Positioning itself as a ‘true’ marriage of narrative and interactivity, and promising a different experience each time it’s played, Fahrenheit has a lot to live up to. It’s a shame then that the game comes off something more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for the 21st century, except perhaps slightly clunkier.
Early on, the game seems to deliver on many of its promises. The initial flurry of interactivity appears impressive and leaves the player with high hopes for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Regardless of what choices the player makes, the game remains largely unaffected. The game provides the illusion of a branching storyline where the players’ choices open new paths, but in truth there is just One True Path. This is most obviously demonstrated early on with the option to save a child who has just fallen into a frozen lake, with the police approaching. Choose to save the child and run away, the police find you - continue from last save. Save the child and run away in a different direction, and the police still find you (with the same cut-scene) - continue from last save. On my third attempt, I finally saw what the game wanted me to do. And it’s this distinction that holds the game back: it’s about what the game wants to do, not what the player wants to do.
In a recent interview, Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island) condemned the idea of ‘interactive storytelling’, saying
...I don't believe stories should be interactive. I believe stories should be _participatory_... You're participating in my story, but you're not going to change it, because it's _my_ story. I have a story to tell you.
This makes a lot of sense, and Fahrenheit sits a lot better as a “participatory story.” Hackneyed script aside, it’s as immersive a game as I’ve ever played, and it’s quite capable of tearing away a few hours at a time, while comfortably providing plenty of opportunities to duck out of the game: a feature I wish more games provided.