroom murder. With that said, Tyler is mostly superfluous, except as a story buffer and change of pace during some flagrant scenes during the plot line.
The theme of chasing yourself is a novel one and quite a good way to provide the inevitable story arc upto the end game. Carla chases Lucas, has a couple of close encounters, finally tracks him down, then crazy plot twists ensue.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps...
Before I summarily gesticulate on some of the inherent shortcomings, I will look into some of the more interesting aspects of the game. Firstly, at several points during the game, the player is given the option to play guitar or use a punch bag in Lucas’ apartment.
These mini-game style scenes may be similar to others that I don’t find engaging and will criticise in this article, however there is an added resonance in the actions of Lucas, alone in his own occupation, as his world capitulates around him.
To further this, the claustrophobia and asylum scenes where the player takes control of Carla are a great stylistic change and, at least in the case of the basement claustrophobia, give Carla added character depth. Even so, these moments still utilise the conflicted game design that is pandemic to Fahrenheit, limiting the effect of profundity with an abstract layer of interaction.
Dyanmic Conversation in the Fahrenheit Game
Also of note, is the games use of dynamic dialogue options and a countdown to the choices you can make, trying to replicate the organic nature of a conversation.
While Project Natal and the future of similar interactive software may end up giving us something akin to conversation in games, it is good to see such a well integrated system in a game from 5 years ago.
The idea of being both the hunted and hunter is a profound one also and until Carla has solved her inclinations and contacted Lucas, the game makes good use of this particular dynamic.
Striving for the Unobtainable
Gaming as a media format dictates that the tenants of player interaction based on one or several mechanics need to be satiated in order to have a game experience.
The key difference between games and film, comics or books, is the interactive aspect that opens nigh limitless possibilities insofar as creating worlds, stories, mechanics, adventures and characters.
While I won’t contemplate this too much here, my point is that Fahrenheit is trying to reach a different media form (in this case film, or to be more specific, of the action/cop drama genre) and in doing so, utterly fails in its intended purpose and forces the player to be aware that they are playing a game as opposed to watching a film or viewing the progression of a story.
Would You Kindly?
Self awareness in video games is a great thing, when done correctly. For instance, Metal Gear Solid and its awareness of the players actions controlling the game (“put the controller down Raiden!") or at a further extremity the use of control over the player in Bioshock are just two of the examples.
However, when Fahrenheit attempts the same self-awareness, it becomes startlingly oblivious to it and continues spewing out cutscenes with poor Simon says button sequences or athletics game mashing.
Continue to page 2 for more deliberation on self-awareness, obtrusive gameplay and filmic aspirations...
Gamey Gaming Retrospective
It further emphasises the irony when, during cutscenes, you have to concentrate on these mini-game style mechanics and can’t focus on whats actually happening in the story or scene itself.
This makes the player know that they are playing the game but means the game doesn’t respond to that awareness, ergo I doubt it was intended to be such a gamey experience and unfortunately it completely eradicates any semblance of immersion I had while playing.
Dictating the story is one thing, it can certainly be acceptable in linear progression to a point (see Modern Warfare’s single player campaign), but to have such a glaringly linear and borderline patronising use of faux interactivity is bewildering and creator David Cage comes off as pretentious during some of the more expansive scenes in the later part of the film.
Lack of Maturity in the Fahrenheit Game
In addition to this, the story, while initially quite entertaining and contextually setting things in motion very well, becomes a cluster of seven or eight plot lines and cosmic extrapolations that are never really explained and culminate in nonsensical developments ending with a sex scene or the death of an ancillary character.
The late and forced romantic subplot only happens in the space of around 30 minutes and feels stilted and amateur. It seems taking a cue from poorly structured mid-90‘s action films was the focus here.
I mean come on, throwing breasts into a game doesn’t make it mature, to do it with minimal or underdeveloped context won’t help either and it seems Quantic Dream were ignoring this while happily creating some 3D boobs with modelling software.
Simon Says Stop, Indigo Prophecy Review
As I said above, the beginning of the story and its opening 3 or so hours of “gameplay" are engrossing and surprise with the quality it displays.
The gradual realisation of the opening murder scene and the furrowed deterioration of main character Lucas Kane’s life is aggravated only when the first key integration of Simon says button pressing is used.
This occurs in the office of Lucas’ day job, at a bank. The scene is designed to showcase both the cinematic nature of the game with the inherent and intuitive mechanics (Having a vision, Lucas is attacked by giant slug type monsters, eventually succumbing to his foes, they disappear and he runs out of the office). Unfortunately, this destroys the experience and furthers the departure from film as intended, becoming a simple interactive puzzle.
It is multiplied and emphasised only by the use of two or three separate mechanics throughout the entire game, which don’t particularly require skill but still create an obstruction between the presentation and yourself. The inter-marriage of gameplay and story is oft bereft and is heightened because of this.
Who Knew Fences Could Be So Annoying
It seems counter-intuitive to point out that Fahrenheit is a good game while being a failed experiment in filmic presentation.
However, the truism that Fahrenheit is such a game is wrong in this instance, due to the creator and his companies obvious intent with their product. The story turns into a poorly written and seemingly rushed attempt at a layman’s philosophical action film.
The gameplay is often a departure from the presentation and makes the players forced self-awareness a negative while the actual game itself feels clumsily implemented, rudimentary and pauses the intended fluidity (extraneously climbing a fence being a painstakingly annoying example).
Although I initially enjoyed Fahrenheit, back in 2005 and to an extent even now, after looking at the game closer over the last couple of weeks it becomes obvious what a failure it was.
Not necessarily as an experiment in cutscenes and storytelling, but as a game which fails to captivate any sort of emotional engagement or player immersion while maintaining archaic and poor gameplay design choices that hinder the potential of games as a verifiable entertainment or ponderous medium.
If we are to strive towards games becoming a credible expressive medium, to boldly hijack below average ideas from another medium will not help.
Instead of focusing on the filmic milieu then building gaming mechanics around it, the decision should be made to build dynamical gameplay and plot driven meaning within the game while accompanying it with filmic aspirations afterward. Unfortunately, I think David Cage was too busy with the former.