MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
My overall criticism has more to do with the general perception of what the game was reviewed as ("A Next Generation in the Adventure Game genre") rather than the game itself. Since I felt the Adventure genre was almost a dead, and then to see Fahrenheit gain such high praise from reviews raised my expectations into thinking that Fahrenheit would be a complete reinvention of the idea of an Interactive Movie/Adventure Game. In some ways it was, and in very brave ways as well, but it wasn't a complete rethinking of the genre. Some elements within the game still remained true to the old generation of point & click adventures, and sadly these came across as very dated, and even out of place. One example that stood out more than any other was finding batteries to put in a radio, and then to fashion a bit of wire as its antenna. I found this so 'old school' that it made me wonder what the reaction would be from the new generation of gamers who don't know the old point & click style of games. They'd possibly see this as something of a banal chore- something that should have been automated instead of something a player needed to do what was crucial to the story.
From this I concluded that the ultimate motivation for anyone playing an Interactive Movie now days is that the player gets a chance to alter the flow of the story. I'll concede that sometimes finding objects and putting them together is required as part of the story, and in some examples of Fahrenheit this really worked, like mending your wounds infront of the bathroom mirror or hiding the evidence before the police came into my apartment. These were engaging and complimented the story perfectly. But finding batteries for a radio, or a bottle of alchohol and some glasses in the kitchen for my ex-girlfriend, not only burst the illusion of being in a movie, but dragged the pace of the game's story down to a crawl. The only places where this type of very slow 'old-school' play fitted well (and has always fitted well in many games before it) was during the crime scene investigation scenes- for obvious reasons. However I don't want to simply leave this as a negative criticism, so in the next two paragraphs I've provided a possible reinvention to this old school theme (where it doesn't apply to a "find the clues"-type scenario).
During a game, when finding a collection of items and fashioning them into something useful is necessary (for instance, the character is locked in a basement and needs to escape) instead of picking up everything and putting them into a bag/inventory screen to then piece together later in an environment that is completely incongruous to the game's reality, perhaps this could act as a viable alternative:
The player walks around the room and naturally sees objects of interest. He picks up a curtain rod to look at it. We see a cut-scene of him hitting his captor over the head with it- the rod breaks immediately and the main character is shot dead, returning us to the reality of the basement. He puts it back down and keeps looking around seeing some old goggles. He puts them over his eyes without putting them on fully, throws them down. "Hmph." Keeps looking. The idea here is that the player finds things just by looking at them. He doesn't even need to pick them up. Once the player is satisfied by how much he has "found" he chooses to sit down and think. This "thinking time" becomes the alternative to the inventory screen and would look like the main character sitting in the middle of the room looking around him. The player puts their cursor over the areas of the room where they found the curtain rod for instance, and an ethereal zoomed version of the curtain rod appears. We hear the characters inner monologue: "That curtain rod…" The player drags it to the area where the goggles were. "Maybe…" A small window appears showing the result of mixing them together at the foot of the screen (there is space for three of these windows). The small window shows the character wearing the goggles and holding the curtain rod (and looking rather stupid). Inner monologue, "What am I thinking?..." The on-screen character sitting down then shakes his head in disappointment of himself. The next "thought window" uses the curtain rod to dislodge the gas pipe on the wall. We see this enacted out in the next small "thought window" that the player creates. The idea here is that the player puts scenarios together in his mind and then chooses the ones he wants to act on (and even in what order). The beauty of this is that the player is also the audience and they will automatically assume that the game will do exactly what they tell it to do in the way that they tell it. When the "thoughts" are played out in the game's reality the events could purposefully unfold in a different way, not just for dramatic effect, but to allow the player to think on their feet in a new action sequence. (I've included an alternative idea for action sequences further on).
Another example of how the roots of old-school games had a negative impact on Fahrenheit was a nasty trait of all third person games- Wall Running. It first came to my attention when playing Resident Evil. The game character has a tendency to go into a running animation cycle and drag themselves along the wall. As a joke I would do this for my friends in real life immitating the Resident Evil characters. It's funny because it looks ridiculous and yet every third person game I've seen since still does it. I believe any serious attempt at creating a movie experience must have the game characters moving and behaving in the same way that characters act in movies. In this respect poly count becomes secondary to the animation, provided the animation is always preserving the illusion that these are real people acting and responding in a real world.
The obvious problem here is that as soon as you give the controls to someone they will run the character into a wall. Therefore if players won't give your character the acting abilities they need, you have to provide it for them and put in place whatever restrictions are necessary for this to happen. I like the idea of giving the player 'quarter control', the player has only enough control to guide their character to where they want them to be and to do what they want them to do, but not enough to make them look stupid. For eg. if there is no threat in the area, the player automatically walks everywhere. In large areas he might go into a brisk walk, or even jog if it's open enough, but would never run. When approaching a wall he will stop before he reaches it, perhaps even turning back around, since no-one walks up to a wall and stares at it. The idea is that you are guiding a characters actions, but you aren't the character himself. There could be storylines that could make this make sense (like playing as the character's conscience (or id) but the character himself reacts to their environment as they see fit). On saying all this, I thought Fahrenheits overall animation was brilliant and held up the reality of the characters greatly. The children playing tag in the park was eerily real.
The context sensitive actions to open doors and operate objects were excellent, particularly the movement sensitive elements giving the game a much more tactile and involving sensation. Areas where this worked best was when young Lucas had to climb a wire fence in the army barracks, moving his body left and right as he climbed. Areas where it became troublesome though were doors in general. I found myself mixing up which way the doors opened more often than not (depending on if I was going in or out). I felt the idea was good, but possibly a little to literal or strict as a general rule. In some areas it got quite frustrating when the context sensitive menus would disappear if I got too close to the object I'm trying to manipulate, needing instead to stand a step back most times. Harking back to the animation, each action the player performed seemed very separate, even staggered, but I believe that is because in these areas it was referencing the old school gameplay.
If I had a meta-criticism of Fahrenheit it would be that the game felt like a series of small mini-games linked together rather than a cohesive unified experience. I could almost blame the old school elements for this alone, but to be brutally honest the stealth (mini-games?) sections in the army barracks seemed like a forced addition to the overall game. They didn't have the same allure than the rest of the game possibly because they didn't use any of the trademark action sequences (of analogue stick reactions) that the older Lucas enjoyed. In fact, with the exception of the hide & seek scene, the stealth sections of the game were my least enjoyable moments, since other games have a far more refined version of the stealth in Fahrenheit. Perhaps if there were more than one way to infiltrate the army barracks or if the young Lucas had just as much Analogue Actions Sequences as the old Lucas it may have saved it, but as it stood I was glad to get back to the main game.
I felt the Analogue Action Sequences were really fantastic, particularly the first time I used them intensively- against the giant ticks in Lucas' office. I really liked the feeling I got from having to react so fast. It felt like I was playing Lucas' conscience instead of him. It wasn't direct control, and it wasn't Dragon's Lair, but more like 'quarter control' and this felt right. These action sequences were one of the two main strengths of your game. (The other being the game's story premise- being able to play as the murderer and his pursuers).
My general feedback on these Action Sequences was that the coloured markers were way too colourful, looking like they would be more suitable in a Mario Party Game than a gritty interactive movie. They were also far too opaque when not in use. But aside from this I felt as though the decision to use both analogue controllers may have caused an unexpected problem. Although using both sticks played well, the fact is that to do this you had to display two coloured circles, which I felt cluttered the screen and distracted you from the action. It seemed similar to the problem of games like "Puzzle Fighter" where the players concentration is almost completely on the blocks infront of the image, and the action that happens behind it is secondary- to the point of being almost irrelevant. In the context of an Interactive Movie however, I think it should be the other way around. Seeing the action should take the prime focus, with the players actions being played off to the side. In the example I've created in Flash I've used only one analogue stick for the movement allowing for a space in the centre to watch the action unfold. The idea is that you watch the action in the middle, but you control the action through your peripheral vision. In my example I've used one analogue stick but I also include the analogue button (and a less colourful palette).
The other element I've addressed in my example is the idea at the heart of interactive movies- the ability to alter the storyline. With alternative storylines branching out and coming back to key scenes and continuing on again, I thought about how best to organise this so that replaying scenes to change their outcome is intuitive and enjoyable (and won't require playing the entire game again).
Here is my rudimentary mock-up of the above two concepts (navigating a branching storyline and controlling action sequences using peripheral vision)...
BRANCHING STORYLINE CONCEPT
(Requires Flash) 1MB
As you can see from this crude example, a player could follow their own storyline (literally) and go back and create a new story tangeant from any scene. It also adds as a way to clearly see what parts of the game remain unexplored. The truth is that I couldn't really alter the story in Fahrenheit to the degree that would make it a true Interactive Movie (with the exception of the three alternate endings). What I mean by this is that there are 45 scenes in Fahrenheit and each one will be visited with the same objectives needing to be accomplished regardless of what happened in the previous scenes. Even though it was a nice touch to choose which character you'd play as from scene to scene the actual storyline never changed significantly enough.
When I first started playing I thought about my favourite movie, The Matrix, done as an interactive movie. I imagined what would have happened if Morpheus died before Neo could rescue him from Agent Smith, or if Neo didn't enter Trinity's car, and how that would have affected the tone of the rest of the movie, and ultimately, the ending. It is this range of alteration that I naturally associate with interactive movies. In my opinion it would be better to play an interactive movie with only 15 scenes from start to finish, but with 30 wildly different alternatives behind these, as opposed to 45 scenes from start to finish with relatively few alternatives. The players "fun" being had from the way they can change events. The payoff for doing so being always surprising and engaging. (I also like the idea when the player completes all the scenes that they can choose the scenes they enjoyed the most into their definitive storyline and play through it as a movie in and of itself, say, for their friends!)
Keep in mind that because replaying events for interesting/entertaining alternatives is fun then I believe that being very strict, and even cruel, in regards to the player missing opportunities in dialogue or story during their first game can in fact be very motivating. I'd even go so far as to remove any chance of replaying scenes (or having quick saves) in this first run so as to promote 1. the focus and tension the player has playing the game and 2. the replay value later on. The consequences of the players actions, even in failed situations might not necessarily result in a story arc that is worse than if they had succeeded- just as it happens in real life. The twisting storyline and surprising outcomes would have the player receive a full emotional experience no matter what story arc they happened to be on. The idea that to get the best experience out of a storyline is to have a string of successful situations is "game-oriented thinking". What movie has the main character needing to win all the time? (Neo couldn't replay from a previous save when he failed to jump between buildings and nor shoud any Interactive Movie character) Almost always the tools of turmoil and crisis are used for great drama, and I believe the same thinking should extend to interactive movies also. The only, and obvious, exception to this rule is when the main character dies and the life of the story therefore dies along with him. In this case a replay from a continue point is unavoidable, unless of course the story is crafted in a way where it can give sense to this (for instance, if the player was already dead (like Lucas at the end) and comes to thirty minutes later having to suffer (or be rewarded by) the consequences of his defeat).
(As a quick aside, if there's one thing I love about computer games it's when the game design mechanics are put into contextual harmony with the story. Context. Context. Context. When it's achieved between design and story it lifts the entire game beyond what any one of these factors could do by themselves. For eg. In Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time the dagger is used to reverse time to replay a nasty fall, or missed ledge. This game design mechanic works perfectly within the context of the story and therefore both are enhanced as a result. Whether game design must bend for the story, or vice versa, it's always obvious when things make sense for one at the sacrifice of the other).
For the player to be forced to accept the consequences of failure during first time play may sound a little too harsh, but the controls are easy enough for the player to know what they need to do the first time around and they've also been supplied a brilliantly entertaining tutorial that they can come back to at any time. So why not make them play it for real? They will always have access to the Scene Select menu once it has been finished. With a clear warning at the start that there are no second chances until the end, it would make for a rivetting glued-to-the-seat cinematic experience.
In almost every computer game I've ever played the universe revolves around the player. It dotes on the player, waiting on their every move. This is absolute fantasy and cripples the thrill of being at the mercy and wonderment of another world or another universe. In real life things keep going no matter if you've kept up with them or not. To have the player work for their time in the spotlight only adds to the excitement. Again, keep in mind that the fun had by the player (beyond playing the game) is replaying the game. I'd even dare say that replaying the game IS playing the game when it comes to interactive movies, but that could be stretching things a little. The idea here is that the show must go on- and that's exciting.
The three different ways Fahrenheit is approached as an interactive movie are:
1. Action sequences
2. Point&Click adventure secitons
3. Real-time dialogue decisions
Out of all three only the first one was truly a next-gen idea, and all three will be open to unique reinterpretations when others game studios take up the challenge of making their Interactive Movies. But even though I enjoyed the real-time dialogues there seemed to be little motivation for making the right decisions. I would have liked to have seen conversations or even relationships have larger impacts from my choices. There's so many different ways real-time dialogues can be approached that it's almost useless writing an alternative, but for the sake of being positive I feel I must anyway:
I believe, like in real life, you don't get all the choices of what you'd like to say straight away because you can't think of all your choices all at once. In dialogue, the first answer that enters your mind is the most instinctual, and then as more come to you they are more refined. So too should it be in an interactive movie. One option would appear, then the next as they are thought of. The character umming and ahhing until they make a decision.
You've also used the real-time dialogue technique to make decisions about real events, like when Lucas accepts the cross or not. I personally disagree with using this mechanic on physical actions as it makes it a little like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. I would have preferred instead to see Lucas look down at the crucifix, hands in his pockets, his brother beckoning him to "Take it, Lucas" and in two seconds time if the player hasn't move the stick to the right Lucas would say, "No, I don't need that" or whatever his line was). I have seen this in games before and I prefer it much more than screen prompts, especially as it is more in keeping with the cinematic format. However it did make me think of different ways to approach the same idea. Unfortunately, I used an action sequence to describe it, and for doing so I now consider the following Flash example as a failed experiment…
MY FAILED EXPERIMENT
(Requires Flash) 1MB
It was supposed to provide an example of how a player can be intuitively taken from their actions to a selection screen, make a decision, and then continue into the action (possibly even begin an Action Sequence ala Lucas' battle with the giant tick monsters. By the way, the girl in this example was supposed to be Carla Valenti and the bug in the background was supposed to be the giant tick monsters that Lucas hallucinated in his office, even though Carla nor anyone could see them). Let's move on…
The dialogue sections bring me to the most puzzling element in Fahrenheit- the Mental Health guage. This was a great idea and immediately got me caring about my character (almost like an emotionally-complicated Tamagotchi). I'll also say that even though I prefer no on screen guages or indicators (like Ico) I felt that having a Mental Health gauge seemed entirely appropriate when playing a character in an interactive movie. However, the old school methodologies crept in once again to tarnish even this. The Mental Health guage seemed to simply be a replacement for a health bar rather than used in a way worthy of being included in a next generation adventure game.
To explain- When I replayed Fahrenheit I did so with the specific intent to "break the game" rather than act out a genuinely alternative storyline. I wanted to see what would happen if I made all the wrong decisions. For example, when I first played it I saved the young boy's life from drowning, but during the second time around I let him die. This had no real lasting effect on my character other than a drop in my Mental Health guage and a moment's reflection from my character- "There's not a day goes by that I don't regret that decision." What I would have liked to have seen is my character change his personality as result of his moral choices, whether it be a corruption of his soul or a redemption, but some type of internal change that will affect your characters persona and what that will mean to your role within the story. Maybe then Lucas could have said something like this: "There was nothing I could for that kid. He had it comin'... We all got it comin'."
For instance, at 100% mental health I was "diagnosed" as Normal, but I felt that the guage should go beyond Normal to Confident instead. The motivation for doing so (to put it into context within the game) would have then allowed the character access to situations or dialogue depending on his level of mental health. You wouldn't be able to face up to an enemy with low confidence in yourself. Nor could you garner the sympathetic support of others if were too confident. But moreso, I felt the character should change within themselves. If I let the child near the ice rink die, and rudely brushed off my ex-girlfriend, and killed the cop that came into my apartment, this should mean I cannot access a certain storyline (and therefore a certain ending). The only way around this is if I seek redemption for my misdeeds. Seeking redemption for a bad decision may not sound like something players usually choose to do, but if you were trying to play as a good character and you made a terrible mistake, but couldn't go back to replay it, then chances are you would try to save the soul of your character before the end is through.
Unfortunately, without including any story context for the Mental Health guage it reduced its purpose within the game as simply "something I had to prevent from reaching zero". In this respect it dominated the freedom I had in making decisions during the game, regardless of whether or not I would have made those decisions anyway.
The last thing I'd like to say about the Mental Health guage is that it would have been nice to have seen the emotional status of the characters reflected in their body language. To see them slouch, shake their head and tsk, tsk, at even the smallest inconvenience, or to see them walk with a confident stride, would have added an extra dimension to their on-screen presence and personality.
I hope by now I haven't given you the impression that I disliked the game. I liked it a lot. I found it more inspiring than enjoyable, if that makes sense. However there were elements to it that I genuinely had trouble with, in particular was the in-game camera. The worst time I had struggling against the camera was in Lucas' apartment when I had to find the key before the cop busted down my door, and there was no clue as to where, or in which room, it was. I remember that switching cameras close to a wall got me visually "lost" and I had to sacrifice this moment to replay it. Perhaps if the camera was positioned over the key itself and I simply had to navigate through the furniture towards it would have been the ideal solution. In fact, having the Camera Switch on R1 and R2 switch to pre-set camera positions tailored for each scene would have been preferable as a handy means of escape when visually lost. Also, the camera when controlled by the player was too "springy" and not at all cinematic. Perhaps simply a slower Right Analog camera with a reset to default on Right Analog button may have been a more cinematic approach, instead of "springing back" to neutral. It would have also been nice to have the Pause screen as a first person view so that you could look around to get your bearings and find an exit in a stressful situation (not to mention make for some great screenshots).
Lastly, you lost me with the story. I won't go into detail about this like I did with the other elements of the game, since a lot of the reviews have done this already. But I will say that I would have much preferred to have sacrificed a lot of the surreal enemies and the "end of the world" climax for a more human drama and ending. I believe this would have strengthened the wonderfully told and intelligent human drama the game began with. In fact, if I haven't said it before, the idea of being able to play as a murderer and the two detectives tracking him down wasn't just great story telling and a wonderful premise for a game, but I also count it as a stroke of genius.
Looking through my notes, I have scratched together a generic model of an interactive movie/episodic adventure template where information is the means of exchange and ethics are used within the game design. I was going to write it down at the end here, since it was inspired from playing Fahrenheit, but I fear I've taxed your patience long enough.
I would just like to finally say that Fahrenheit has advanced the ideas of what an Interactive Movie can be and has opened a world of dialogue amongst lovers of the Adventure Game genre.
Kudos to Quantic Dreams for this accomplishment.