Review: Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered for iOS23 Feb 2015 0
Mad machinimist David Cage is a divisive figure. Some love his dedication to blending a decidedly '90s television aesthetic with games, striving for fast-tracked cultural legitimacy in telling quote-unquote serious and emotional stories. Others see his efforts as mawkish, awkward attempts at story-telling profundity that bottom out in the kiddie end of the pool. But I cut my teeth on his ultra-Euro science fiction debut, Omikron: The Nomad Soul and it made me a fan. Omikron suffered from being made well before the technology could do the concepts justice. It strained against the limits of 1999's 3D rendering technology (and an evident shoestring budget) to bring us a video game starring David Bowie that exuberantly poured in elements from multiple genres: brawling, shooting, adventure gaming, navel-gazing -- it was like nothing I'd ever seen before.
So being the David Cage fan that I am, I go into Fahrenheit (sold in America as Indigo Prophecy) excited to see what the French auteur and his studio managed to do with this much better funded 2005 followup to Omikron, which was just released for iOS a couple of weeks ago.
Cage calls this game's unique brand of adventure gaming an interactive film. It's a game born of an obvious love of serial drama; the highpoint of Chris Carter fare -- particularly the scrumptiously dark Millennium -- and the then-still warm 24. You could throw in all sorts of Se7en and procedural cop show inferences, but it really boils down to Cage's first earnest attempt at blending the cinematography of the television screen with controls that aim to make you immersed in the story, and not just a roaming camera man that characters talk to.
After an oblique, philosophical introduction on choice and consequence narrated by one of our protagonists, we sweep into a snowbound New York City and into the confines of a dingy diner bathroom to witness a murder. The twist here is that the narrator is the perpetrator. It's a clever little hors d'oeuvre; one that cleanses your palette of the usual hero conventions and leaves the player with in a tense but condensed environment to get to grips with those aforementioned controls.
The player character is moved about the environment via virtual pad with limited camera control to 'look' around the environment, such as the character is able. Interacting with the world or other people isn't a case of tapping directly on them, rather moving close and triggering the available interaction swipe options. If you've dabbled in Cage's later work, like Heavy Rain or Two Souls, you should be familiar with his curious pursuit of conveying real-world actions with controls other than binary button presses. Grabbing a mop might have you swiping left, using it on a puddle of blood has you swiping up and down in a limited but no less creative simulacrum of doing it in your very own kitchen. You know, when your dinner party takes a turn for the worst.
After our murderer tidies up and flees the scene, players are then introduced to two detectives saddled with solving the case. The dynamic of playing both perp and the law is never less than interesting on account of the accomplished writing. Character dialogue, particularly in interrogation or conversation scenes, is given a touch of spice beyond the usual adventure game exchange by having -- at most -- four topic choices and a rapidly depleting time limit. If this seems like old hat today, in 2005 this was brave stuff that would later be copied by Bioware and other bigger names, so Cage was definitely on to something.
The dialogue choices are governed by the same directional swiping method as movement, which feels a touch unnecessary but far from the most egregious crime that Fahrenheit commits. Those would be the quick-time events. Nobody really seems to like quick-time events, except for David Cage, who makes a point of inserting Simon-style reflex tests into all of his work, Fahrenheit being no exception. This is, sadly, how Quantic Dream decided to fuel the on-rails ‘directed’ action sequences. Presumably to make the long cinematic action sequences deliver the sort of gut punch that they do in big screen movies, Fahrenheit features marathon QTE segments that last for around five minutes. The act of tapping out colour chains ala Guitar Hero feels at odds with the game that asks you to turn knobs to turn on a faucet. Sometimes Fahrenheit wants to be hyper-naturalistic and sometimes it wants to be Time Crisis Touch. It's jarring, to say the least.
Cage weaves an interesting story in Fahrenheit. It tickles my fancy as the aforementioned Millennium did; stuffed to the gills with strange eschatology and dark mysticism, layered atop a medley of procedural cop shenanigans and techno-thriller elements. There's weird revelations about AI, Mayan apocalypses and cults -- but players can also mooch about in characters' apartments or offices in moments of Shenmue-esque triviality. Wash your hands. Visit the john. Stare out the window. These strange mundane moments help to alleviate the increasing density of the narrative, which does buckle a touch under the weight of its own esoteric indulgence. Akin to a television drama that sports a few too many episodes per season, Fahrenheit could have done with a judicious trim.
That said, it's hard not to appreciate the vigor of Fahrenheit. Cage really does make the game into a compelling film, and while the character models themselves can't quite match the high-quality voice work, it's a convincing tale, expertly paced and directed. The 24 split screen camera technique is often employed for dramatic purposes, either as a tool for exposition -- two characters contemporaneously in different locations -- or to heighten action scenes.
The action sequences are let down by that ungainly and imprecise virtual thumbstick I mentioned earlier. In scenes of urgency, precise movement is achieved through understeering your character around the environment, as the locked camera angles that otherwise service the cinematic through-line hamper any pin-point manoeuvering.
But, the awkward inertial predilections of characters, as well as the baneful use of QTEs, are a minor buff on an otherwise intriguing package. Fahrenheit’s a high concept effort, and while not wholly successful in the delivery, there’s nothing really quite like Fahrenheit outside the Quantic Dream repertoire.
Played on an iPhone 5S.