Video games. Interactive Movies. You might know of the arguments that follow on from there. What is a video game? Is a game still a game if we're just interacting with a bunch of cinematics? Are Dragon's Lair or Another World games or movies? Does it matter?
These days, you'll perhaps know of Heavy Rain or Detroit: Become Human, two big titles that raise these kinds of questions. Before both of them, however, there was Fahrenheit, an interactive story of supernatural murder, and the investigations into uncovering just what on Earth is going on.
I've actually watched this, a long time ago, and have thankfully forgotten the story, and can relive it all over again - this time at the controls.
But how do you control an interactive story? Are we going to be pushing buttons in time with on-screen events, like Dragon's Lair? Are we going to be living in the world, like Shenmue? Here to make it all clear is the writer and director of Fahrenheit (as well as Heavy Rain and Detroit, and more), David Cage.
We'll be taking the reigns of Bob, the crash test dummy, as he walks around and interacts with his environment. Walking around is simple enough and in the Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered version I'm playing, it's on the left analogue stick. The right stick, when it's not controlling the camera, is used to perform vaguely related actions in the world.
If you're in front of a door, you push on the stick to push open the door. If you need to crouch, you pull back on the stick to lower yourself to the floor. It's simple, and actions can only be done if you're in the right spot, so you won't be trying to open doors in the middle of the park, or whatever.
There are also quick time challenges of various types. Either the shoulder buttons need to be alternated pressed for a length of time, or your analogue sticks need to be pressed in the right direction when the appropriate coloured indicator is shown.
Owing to not exactly knowing when and how to move the sticks to dodge an incoming police car, Bob put his crash test skills to use. Because this is an interactive story, failure doesn't (or shouldn't) end your game there and then, but instead change the events that take place. I was given the chance to try again, with a second police car waiting to run me over. I'd imagine the game itself won't be as lenient as the tutorial.
After David wraps up the basics, we're good to go. We've learned all we need to know about interactive storytelling, and anything else is left for us to discover. So let's discover it.
It's a snowy day in New York. In the men's room of Doc's Diner, Lucas Kane - apparently possessed - kills a man.
I said you've killed a man, Lucas. What are you going to do about it? What are we going to do about it, as we're given control and let loose upon the story?
I start heading to the door to leave, but that's a silly idea, isn't it? We're covered in blood. We should at least wash our hands. I don't doubt that Fahrenheit has a branching storyline for being a fool and waltzing out dripping with blood, but we're going to at least try to hide some evidence.
We whistle our way to the exit - well, I do - but are stopped at the door. We've been rumbled. How? No, they can't know what's happened. Do we run or respond?
The bill. Of course. We can't have not paying that on our conscience. Don't look suspicious of murder. Just pay up and out the door we go...
There's another exit here. Wish I saw that before making a fool of myself. Lucas has a psychological meter, where actions raise or lower his mental state. We don't appear to have reduced ourselves to a shaking heap on the floor yet, so we're doing something right.
Enter Detective Carla Valenti, responding to the call. She's our second playable character, posing an interesting question for us: do we do a poor job on the investigation so that Lucas can escape, or do we do our best and make life difficult for our other selves?
Exploring both sides of the story is very much at the heart of seemingly all of David Cage's interactive stories. If it means replaying the game and making different choices, well, that's great. More story. More questions. More gameplay.
Multiple dialogue options allow us to ask what we care about the most, and Officer Martin gives us the gist of things upon our arrival. It seems everyone is waiting for us to do our thing, so we better get going. Do we interview the waitress? Investigate the killer's table? Poke around in the bathroom? Whatever we can think of, we might just be able to do.
We learn a few details from Kate. The victim was called John, and the killer was acting a little weird beforehand. The multiple-choice nature of the questions does lead to a few weird turns in the conversation, and trying not to meta-game for the sake of this investigation making sense was soon thrown out of the window - I just waggled the stick in the direction of a question and let it play out.
I'm not sure how important any single choice is to the events of the story, but having one word to describe the player's options can result in some instances of 'that's not what I meant'. Does 'insist' really mean 'pull yourself together'? Well, it doesn't seem like I insulted her, so I think all is good.
Heading to the victim, I get the chance to switch characters, this time to Tyler Miles, another detective, and one who really needs to open his eyes a little more. Different characters see different things in the environment. Tyler allowed me to check John's pockets, and realise that his wallet wasn't stolen. But he's blind to the puddle of the blood that exists in one of the stalls, and I've got to switch to Carla and investigate it with her instead.
Minor quibbles? Definitely, but if you want the true cinematic experience, characters fumbling around, flushing toilets for no reason, getting in each other's way or just standing there playing on their phone, waiting to be used, does hamper things ever so slightly.
Further Fun Times
But not enough to get in the way of the plot. Who is this guy? You just know he's got something to do with events this evening. But what? I'm sure time will tell.
We return to Lucas, who is now suffering from a splitting headache and seeing things. His brother has called him out of the blue - convenient timing - so we decide to get dressed and head to meet him at the park. We need to get something off our chests.
After walking around the apartment, closing windows, drinking milk, checking our emails and whatnot, there's another thing we need to do, too: Clean some bloody clothes.
Oh, God! The cops! Think fast, think fast.
You can barely see it in the screenshot, but this little Simon Says analogue stick quick time thingy is the only thing between us and the police seeing an awful lot of blood on our bed. Thankfully, we get it right and come up with an excuse that somehow does the trick.
Back to Carla, we get a suspicious e-mail and have to wake up Tyler. We can switch between the two as and when, exploring the police station with Carla or family life with Tyler. I assume he's going to stay in bed until I do something with him, so over to Tyler's story we go.
The Remastered version includes controller support, making it play more like the modern interactive stories I'm used to, as well as a bump up in the graphics department. I switched back to the older graphics and saw little difference.
The game has aged, certainly, but doesn't look too bad. It's got a weird fascination with showing closeups of people as they think about something, smiling, dead behind the eyes until their inner monologue has finished. You get used to it.
In older games, like point and clicks, you'd have to hunt for that one pixel that would lead to progress. In Fahrenheit, you just push your character into something until an icon appears. If nothing pops up, there's nothing to see.
Lucas' brother, Markus, is a priest now and meets us in the park to reconnect. He wasn't expecting this news to emerge from our mouths, that's for sure.
The beans have been spilt now. If we can't trust our priest brother, who can we trust?
There's an air of the paranormal about this murder. Maybe it was all the candles or the possession that gave it away. Probably the possession, let's face it. Having a priest on our side must be a good thing, surely? Markus holds out a hand...
Lives? So failure can mean a hard stop in the story? The tutorial, strangely, mentions how characters can get so sad that they commit suicide. Was he just saying that to make sure we keep our spirits up? Does he want us to explore that side of our character's psyches?
We don't have time to think about that right now, as Lucas has a vision of a child falling through the ice nearby, giving us a decision to make.
The officer from the diner is on patrol in the park. If we rescue the kid, he'll spot us. We're wanted on suspicion of murder, and it is fresh in his mind. What do we do?
But we were left to walk away. What ramifications will that have on our story?
Well, I have no idea. That's an hours-worth of Fahrenheit and I like what I see. It's a little clunky in places, but to be fair it's only clunky if you're out looking for it, or know of how much more polished and refined modern games of this ilk are.
For a first attempt, if you will, Fahrenheit still stands as something worth playing today. The Remastered release gives you more options for playing it with a controller or with different graphics, but I'm not sure I'd call it essential. Unless you're more comfortable with a controller, I guess.
The characters are interesting enough to get behind. The writing might not be quite to your taste, but it'll take you on a strange tale of murder, and the day to day lives of those involved in it.
It's a chillout game. I have no doubts your reactions will get thoroughly tested by the end of the game, but if you just want to explore a story from every angle, there's not much else that allows you to do so quite like Fahrenheit. Well, outside of anything David Cage has done. And ignoring walking simulators. Different genre entirely.
I intend to play some more Fahrenheit for sure. Perhaps I'll even get around to finishing it. Not sure I'll try and explore every single possibility, but you could if you wanted to. Will it be the greatest story in video gaming? No, probably not. I have forgotten it from my first look at it, after all. Will it be entertaining for the duration? I'd imagine so, yes.
FILLING YOU IN
Holy Moly. I've played a few more hours of Fahrenheit now, and let me tell you this: you won't expect what's in store.
In terms of gameplay, you mostly will. Fast quick-time challenges, an awful lot of shoulder button mashing, and some annoying stealth sections. Some of the camera angles screw with the direction your character will move in, but you'll overcome them without too much hassle.
With regards to the plot, though... For the first two hours, it sets itself up as a thriller, a cat and mouse chase with some supernatural shenanigans thrown in for good measure. The game really starts to get interesting an hour or so after that, and then... then the damn brakes stop working, the train goes off the rails and all manner of 'What?' comes out of your mouth.
It's like someone spilt coffee on their keyboard, and in a blind panic to not lose any work, they regurgitated the plot of every straight to the DVD B-movie plot - or worse - in the hopes that one of them was what David Cage intended.
You've got supernatural stuff, you've got Mayan stuff, you've got the end of the world stuff where oceans literally freeze solid, you've got resurrection from the dead, you've got unexplained superhero powers (someone's just watched The Matrix...) and, in the remastered, you've got restored cut content: sex scenes. And they are not the main attraction here.
Fahrenheit works its way into your interest and then goes insane, but I've strapped in along for the ride, and damn is it taking us on one. It's worth playing just to see if you can guess what'll happen next. I sure can't.
I'm not finished yet, but it feels close. It's quite the interactive movie, this...
A Vivendi producer apparently requested that David Cage be in the tutorial, which is strange because Vivendi Games weren't interested in publishing Fahrenheit, passing it on to Atari instead.
Fahrenheit, developed by Quantic Dream, first released in 2005.
Version played: Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered, PC, 2015.