So is it a brave new chapter in the lost art of interactive storytelling? An amalgam of filmmaking and gaming in a single package? Is David Cage the games industry's answer to Quentin Tarantino? Are the annual Oscars going to have to open a new category for Best Virtual Screenplay In A Non-First-Person Shooter? And will it lead to games finally being given proper, gravelly-voiced, "In a world..." trailers, red carpet opening night premieres at prestige branches of Game or HMV, and developers being hounded by paparazzi as they revel in their new-found fame and fortune by snorting huge lines of cocaine from penthouse hotel suites packed to the gills with girls and agents?
Good questions all and we can only guess at the answers. These are, after all, dark times. The suits are on the march, the audiences have been targeted with laser death ray precision, everything has 'attitude' and 'respect' and franchisable characters and it's a genuine miracle that something like Fahrenheit can even get made.
The adventure game market died a horrible death years ago, trampled to a bloody pulp in the mad rush towards FPS nirvana. If you weren't carrying an oversized gun and mowing down waves of bad guys like an '80s era Arnie in the throes of a heavy LSD-inspired panic attack, you might as well forget your chances at retail, my friends. LucasArts learnt the lesson and learnt it well, entering a grim, yet profitable era of Star Wars exploitation instead.
But not for Fahrenheit's creator, David Cage. Shrewdly, he realised that the trouble with point-and-click adventures was the 'point-and-click' part. People still wanted the stories, they just didn't want to have to 'Get Sword' and 'Use Sword On Giant Chicken'. So he set about hiding them, dressing them up in different clothes and comedy moustaches and hoping people wouldn't catch on. Nomad Soul, his first toe in the waters at Quantic Dream, was a beautiful piece of misdirection. Take the traditional adventure mechanics and hide them in a GTA-style world. It almost worked too, but for most, Nomad Soul is a hidden game, a gem waiting to be discovered, never quite getting its moment in the sun.
Now Fahrenheit, and he's at it again. For all the talk of this being a new dawn in the age of interaction, what we're dealing with is an old-school adventure game with a different interface. Well I'm on to you Cage, I know what you're up to. But have no fear, your secret's safe with me. Hell, I'm practically encouraging you to keep at it! Yes sir, let's show these rat-f***ers what some goddamn men of vision can do when let loose! Fahrenheit is a work of art, dammit! And art needs to be respected, lest it creeps right up on you and bites off your testicles when you're not looking.
Keep It Light
But is it a game? No. It's a story that you play through. It often suggests that you have the freedom to go where you want and do what you will, but in truth it's cleverly constructed to continually channel you along a particular path, a necessity for the plot to unfold.
There are moments of absolutely sublime design work that hide this: multiple options; scenes that let you explore alternative character usage, and moments that show the plot from cop and killer perspectives at the same time - leading to some brilliantly tense ticking clock moments and 24-style split-screen action, which veers just to the right side of being an over-used gimmick.
So the fine details change with each new play through a chapter, but the overall story will keep heading towards the ultimate conclusion. Even here you can find at least five different ways to reach one of the multiple end sequences - end sequences that for once all seem to have had as much sense of resolution put into them as each other (although several of the secondary characters did deserve a better send off I felt). If there is to be a sequel, there's definitely more potential in following on from one of the supposed 'failed' endings than the 'correct' conclusion.