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Brilliantly crafted characters, flawless dialogue, creepy locations, and a story that is a cross between a murder mystery and an episode of the X-Files - the first half of Fahrenheit on PC made me think it would be the best game I have ever played. Unfortunately, somewhere in the middle, it all becomes a big mess. The storyline stopped making sense, the characters did bizarre things, and none of the three endings really tied everything together.
In what has to be one of the best opening sequences in the history of video games, Fahrenheit begins in a New York diner. We meet Lucas Kane - just an average kind of guy on an average day stopping off to get something to eat before he makes his way home. But then he inexplicably loses control of his own actions. Whilst in a bathroom cubicle, he starts convulsing, and finds himself compelled to carve strange symbols in his arms, and then to brutally kill a man he has never met before.
When he regains his senses, your first task is to help him clean up the mess and make a hasty exit before anyone discovers the body. I found myself instantly drawn into the mystery and eager to find out how the rest of the story would unfold. It cleverly combined two of my very favourite things - crime stories and supernatural horror. Very few games have compelling, well-written stories, and it was a real treat to sit down with one which felt like it had been expertly crafted rather than stuck on as an afterthought when most of the actual gameplay had already been finished.
Along with Lucas, you also control detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, and Lucas's brother, a priest called Markus. I loved being able to peek into each of the character's apartments, right down to the smallest details like finding out what's in their fridge or on their bedside tables. I guess I'm just a nosy neighbour at heart!
In one, you actually control Lucas as he attempts to win back his ex-girlfriend Tiffany with a good performance in the sack.
Coming a close second favourite is the atmospheric music. Every track complements the mood and provides a perfect soundtrack to the events unfolding in the game, and the fact that by the end, I knew the characters so well that I could even list their favourite songs and knew the layout of their apartments added a kind of depth that I can only wish was present in other titles.
Being able to choose my own path (to a certain extent) led me to go back and replay scenes and do things differently just to see how they'd turn out, or if I'd missed anything - a process that I found as addictive as making sure I'd collected every last orb in Crackdown.
Playable characters have a mood meter which reflects their state of mind during the game. If you ever allow it to fall to zero, they become so depressed that they will take actions that end the game - for example, Carla will quit the force and hand in her badge. Things like having a shower, listening to music and having a glass of wine all make you feel better. Things like coming out of a trance and finding yourself with a dead body, understandably, take it down several notches. Itís an interesting way of showing how characters are feeling and events are affecting them.
I admired the developer's bravery in including sex scenes in the game. Fahrenheit has several sex scenes, and all are tastefully done, and none are gratuitous (although one doesnít really make much sense) or contain anything more than you would expect to see in a 15 or over film. In one, you actually control Lucas as he attempts to win back his ex-girlfriend Tiffany with a good performance in the sack. I found it a curious and not entirely comfortable experience to play at such an intimate moment. It's sweet, tender, and realistic. It made me think - why is there not more sex in video games? We have sex in movies, books, and all other forms of entertainment, but it's curiously absent from games.
I found it a curious and not entirely comfortable experience to play at such an intimate moment. It's sweet, tender, and realistic. It made me think - why is there not more sex in video games?
Predictably, these scenes all but vanished from the American version. Having played through both the US and Euro versions (I originally bought a US copy without realizing it had been heavily censored), personally, I think thatís a real shame. While itís certainly possible to enjoy the game without the sex scenes, removing them somewhat misses the point of what Fahrenheit is trying to do - which is to be a video game for grown-ups with all that that encompasses.
Sadly, like the vast majority of other gamers, I fell out of love with the game about halfway through. It felt very much like it had a beginning and something of an end, but no middle. In the second half, Lucas and especially Carla made decisions and did things that seemed totally out of character and at odds with everything I'd learned about them and their motives earlier on in the game. Some things also felt extremely tired, especially the bullet-time fighting sequences.
At the end, I found the experience of playing Fahrenheit to be both breathtakingly brilliant and brutally disappointing. Ultimately though, despite not living up to its true potential and being basically flawed, there are still enough amazing things about it to make it one of my top ten games of all time.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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