With the Rapture impending, I am sure you, like me, are rushing to get done all of those Bucket List things you always thought you’d have time to do before the ground opened up and little red demons with pitchforks came out to poke you in the rectum and skullfuck your eyesocket for quietly endorsing gay marriage. Or something like that… I know it involves magic.
Anyway, while there are plenty of important things to do between now and the beginning of the end, I would say that your soul, eternally damned or saved, will feel like a complete dick if you don’t play L.A. Noire before you go. Just imagine, all the other souls in Heaven sitting around, pointing at you with their harps, covering their faces with their wings to not-so-subtly gossip about you, because you missed the major cultural event of the universe, and now you can never go back, and suddenly all the other souls are going out to cool drinking parties and you keep sitting by your Heaven Phone waiting to get invited, wishing you could have just one friend in Eternity. But nobody likes you. And nobody ever will. Forever.
So get to it!
But Rapture comments aside, this is a game everyone should see in action at least once. I say it that way because, while the gameplay may rub some people the wrong way, so much of this game’s win revolves around its presentation. Not just pretty colors, or smooth framerates. Not even just the amazingly detailed rendition of 1940s Los Angeles, or the constant stream of dapper suits and swank dames. Honestly, the much-touted facial technology used to make this game is no joke. L.A. Noire really has pushed the art of storytelling through video games forward, and has made the process of acting in video games so much more than the usual disjointed and ambiguous recitation or poorly written lines that has marred the industry for years.
To understand why this is such a breakthrough, you first have to understand how the game works. While people were lead to believe the game would play like a GTA clone, I can assure you that, despite the open-world free-form availability, L.A. Noire is mostly played on a track. This is not GTA. The city itself is there for you to explore, mostly for collectibles – or rather, I think, mostly to show off what an amazing job the design team did in bringing the metropolis to life. And there are certain mini-missions only accessible through this free mode, such as nearby crimes to stop via car chase, foot race or good ole fashioned gun violence. But most of L.A. Noire’s meat, so to speak, is in the form of the investigations.
Though over-arching and background plots exist and are explored throughout, most of the game is set in a series of possibly unrelated cases. The game tracks the career of an up-and-coming police officer who sets out to make some change for the better in a corrupt and violent 1940s Hollywood scene. So typically, this plays out in the following way: go to crime scene and collect all the clues (including music and vibration cues to help you know where clues are and when you’ve found them all without the game knocking you over the head with giant! exclamation! pop! up! messages!). Then follow leads to other locations and talk to people of interest. Collect more clues, interview more people. Eventually, you’ll hit on a big lead and then chase some em effer down, sometimes on foot over all sorts of terrain (and even movie sets), sometimes in a car, sometimes with bullets. Rest assured, the game throws you a fair bit of dumbshit asshats running from the cops, and the brawling system is truncated but quite enjoyable. So the investigating-to-punching ratio, heavier on the investigating, still gives you a decently paced procedural with action elements.
But interrogation really is the name of the game here. And this is where you see the beauty of the technology in action. At certain, frequent points in a case, an interrogation will start. Could be a child molester, could be an innocent passerby, could be the teenage daughter of a murder victim. Doesn’t matter – you’re here to get the truth! Or at least fail miserably trying. The game does not give you major hints. You must rely on the evidence you’ve gathered to choose whether someone is telling the truth, is being coy, or is outright lying. The majority of these decisions are made going from your gut and based on the facial expressions and gestures of the suspect.
Interrogations are not easy. In fact, the game is downright unforgiving at times. There are no checkpoints, for the most part, barring something ridiculous like tainting a crime scene or dying. Most of the time, you are stuck with the choices you’ve made, even if it means pinning a crime on the wrong suspect. As the gamer, you know you got it wrong. Even as the character you may know you got it wrong. But you have to live with it – unless you wish to do a one-off replay of a specific crime to try to right your wrongs. But honestly, part of the joy of this game is exactly that gray, that area of being wrong. The world of L.A. Noire is a cruel, unforgiving one. A world of choices made “for the better good.” At times the game gives you very direct options, such as put away a man innocent of this crime but who is guilty of far more, or let him go to put away the man who likely caused this death, but on the whole will likely disappear and never harm anyone again. But at other times, L.A. Noire is hitting you with a more subtle message – in a world of moral ambiguity, in a game full of choices, is it inevitable that all roads ultimately lead to the same place; and all men must, at some point, accept that forces larger than themselves, larger than Good and Evil, propel this city and this world down an inescapable path to damnation.
I like big questions in my games. I like big ideas. I think that L.A. Noire is doing it right, and recommend it to people willing to forgo the typical gaming experience to visit the other side of crime and violence.
Also, about every 30 minutes another actor will appear in the game and you’ll say HOLY SHIT I KNOW THAT GUY! Very often from Mad Men, no less.
Enjoy the Rapture friendos!