Review: Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered

If you ignore the pointless, overwrought monologue that precedes it, Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in North America) has perhaps the most gripping opening of any game ever made. Lucas Kane awakens in the restroom of a Manhattan diner, his body having just been used to commit a grisly murder against his will. With a cop seated at the end of the bar, Lucas has mere moments to cover up his crime, clean himself up, and leave without raising suspicion. It’s a tense, potent scene, and you’re almost certain to make mistakes the first time you play through it – forgetting to pay your tab as you leave, taking a cab out of the neighborhood instead of the subway. You’ll then exploit those mistakes moments later as you take control of Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, the two detectives tasked with investigating the murder.

From that point on you are both cat and mouse, struggling as Lucas to uncover the truth behind what happened to you, all the while dogging your own steps as the investigators. Around the three of them, New York City begins to shut down as the cold front to end all cold fronts overtakes the globe. This dynamic is positively brilliant, and with tight pacing and solid script it could easily make for one of the best games of all time. David Cage, sadly, is not capable of delivering either. Somewhere between running petty errands for a Brooklynn-born Fu Manchu and throwing kamehamehas at internet ghosts, the whole thing falls apart.

This was Fahrenheit’s biggest problem back in 2005 – a time when its cinematic, QTE-driven adventure gameplay was novel and its graphics were passable. In spite of its problems, the game earned mass critical acclaim on its ambition alone and gave Cage the leverage he needed to start work on the PS3 flagship title Heavy Rain. A lot has changed in the last decade, and with Fahrenheit now “remastered” in HD for the PC and iOS, many more severe problems come to light. Not every game ages well, and Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered feels painfully archaic on modern hardware. It doesn’t help that this is such a buggy, slipshod “upgrade” either.

Aside from an increased pixel count, all that’s really changed between the original PC version of Indigo Prophecy and this new remaster are the textures. Aspyr Media has essentially redrawn every asset in the game at a higher resolution, and to their credit the game certainly looks better than it did. The skin textures have a more realistic sheen to them, while clothing is detailed to the point where you can guess its thread count. Background objects are a bit more hit and miss, as Aspyr seems to have only bothered making an effort for plot-important items. Even those don’t always fare well – the neck of Lucas’ guitar has become inexplicably warped in the jump to HD, and there’s a painfully obvious stretched texture underneath the right eye of his homeless character model. I can forgive messing up the UV map on a prop, but incorrectly mapping the surface of your main character’s face is absolutely unacceptable. How a critical path error like this made it through QA is beyond me.

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Like many other remasters, Fahrenheit has a feature that allows you to seamlessly switch between the new and original textures at the press of a button – this feature does not actually work as advertised. When you press F9, Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered jumps to your desktop and opens an entirely new window using the other texture pack. When you press F9 again to switch back, the game loads another window on top of that. Not only is this process jarring, it represents some of the least efficient coding that I’ve ever seen in a game. On less powerful machines it could cause a full crash. That’s far from the only problem the game has with windows, either. When you first launch it, there’s a good chance all you’ll see is a black screen – the result of the game trying to run its 240p language select screen on a 1080p monitor. In order to make it work, you have to manually edit the configuration .ini file and deactivate fullscreen, then reactivate from the main menu. I honestly wonder if this remaster went through QA at all.

If you have the patience to work around these problems and you can put up with broken graphics in a product made with the sole purpose of improving the original game’s graphics. Then you’ll find Fahrenheit to be almost exactly as you remember it, warts and all. The story hits some real high notes, especially in the first act, and early on it’s very effective in creating the illusion of choice. Does your Lucas dive into a frozen lake to rescue a drowning child, or run away because the cop from the diner is about to spot him? Does Carla take a hard or softball approach to interrogating witnesses? As the game progresses these decisions prove to have little actual impact on the outcome of the plot, but they do affect each character’s mental state.

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Like many horror games, Fahrenheit keeps track of your character’s emotional well-being through a psyche meter. Stressful events (like murdering someone in cold blood) drain the meter, while reassuring activities (listening to music, eating, hiding your murder weapon) fill it back up. If the meter ever drains completely your character will descend into madness, so as you play you’ll want to seek out life’s pleasures while being careful of potential trauma. It provides a systemized incentive to act in a natural, believable manner, although hidden collectibles contradict that, encouraging you to spend entirely too much time wandering aimlessly and opening cupboards.

Fahrenheit feels far more like a video game than Quantic Dream’s later work, and the psyche meter is only a small part of that. It makes frequent use of inventory and dialogue puzzles, much like you’d expect of a traditional adventure game. “Bonus cards” scattered throughout the world make each environment feel more like a game level than a real place. The most blatantly “gamey” element is lives, which give you limited chances to retry the game’s QTEs. Run out of lives during an action scene and you’ll have to start over from the beginning. This is, far and away, the most painful part of the game.

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Given their present ubiquity it’s hard to believe, but at the time of Fahrenheit’s release (the same year Resident Evil 4 and God of War came out) quick time events were relatively rare. In that climate, Fahrenheit’s gameplay felt fresh and different, but more importantly, we didn’t really have a metric by which to judge good QTEs from bad. Looking at it now, though, there’s no question – these QTEs are among the worst ever conceived. Where most QTEs at least make an effort to match what’s happening on-screen, Fahrenheit asks you to repeat random patterns of directional inputs that have nothing to do with anything.  Even worse, you need to make these inputs using the analog sticks, a baffling design choice considering that four-directional inputs would map perfectly to the more precise D-pad and face buttons. The input prompts themselves (a pair of four-color circles ripped directly from Milton Bradley’s Simon) look positively garish and obscure your view of the action – not that anything on-screen is particularly worth watching anyway.

The action choreography and animation in Fahrenheit is (to put it mildly) atrocious. The game makes heavy use of motion capture, and while the wire-fu and Matrix-dodges might have been impressive in real life, they lose a lot of their appeal when acted out by PS2-era plastic men with eight points of articulation. On top of looking fake, each action scene is far too drawn out for its own good. If Lucas does something impressive, it’s all but guaranteed that he’ll do the exact same thing five or six times in sequence before you’re allowed to move on. The worst offender is a scene where the furniture in his apartment attacks him, and you have to dodge literally every object in the room. Most of these set pieces aren’t even justified by the plot – they’re just thrown in randomly as hallucinations whenever the game threatens to slow down. Early on they shatter any tension built by the investigation scenes, and toward the end they completely overtake the story, turning what was a decent Seven knockoff into a bizarre mashup of The Day After Tomorrow and Dragon Ball Z.

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David Cage wears his cinematic influences on his sleeve – Heavy Rain pays clear homage to the likes of Hitchcock and Fincher, while Beyond: Two Souls stitches together bits and pieces from countless horror movies. Fahrenheit sits somewhere in the middle, a mashup of scenes taken from all his favourite films (as well as shows like 24), with little regard for consistency in genre or tone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s said that good artists copy while great artists steal – but it doesn’t seem like Cage really understands what he’s stealing. On scene where Carla interviews a mental patient borrows heavily from Jodie Foster’s first conversation with Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, particularly in terms of framing. Cage uses many of the same cuts and shots as Jonathan Demme, but the dialogue and blocking don’t sync up with the cinematography at all. There isn’t any conflict or shift in power dynamic during the scene – Carla simply asks a question and gets the answer she was looking for (albeit delivered in a slightly creepy manner).

This is rooted in a more fundamental problem – namely that Cage isn’t particularly good at writing. While the actors reading his script are better than the (obviously French) cast of Heavy Rain, it still comes across as unnatural and overly-expository. “As far back as I can remember I’ve been frightened by small spaces,” Carla soliloquizes as she descends into the police station’s basement. Then she explains what being frightened means: “whenever I’m in a small, confined space, I start to panic. I have trouble breathing. I need to get out right away.” In case you still don’t get it, she clarifies further: “yeah, you’ve heard the name, Claustrophobia.” Cage almost never shows what he can tell, and he never says in five words what he can say in fifty. He has his strengths – he’s particularly adept at depicting gritty acts of violence and the life of children in broken homes – but his games suffer whenever he doesn’t play to them.

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Cage is at his worst when he tries to shoehorn sex into his stories, and one of the few changes made to Indigo Prophecy Remastered is the inclusion of two sex scenes that were censored in the original North American release. Normally I’d be happy to see censored content added back into a game, but both of these scenes are just awful. The characters involved have zero chemistry (though that’s true of every David Cage romance), and the models depicting them look worse than the nude puppets in Team America. Given that they’re neither plot-essential (no, not even the one that was left in the original game) nor titillating, I’m left to assume that Cage just put these scenes in the game to see if he could. Indigo Prophecy was better off without them.

I could go on for days about the things Fahrenheit does wrong – like the fact that Tyler Miles is more or less defined as “the black cop” (complete with his own funk soundtrack) even though he’s ostensibly one of the main characters – but in spite of it all, I really love this game. It wastes no time in establishing a compelling mystery, and by the time it goes off the rails you find yourself being entertained for entirely different reasons. It’s not quite “so bad it’s good” in the same way as Birdemic or Magus, but David Cage knocks off the likes of Seven and The Matrix with an endearing incompetence reminiscent of Be Kind Rewind’s “swedes.” I’ve marathoned Fahrenheit twice in my life now, and it’s rare for me to finish even the best games I play.

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Closing Comments:

There’s no end to the criticisms that can be leveled at Fahrenheit, but it’s hard to deny the game’s eminent playability. The original game is a cult classic for a reason, and even fundamentally bad writing and game design don’t detract from that. Unfortunately, the various technical failings of this remastered version do. It feels sloppy, cheap, and rushed – and that’s if you can get it to work at all. If you’ve never played Indigo Prophecy before then you ought to give it a try, but you’d be better off digging up a PS2 copy than playing this mess.