Fahrenheit

Fahrenheit
3.5
Game Name: Fahrenheit
Platforms: Sega CD/Mega CD
Publisher(s): Sega
Developer(s): Sega Studios
Genre(s): Full Motion Video, Puzzle
Release Date: 1993

If you don’t like interactive movie games, I can’t say that I blame you. There were far too many lackluster attempts made for the Sega CD. Just look down the scores of this site if you need names named. However, this does not mean the idea itself is completely flawed. If you can tolerate an interactive movie in the slightest, you might want to give this game a try. It doesn’t stray too far from the intended concept; it’s not a movie with a shoddy game section, it simply is what it is – a movie that you control the direction and outcome of. And amazingly, it’s a pretty interesting movie since it doesn’t try to be anything more than it’s supposed to be.

Fahrenheit, as you might guess, is a game about firefighting. Essentially this is the movie Backdraft recreated in interactive form. Like all other FMV games before it, this one stands to bury itself in its own suckitude. Yet somehow, it doesn’t.

The first reason why this game mostly succeeds is due to its graphics. The entire point of FMV games, and in some way the Sega CD itself, was to take gamers craving “realism” away from cartoony graphics of Sonic and give them live-action film. By creating “realistic” visuals, hopefully the game itself would also benefit, and create a more engaging experience. Fahrenheit actually pulls this off. A Hollywood team was brought in to build and stage a number of serious fires for you to move through. Granted it’s all controlled, but you won’t know that when you’re watching it. This stuff is actually burning, and there’s some serious-looking firey shit going on that makes it look legitimately dangerous. A gas stove belches flames and you have to look for the shutoff valve. A lamp sparks overhead and then falls in front of you. The game doesn’t cut to a “freak out shot” of your character to intensify the shock, as most FMVs would, instead the camera casually watches it fall and lets you bring your own reaction to it. This stuff looks as good as any movie, and with the camera as your eyes, roaming around as a person would, it draws you right into it.

Pyromaniacs will love what’s done here. Most of us will actually cringe, or watch in fascination. This is a situation the majority of us probably (hopefully) will never be in, but it turns out flames do some pretty amazing shit when they’re roasting things, and this game lovingly lingers on those visuals. The sound is also bad-ass, with roaring fires and crackling noises everywhere, and the directions of your team coming through a muffled radio. I don’t know if any other subject matter would be able to pull off the palpable tension and fear that this game is able to convey, but having a claustrophobic set actually on fire around the camera certainly has an effect. It also helps that the pixelation isn’t too horrible, so you’ll be able to see details as objects char and wallpaper peels.

The second reason this game works is its interface. Unlike Night Trap or Ground Zero Texas, you’re not removed from the action by watching “cameras”. This is a first-person trek through a burning building, and once you’re inside, you’re never taken away from that. The camera doesn’t cut outside to see what’s going on, or flash over to the next room as something explodes, it stays in the eyes of your character the whole time. This helps make it an experience, and helps reduce the wannabe-a-Hollywood-film feel of many FMVs. When it comes to actually controlling your character, you’ll find it brilliantly easy. When you come to a junction, you’re given a choice of north, east, south, west directions and a 10-second time limit to make a choice. To make it easier, the camera pans around and the corresponding arrow blinks, showing you what in the room is activated by what arrow key. Tap your key and you move in that direction.

The simple direction key setup covers most any interaction you’ll have, from opening doors to checking behind objects. You’re on a time limit of course, so there’s only a few things to do in a room, but the game makes where you’ve been and what you’ve done understandable, through constant panning that give you a clear idea of the layout of the room you’re in. Occasionally you will be presented with choices not covered by the direction key interface, for example, whether or not to remove an item. In these cases, a choice will pop up on the left and a choice will pop up on the right (you may sometimes have a third one in the middle as well). In these cases, A is the left choice, B is the middle, and C is the right. It can’t get easier than that. The result of your decision is immediately shown, and the game never breaks the continuity of the scene at any point, even when the choices are shown.

Of course, the game does have flaws. The first is that if you can’t stand interactive movies, this one probably won’t change your mind. It plays out more like a video version of a choose-your-own-path adventure book than your typical FMV, but if this whole idea isn’t your bag then you shouldn’t bother. The second is that the game is brimming with sequences that kill you instantly. In one of these, you’re tasked with shutting off the gas main in the house. After some searching, you come across three valves. You’re told to just pick one fast, and gas will rush out and kill you if you pick the wrong one. There are no clues on what to do, you just have to pick one or the computer will for you. Multiply this scenario by at least 5 per level, and you get an idea of how the game plays once you’re over the awe of walking inside a burning building.

Simply put, every wrong move will kill you instantly. This is probably accurate for a job where there can be no mistakes, and it only happens in choice sections so you’re free to move around without fear of instant demise. Still, it seems like an excuse to draw out the game, especially since there are no hints about the proper course of action. It’s all trial and error, and turns the game into something of a puzzle that you must play over and over until you figure out the correct order of moves that will safely get you through the level. A LOT of gamers will rightfully find this frustrating, and before you start the download, you should be aware that trial and error is the whole game.

If you can get past these issues, you’re going to find a pretty respectable experience. The developers of this game have really found something that works, and they mostly accomplish what they’ve set out to do – create an engaging and immersing interactive experience in a world you’re not likely to see (unless you professionally fight fires). If you can find it, and want to try an interactive movie that won’t make you bow your head in shame, this is a good one to try.

The Good

This was a good idea for an FMV game, and the production design (i.e. real fires) really help sell it.

The Bad

Trial-and-error setup of game makes it play much more like solving a puzzle than you might expect.

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