Developed by: Team Bondi
Published by: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PS3, XBOX360, PC, Switch, PS4, XBOX ONE
Feeling Like: Rookie Gumshoe
One of the reasons time isn’t kind to most video games is the rapid advancements in technology. Unlike reading, or watching a movie, the experience of “experiencing” them haven’t really changed. You read words left to right (or, right to left depending on your culture). You watch actors say lines on a screen. Certainly, improvements have been made, but you could go back and watch a movie from nearly any era and it’s the same method. Watch, and listen. We’re still enjoying novels from centuries ago.
Video games don’t have that advantage. Technology, internet speed, monetization models, popularity and genres have seen unfathomable changes to our favorite industry. You’ll see some copycats here and there, but rest on your laurels and you’ll soon be left behind to choke in the dust of a competitor.
Because of this, some games age terribly but not for fair reasons. L.A. Noire suffers because it was ahead of its time, not that it’s a bad game or an unworthy product. Indeed, many of the brand new technologies seen in 2011 have become mainstays in modern gaming, but eight years is eight years – that’s an eternity in gaming and it shows.
The motion capture technology still has merit. If you’re any kind of aficionado of TV or movies, you’ll recognize half a dozen actors. I say “actors” because that’s what’s being put on display in L.A. Noire and it truly is fascinating. No computer program, at least none anytime soon, are going to be as detailed or precise as the real thing when it comes to facial animations. Subtle eye movements. Blinking. I highly recommend checking out this quick behind the scenes clip to see what I mean – it’s truly incredible and represents a significant benchmark in video game production. Most AAA action games today wouldn’t think about NOT using real life actors; I can’t imagine God of War or Uncharted 4 being nearly as effective without their talented casts – of course, technology, writing, direction and a myriad of supporting hands must be given a huge amount of credit as well.
It’s not quite right though. Certainly an uncanny valley going on, and in the hands of a less capable developer the experiment would have failed; Rockstar, however, is one of the most capable game developers in our history and what they did manage to put out is nothing less than admirable.
The majority of the gameplay is solving crimes and interviewing potential suspects and witnesses. There’s more to it than just talking, of course. In typical Rockstar fashion, they’ve painstakingly recreated 1940’s Los Angeles with so many intricate details that it borders on showing off. Everything here rings true to the setting; the costumes, the haircuts, the speech, the streets, the cars, the atmosphere, the attitude, the dialogue, the crimes, the aspirations of everyday people, everything. Everything. Like Sherlock Holmes combing a scene for clues, Rockstar uses a magnifying glass of quality to ensure that every corner that a player make poke their nose in will result in the appropriate window dressing.
But as a *game*, I didn’t have enough fun with it to warrant a higher spot. I complained in Shadowrun: Dragonfall that the Roaring 20s is one of my least favorite settings and post 2nd World War isn’t much more appealing if I’m being honest. What is appealing, however, is the genre and story present. In true Noire fashion you’ve got shady dealings, backstabbings and betrayals, romance and murder, all in the name of the protagonist trying to get to the truth of the matter. A world ready to crush a single man – you. You’ll solve increasingly complex crimes, only for the proverbial curtain to eventually be pulled back and maybe they’re more connected than you thought. Maybe Cole isn’t as pure as he lets on. Maybe your friends are enemies, and vice versa.
The lasting legacy may not be more than a few memes, but L.A. Noire still led to an interesting playthrough. I used a walkthrough the entire time which, apparently, is the wrong way to play it but I’m hardly good at patient gameplay. All I wanted to see were the interrogations and interviews; I’d driven and shot at people in an open world enough to know it wouldn’t be of much interest to me, even if it was during a time period I’d never drive through before.
Trying to read the perp’s body language after I asked them a tough question was really cool. I wasn’t trying to run down a suspect (which you do in L.A. Noire) or shoot at criminals taking cover behind parked cars (which you do in L.A. Noire) or drive through the city responding to a dynamic environment (which you…well, you get it). I was trying to see if their eyes darted to the left, or if they shifted uncomfortably in their chair. I don’t think it quite worked out as well as Rockstar hoped, the nuances and subtlety they were going for would be a lot easier with today’s technology, but still props to them for trying.
I don’t want to sound like L.A. Noire is the only type of entertainment that suffers at the hands of hindsight. Cultural shifts may massively swing public opinion of a long beloved book, or play. Hell, people are left baffled by Oscar winners a few years after the dust has settled. I am saying that games like L.A. Noire, in their attempts to be revolutionary, suffer from emerging hardware improvements moreso than other popular culture items.
What do you think?