Okay, I have five draft posts accumulated here, and I came on to write something about the gigs I’ve been going to this month, and even that isn’t the most important thing to say here right now – which is that you should go and see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang before it disappears from the cinema, it’s one of the funniest and cleverest films I’ve seen in years – and even that isn’t what I want to write, because I’m burning to gush about City Of Heroes (pointedly not Villains) because that’s what I’ve been doing in my week off. But it’s twenty to three in the morning, and this ancient draft post looks finished to me, so I’ll just post it. More, different, better stuff tomorrow.

Great Things About Fahrenheit

  • You Do Stuff: It’s amazing the difference between walking up to something and pressing ‘use’, and walking up to something and performing a small mouse gesture which very abstractly represents the motion you want your character to perform. That tiny trace of logic, that faint connection between what you do and what your character does, makes it a tactile experience that gets you into your character’s life in a profound way. Fahrenheit also takes every oppourtunity to make you do things, automating nothing and sometimes breaking actions down into almost painstakingly small parts, each performed in sequence. But the effort and intention that requires from you gives you a connection to your character that’s beyond normal control.
  • Private Lives: Since you have mental health rather than regular health to worry about, Fahrenheit has to let you do things that aren’t stressful (for your characters) to get it back up. So you play their lives, deciding what they do in their down time, manually performing comfortingly humdrum activities or basic life maintenance. Or swallowing the Little Book Of Calm. They’re welcome punctuation between the furious action bits, and that you decide how to while away the time means they’re frequently more fun. While bits like this work best as a backdrop to a dramatic story, it’s these you end up looking forward to more than what actually happens next. You get to see how every major character lives, talk to their friends or partners, know their apartment, sleep in their beds. It even gets unpleasantly intimate if you play your cards exactly right with the love interests in their lives, but apparently the American version spares you this realistically awkward fumbling.
  • Atmosphere: Fahrenheit depicts New York in a blizzard with loving artistry. The snow defines every scene, making indoors cosy and comfortable; the streets lonely or chaotic. It makes wonderful escapism, and means you don’t have to care about the plot to want to go back to this world when you’re away from it.
  • Music: Whoa, it’s like they got professionals to do it or something. It’s got both perfectly pitched incidental music, ramping up the spookiness or tension massively where appropriate, and actual songs for fun or quiet scenes. Carla’s apartment in particular is brought to life as much by the song playing on her hi-fi as the actual design of the place. Usually games fumble an awkward hybrid of incidental music and songs – it’s too featureless and watery to be songs, but it just plays mindlessly on a loop, rendering it irrelevant to what’s going on on-screen. That Fahrenheit does it the movie way, and gets it right, is a huge boost to your emotional engagement with it – one that dwarfs any excitement the actual mini-games might hope to introduce.

Awful Things About Fahrenheit

  • The Flashing Colours Minigames: Walkthroughs – which yes, I have used – refer to them as the Simon Says type; it tells you what to do, then you have to do it. In fact, you have to do it or it’ll kill you. That’s not a game, not even a mini-game, that’s slavery. Unlike the mouse gestures, it’s frequently at odds with the nature of the action, simply because they use the same system for every damn thing. It even ruins some of the Private Lives appeal, because as Lucas the most relaxing thing you can do – sitting down and playing your guitar – is made a galling chore. In the action sequences, Simon Says becomes a case of ‘keep pressing the right thing to keep watching the cut-scene’. But it’s even worse than that – they require you to concentrate intently on the colours, meaning you actually miss the cut-scene going on behind them almost completely. It’s like being forced to read a book in the middle of an action film or get kicked out of the cinema. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad at them – and I’m good now – they’re an ugly, pathetic, demeaning placeholder for a real game. They try some neat tricks to try to make up for it – matching the rhythm to that of the action, throwing some curveball colour combinations when your character does new things – but these are icing on an absent cake. There is no game here.
  • The Left/Right Minigames: These are actually worse than the Simon Says ones, but they’re not the game’s staple so they don’t take top spot. They are, however, crippling difficulty bottlenecks for anyone who doesn’t specialise in PRESSING TWO KEYS in rapid alternation. It’s the kind of thing an ape would refuse to do on principle. I love games, so I’ll do demeaning stuff to see the next bit of one I’m interested in, but it’s when these get harder that the insult becomes too much to bear. You fail, and have to start again, because the game finds your PRESSING TWO KEYS skill lacking. Worse, the metre conceals a secret time limit that has no relevance to the actual situation, so overcoming the natural decline of the energy bar you’re mashing up isn’t enough – you have to make it hit maximum before an imaginary countdown finishes, or it’ll act as if you let the bar hit zero. Worse again, that dirty trick isn’t understood by the game’s difficulty system, so it’s as annoying on Easy as on Hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am not good at these bits, because I do not take particular pride in my ability to PRESS TWO KEYS. The game’s guff about representing the physical exertion of your character would be a lot more convincing if what they were doing ever had anything to do with PRESSING TWO KEYS. The difficulty of these doesn’t increase the physical exertion anyway, and it’s their difficulty that makes them a problem.

Your Points Are Very Informative, Tom, But Is It Actually A Good Game?
No. There’s so much out there that’s a joy to play, and this is so often a pain. Doing something interesting and new is commendable, but Fahrenheit screws up so much of the basic stuff (like making the game part fun) that its novelties only outweigh its frustrations if you’re desperate for something new. More simply, if you hate games, you’ll love this. If you actually like games, and play good ones a lot, Fahrenheit grates. It’s still worth playing for the interest factor, or as a glimpse of what a good Revolution game might be like, but it’s potential rather than fun to me.

2 Replies to “Fahrenheit”

  1. The simon-says minigames were irritating. After lending the game to one of my flatmates and watching him play, I found that there were so many interesting bits in the cut-scenes that I was missing because I was too busy waggling analogue sticks. Also, I’m curious as to what your opinion on the keep-the-bar-in-the-middle minigames is. I prefered them to the others, as the reason for pressing the buttons (breathing) maps better to the action you perform than the other minigames do.

    Can’t really mention anything here without spoilering, but one of the major factions was utterly pointless, pointlessly forcing the story away from the main focus.

  2. I quite enjoyed them myself, when the sequencing tied in with what was going on the screen. Lucas bashes on the lift controls at the end of the office chase and the whatsit goes beserk too, and there’s often a “left circle, right circle, left+right circle –> action” pattern. Simple but still fun. It does make an interesting counterpoint to the intelligence of the game’s plot and style elements though.

    I think what really seperates me from the people who don’t like the system is that I want to watch what’s happening in the gameworldtoo, so instead of an abstract puzzle it becomes a struggle to keep up concentration while watching a fairly decent action sequence.

    The left/right arrow thing was undeniably crud though.

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