Some games are just plain brilliant. They might use fresh mechanics, or maybe just play really fluidly and easily, and they will have a clear focus, or aim, pushing them and the player along. When you give your time to games like these, you don’t feel like that time is being squandered, whether you’re playing for a rad high score or simply the opportunity to be somebody else for a while. Instead, you feel like your time is being well spent; that this game has got it right.
An example of a game that gets it right is Firewatch by Campo Santo, a mysterious first person adventure where you play as a fire lookout at a national forest. Its story is focused, simmering with conspiracy and danger throughout, and it concludes with a perfect, minimalist anti-climax; one that is just as worthwhile as a dramatic plot twist or explosive ending would have been, I feel. Firewatch has a simple goal – to immerse you in its sad and isolating story and environment – and it achieves this so casually that it almost comes across as easy. That said, I can only imagine how difficult it was for the developers to blend such beautiful music, art and story together into such a tight package. It really is superb.
An example of a game that almost gets it right, on the other hand, is Fahrenheit (also known as Indigo Prophecy) by Quantic Dream. This is an older, fairly well received game from the PS2 which has been recently ported onto the PS4. It has you controlling a man who murdered somebody in a bathroom while in a trance, whilst also leading the detectives that are tasked with hunting that first man down. The beauty in this is the following: in some parts of the game you are evading the police so that you can find out the truth of what made you a killer, and then in the next part of the game you are the police and you want to apprehend the other character in order to solve the case. Your loyalties are always a little torn because of this, and that’s great for creating a lot of narrative tension. Love it.
Moreover, Fahrenheit is one of those few games that can pull off Quick Time Events, or QTEs, without making them feel like a tacky addition (most of the time.) This makes sense, as Fahrenheit is more of a cinematic experience than a simple, third person adventure game, according to the developers.
With all of this in mind, then, why doesn’t Fahrenheit get it right? What’s stopping it from achieving more than it does? Why, after finishing it for the third, fourth and fifth time, do I still find myself shaking my head at it?
Well, the story descends into what I can only describe as a narrative train wreck the longer it goes on. The opening is brilliant. The first half or so of the game is as tight as can be. And then, before you know it, it kind of becomes like listening to an unfocused child make up a story about an alien invasion – it’s imaginative and exciting for a while, but it’s also clear that the story doesn’t really make sense and, wait, what did this have to do with what we were talking about before? Did I accidentally fall asleep and miss something? What happened? Seriously, this is getting silly.
I’ve heard rumours about why this happened and I’m sure, whether these rumours are true or false, that there are genuine, good excuses for what happened to the story. That said, excuses are just that and the final product is what it is: endearing, yet nuts; almost right, but not quite. (Moreover, the game is super awkward to control and your first time playing through it can be a real pain. Some parts are worse than others – you just have to be extra patient with those bits.)
Despite it’s problems, though, Fahrenheit is still good. I even prefer it to Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, really. So check it out if you haven’t yet. At the very least you’ll think it’s interesting.