A short time ago, I bought a game for around a pound called Fahrenheit in a GOG.com sale. My word, what an experience that was.
What is it?
Fahrenheit (known as Indigo Prophecy in North America), released in 2005, was Quantic Dream’s second game after Omikron: Nomad Soul. More recently, they are known for Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human. As with the company’s other titles, It is written and directed by David Cage.
As I’m just discovering now, the version of Fahrenheit available on GOG.com is “uncensored and uncut”, so this whole article applies to that version. It has nudity, blood, sex, all that malarkey.
What’s it about?
New York City: You are Lucas Kane, very much a Regular Joe, who becomes possessed in a diner toilet and murders an innocent stranger. He’s shocked at what he has done when he comes to, and sets out to discover who or what is really behind the murder.
Conversely, you are also stern-and-smart-but-scared-of-the-dark Carla Valenti and comic-relief-yet-also-sometimes-serious Tyler Myles, two police officers on the case of the diner murder. They must discover evidence to prove who and where the murderer is.
On rare occasions, you also assume control of Lucas’ brother Markus Kane, a priest and overall swell chap.
Depending on what actions you choose and dialogue trees you follow during the game, different outcomes can be observed. However, these all eventually converge to result in the same overall story arc (albeit with three variations on the ending).
An important aspect of the game is the mental health bar (or “mental ‘ealth” as Cage himself tells us during the tutorial). This applies to every main character, and ranges from maxed out at “Neutral” to hitting rock bottom at “Wrecked” which can, but not always, result in a game over.
The mental health bar is affected positively and negatively by certain events, eg. Drinking coffee or using the toilet increases it a little while many main story events will negatively impact it by a large amount.
Is it good?
Hmm! The short answer is yes, and I’d definitely recommend it, even if it is now quite dated. It is, if anything, very interesting to see the origins of a lot of mechanics behind Quantic Dream’s later titles. The long answer though? Read on!
The QTE conundrum
Firstly, I need to point out the Quick Time Events (QTEs). These are rampant in Quantic Dream’s games, and in later titles I actually find them to work quite well in instilling a sense of urgency in tense scenes. In Fahrenheit, however, I found them to often be a hindrance.
They take the form of two simultaneous Simon Says visual cues, where you must push the correct colour that corresponds with the one flashing up on the screen. They’re used not only for action sequences, but also during slow-moving cutscenes in order to unlock extra parts of it. It does get a bit tiresome, but once you get the hang of it it’s generally tolerable.
Fahrenheit makes extensive use of motion capture technology, which was very ambitious at the time and using the movements of live actors helped to convey Quantic Dream’s intention for the game to be presented as an “interactive movie” rather than a standard “video game”. I commend this, it was a great way to make the game feel more accessible to a wider audience than what was seen by the public as the stereotypical “video game” audience, and an excellent way of presenting a narrative-focused experience. All good. Good job.
But when you look at Fahrenheit from now in 2019, when technology in games has advanced exponentionally since 2005, the high detail mocap animation applied to low polygon characters and objects looks quite comical at times. I don’t think this necessarily detracts from it; it is a product of its time and we need to appreciate it as such. But it can be pretty funny.
There are mega spoilers for the story below including the ending, so be warned.
That story, though.
After the murder, Lucas flees to his apartment and tries to resume normal life. He goes to work, but it is clear something is not okay because he starts hallucinating that giant lice are chasing him around the building.
Of course, his coworkers can’t see them and after the chase it cuts to Lucas writhing around on the office floor with his colleagues wondering what the hell is wrong with him. As am I, lads, I think to myself.
We alternate between controlling Lucas struggling with evading authorities and trying to find out who the “real” killer is, and Carla and Lucas trying to find him. There’s even a scene where a witness at the diner has to construct an E-fit of Lucas, and it is incredible.
I really like this aspect of pitting multiple characters under the player’s control against each other. It works well in inciting conflict in the audience over what is right and wrong, and what outcome do you really want. There are successful examples of this being used in Detroit: Become Human, for example (spoiler in the following video link) a decisive fight scene between two opposing protagonists where the player is put on the spot to choose who succeeds.
The thing is, the entire time I was very much rooting for Lucas to get caught.
He kept demonstrating to me how unlikeable he was, be that boasting about how many times he’s read a Nietzsche book, being dickish to his priest brother Markus, oh yeah and KILLING a man at the very beginning.
The game just couldn’t prove to me that Lucas was not in fact responsible for the murder no matter how much it tried. I constantly thought, All of this, all these hallucinations and being possessed, it’s all in his head isn’t it? He’s had some kind of mental breakdown and this is the result. I mean, the game does place certain emphasis on mental ‘ealth, after all.
OH HOW WRONG I WAS
Things started to get weird for me and my sister, who were playing the game together, when we had to endure a scene with Carla avoiding patients in an asylum who get free from their rooms. It’s not often that I feel a deep sense of disturbance playing a game, but the whole time me and my sister kept looking at each other going, what the actual hell is this scene! I suppose the developers felt they needed to inject some drama into the chapter but this sequence was completely unnecessary to everything!
Okay, I have to admit I had to go back and remind myself of what exactly happened after a certain point, because it just got so completely insane that I don’t think I took it all in when I played it for the first time. I’m not going to run through every single event in the game, but I’ll try and summarise as briefly as possible. Even though it was a struggle to collate everything together into a digestible chunk, the crazy ending is worth it.
Forewarning: it is a bit mad.
Lucas ends up being the suspect of another murder – that of Agatha, a blind old lady / spiritual medium who helped Lucas find out who possessed him— a man in a hooded coat— by putting him into a trance. He sees Agatha’s spirit and on her advice visits a specialist on Mayan civilisation called Prof. Dimitri Kuriakin.
After questioning Dimitri under the guise of a journalist, Lucas realises that the murder he committed in the diner, by cutting his victim’s heart arteries (hearteries, heh), was a Mayan sacrifice. Dimitri said that back in the day, a Mayan Oracle would possess another person and perform a human sacrifice through them, disconnecting the victim’s heart by cutting the arteries. Murdering via proxy allowed the Oracle’s soul to remain “pure”, or something. Ergo, the bloke in a hooded coat who possessed Lucas was an Oracle and is the true murderer. Still with me?
Good. *Heaves huge sigh and continues*
Dimitri says that the possessed person then committed suicide after the sacrifice. Lucas didn’t, however. THE PLOT THICKENS.
The Oracle lures Lucas out of hiding by tying his ex-girlfriend Tiffany to a roller coaster in an abandoned theme park. Lucas rushes to her rescue, but ends up getting both of them killed by falling off of the roller coaster (good job).
Lucas is brought back to life as what I will refer to henceforth as Zombie Lucas by a group of AIs called the Purple Clan. The Purple Clan reveal that they were the ones disguising themselves as Agatha’s ghost earlier on.
The entire game so far has been punctuated by seeing homeless blokes around the city. It’s New York, so OK. BUT ACTUALLY it comes to light that the homeless people are part of a secret underground organisation called the Invisibles that is monitoring the Purple Clan, and the clan that the Oracle is a member of which has secretly ruled the world for centuries (the Orange Clan).
Both clans are trying to locate a little girl called the Indigo Child, who is a pure soul that has never been incarnated before and holds the secret that will grant whoever hears it immense power. The Invisibles are trying to make sure that the Indigo Child doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Got it?
SOMEHOW, Lucas manages to convince Carla that all of the above is true. He’s so convincing that she loses all powers of critical thinking and respect for herself and when they’re in the Invisibles’ secret underground base they have unprotected sex on a hobo’s mattress.
I’m telling the truth, see!
By this point, Tyler (remember him?) has noped the fuck out by either moving out of state with his girlfriend Sam, or staying behind in NYC to help people affected by the freak cold weather (you decide). He is the wisest person in the entire game.
Lucas, as it turns out, has special power called Chroma which resists the powers of the Oracle. This is why the Oracle was unable to make him kill himself after the murder in the diner. He got this power from being exposed to some magical sciencey artifact in a military base that he lived on when he was a child, while he was still in his mother’s (a scientist at the base) womb.
WE ARE NEARLY THERE.
Lucas kidnaps the Indigo Child girl from an orphanage (actually this happens before the hobo base bit but I’m putting it here for ease of explaining things) and takes her to the military base to learn the secret from her and gain immense power. He then battles the AIs and the Oracle, and depending on your performance during the last chapter of the game you get one of three endings, only one of which we experienced:
We got the “Good” ending, where the freak winter ends and everything is looking rosy, and Zombie Lucas and Carla are expecting a magical Chroma Indigo Baby or something that will save the world. I’ve got to admit I lost the will to live at this point.
It took me a few days to digest all that happened towards the end of Fahrenheit, but eventually I came to some conclusions.
I can’t bring myself to believe that anything after the abandoned theme park scene happened at all. You know the game’s emphasis on mental health? I don’t think it would be too far fetched to say that Lucas was always mentally unstable and imagined all of the supernatural events up until he dragged Tiffany up to the top of the roller coaster HIMSELF. I think that he survived the fall but either completely lost his mind or entered a comatose state, and everything that happens from this point onwards was a completely invented construct by him.
I think that there was no possession in the diner whatsoever. There was no Mayan sacrifice cult, that Lucas warped what the Mayan specialist told him to fit around his own deranged ideas, and above all he was just an unfortunate victim of some sort of psychiatric disorder.
This also makes me feel better about the ending, for both me and my sister were just floored by everything – the underground Hobo organisation, Zombie Lucas, zombie hobo mattress sex with Carla, zombie Indigo child baby with Carla after knowing her for three months … Just, no. I refuse to believe any of that was real. You intended me to feel this way, right, Cage? Right?!
This game is amazing.
My, this was a long one! I thought it was just going to be a quick jaunt about how crazy this game was, but it ended up being full blown therapy for me to work through what the heck it was all about and to get my brain back into alignment really. Thank you for sticking it out to the (insane) end!
Fahrenheit is absolutely a good game in many ways, but there’s definitely a certain badness to it that evokes a similar feeling to certain bad/good movies I’m a fan of— I’m thinking of the works of Tommy Wiseau or Neil Breen, where they take their projects seriously but the end result demonstrates unintentional hilarity. I’d be very interested to find more good-but-possibly-bad games to add to my collection!
As a final-final little thing, on my travels I discovered this fascinating blog post from back in 2010 by unseen64.net which showcases beta images from Fahrenheit.