GameFront Round Table: LA Noire
Like everyone else in the western hemisphere, the GameFront staff have been spending the bulk of the last 2 weeks playing LA Noire, and — surprise, surprise — we’ve found that we have enormously divergent opinions. To hash them all out, we gathered together the GameFront staff — Ron Whitaker, Phil Hornshaw, Phil Owen, Ben Richardson and Ross Lincoln — to discuss the game‘s setting, story, gameplay and impact. Though we didn’t reach a consensus on the game itself, we managed to get to the heart, we think, of why this game works, why it doesn’t, and what it means for the future of gaming.
Note: Spoilers below will be denoted.
Ron Whitaker: I for one thought the setting was amazing. Although I don’t live in LA like some of you do, the time I have spent there gave me a sense of where I was, and driving around it feels pretty vast.
Ross Lincoln: This probably doesn’t matter to people who don’t live here, but as an actual LA resident, while I found much that is exceptional, the little cheats grated.
Ron: Such as?
Ross: The biggest example: the weak “Westlake Tar Pits.”
Ben Richardson: LOL, the Tar Pits. Ross will never forgive them for that.
Ron: That that really didn’t occur to me, because I don’t live there. Most of the landmarks were interchangable for me, but I knew the Tar Pits.
Ross: Well, here’s the thing — 1) they’re not in Westlake, they’re near Hancock Park [Note to non-Los Angeles readers: this area is called The Miracle Mile). If the game couldn't include the area, why fake it? This isn't Los Santos, it's actual LA. 2) Continuing that, the Tar Pits museum wasn't opened until the 1970s; so not only did they cheat, they also violated their own verisimilitude.
Phil Hornshaw: There must have been a design consideration behind it for some reason. I can't think of what it might be, but I assume there is one.
Ben: They wanted to have that creepy set piece; it was a pretty paradigmatic example of LA Noire game design, actually.
Ron: That's probably it -- they wanted a set piece that they could use, and someone said "TAR PITS!"
Phil H: Well, they wanted a scavenger hunt, and the LA landmarks tend to be "large building; other large building; similarly large building." I think they just ended up burning out of cool locations.
Ben: I agree Phil, [the Tar Pits are] recognizable to people who haven’t visited/lived in LA in a way that almost none of those other landmarks are.
Ross: Definitely, but it’s not like LA didn’t have plenty of areas from the period that could function similarly.
Ross: I find it shocking that they left Echo Park, Silverlake, and Leimert Park, where Elizabeth Short’s body was found, completely out of the game.
Phil H: That was an interesting decision, considering how huge a part of the game that case ended up being.
Ben: There might not be useful period photographs, etc. of those areas to help them reconstruct them.
Ross: Echo park has been a tourist attraction since the 1910s…
Ron: I know they used that aerial photography — I wonder if it wasn’t at a high enough angle for the parks and whatnot.
Phil H: I’d be interested to see some kind of behind-the-scenes documentary about the reconstruction of the city; I bet stuff like that figures in greatly.
Ben: That’d be an interesting feature for games to add to collector’s editions: making-of docs, like the boxed set LOTR.
Phil H: But god, did the game need to be any larger, really? The only reason to drive anyplace is to pick up street crimes, and that one achievement.
Phil H: Yeah, you just need to wait for them to appear.
Ron: The first thing I noticed in LA Noire is that the vast majority of the buildings can’t be entered. It was a big letdown. You can’t even open the closets in the apartments you’re searching.
Ben: The debate about the open world is really confusing. As I see it, people are critiquing the game not for what it is, but for what it could have been. Tthe game would have been better if it had an open world with more to do, but is it worse for having an open world without a lot to do, in comparison to a linear game? It seems like the implied criticism of it is “empty open world < linear < full open world.”
Phil H: Here’s the real consideration: what do you gain from open-world? In L.A. Noire’s case, you gain nothing. For me, it comes down to the waste of player time.
Ron: Does this debate remind anyone of another open world/not really game? Like Mafia II, a big world with not much to do in it other than drive from story event to story event.
Ben: Yeah, it definitely did, Ron. But there’s no fast travel in Mafia II; also, Mafia II was silly small; it felt fake. I didn’t have that impression with LA Noire.
Ross: True Crime: Streets of LA had the same problem: giant recreated city with little to do.
Ben: I’ll stick to the point I made in my review: the presence of a big swath of the city made your actions more believable. I feel more like a detective if I have to get in my car and drive to a case, than if I just walk out of the station and there’s a cutscene, and then I’m there.
Ron: Ben, I give you that. It did feel more like you were really a cop as you drove down Fig, chatting with your partner and answering a call about shots fired at a bank robbery.
Phil H: I put 20 hours into L.A. Noire and I enjoyed it, but it needed to be balanced by more ability to shape the investigations as you saw fit. When your options are two locations you have to visit regardless, and they’re across town, what did I gain from spending so much time in the car?
Ben: Believability. And you got to see the beautiful scenery. And you can skip all the driving, no?
Phil H: Yeah, but 20 hours? How much of that was actually playing?
Ron: Honestly, it’s not like real cops have a huge number of options in investigating a case. You check out the crime scene, follow up your leads, and then make the arrest. LA Noire nailed that pretty well, even if it did leave out all the donuts and coffee.
Ben: I don’t think complaining about driving as a time-sink really gets off the ground. If anything, it was a conscious fix of a problem that previous games using the same setup had. Particularly GTA IV, which really did waste your time driving around.
Phil H: That’s true, and Red Dead, which was totally goddamn irritating
Ben: RDR had a lot of riding (though you could fast travel in that, too).
Phil H: At least there were things to see. My larger point is that there are a lot of things in that game that don’t really make a lot of sense. One of them being this not-quite-reasonable open world, another being this reliance on gunplay that has no options at all. Shoot in face, repeat.
Ross: Agreed completely — you literally cannot apprehend a perp without killing them.
Ron: Yeah, I did think that there should have been an option besides failing the case or killing the perp.
Phil H: Foot chases in which you can’t actually catch the guy, car chases in which you can’t actually catch the guy.
Ben: Well here’s a question to pose to the group: if the visionary behind the game had had his druthers, would there have been any action to speak of?
Ron: Very likely not. [And] I think it would have hurt the game’s sales. As it is, it was a big step away from what most people expected from Rockstar.
Ben: I just feel like all the crappy stuff was added to appease the publishers and the game-buyers.
Phil H: There’s so much about the game that’s awesome, and yet so much about the game that isn’t well-made, so much about LAN feels tacked-on or added as an afterthought. I enjoy driving in GTA, I enjoy gun fighting in every game ever, but in LAN they’re work. They’re in your way, stopping you from advancing forward into the next interesting thing.
Ben: Well, the driving is identical, except that you can’t kill people.
Phil H: Except for the fact that you’re actually encouraged not to have fun with it. You’re allowed to drive however you want — but can’t. You’ll be penalized, so you drive like grandma. It’s totally goddamn irritating
Ron: Yeah, that shocked me the first time through. A Rockstar game where hitting a pedestrian is bad? INCONCEIVABLE!
Phil H: Haha, I mean, I have no problem with that, but navigating traffic? SO. ANNOYING.
Ross: Especially since the sirens don’t actually help.
Ron: And the other drivers will ALWAYS turn right into your path when you turn on the siren.
Ben: But how could it have worked otherwise?
Phil H: I don’t know, Ben, it’s not my job to design the game. But should it have been fun? Yes. That much I can tell you.
Ben: Some driving parts were awesome. The tram car chase, particularly…
Phil H: Some driving parts looked awesome, but the tram chase was terrible for me. Your instructions are literally “stay behind the tram and wait.” And the tram goes half the speed of your car.
Ross: Let’s talk about the story for a second: Am I the only one who feels like it unfolded more like “and this happened, then this happened” with no feeling of real connection between the chapters other than “Cole looks pensive?”
Ron: LOL — there was no connection.
Ross: The story is too thin and too many punches were pulled, and the utter sameness of the side missions galled me. Why couldn’t there be other things to do? Police work is varied. How about a side mission in which you’re recruited by IA to investigate a corrupt cop? Also, nothing you do will affect the story: you’ll either fail or you’ll pass and advance to the next story.
Ron: See, I went into LA Noire expecting the game to be an approximation of the noire detective stories. It tried, but didn’t quite make it.
Phil H: As it got toward the end I started to enjoy it. Then we (SPOILER, highlight to read) switched off to Jack Kelso for the ENTIRE conclusion, which annoyed me.
Ron: It felt really disconnected to me. There was no “day off,” no downtime, no crappy shoplifting investigation. I realize that was left out on purpose, but they should have at least referenced it to make it feel more real.
Ross: Yeah…something that made you feel like Cole isn’t just a Police robot.
Ron: No cop has a murder to solve every single day
Ben: Well, a homicide cop does. Maybe Cole is just a Police robot
Ron: Most of those are carried over from previous days, though. Cole solves his shit in one afternoon.
Ben: [Being a Police robot] was the impression I got from his character, and I think that’s a trope that police stories use a lot. Like Jimmy McNulty, say. I think Cole’s desire to atone for what happened in the war made him single-minded to a fault.
Phil H: The game needed balance in storytelling — again, taking it light when it could have really pushed that element and players would have enjoyed it.
Ben: Which element?
Phil H: The element of actually writing a story that seemed to fill in the gaps of character. Game devs, I think, are afraid we’re all going to go “DON’T CARE” if they write a story that makes sense, so we end up with discussions about the story’s disconnect and its weaknesses.
Ben: So you don’t think it made sense?
Phil H: No, I mean for Cole’s character. Like (SPOILER, highlight to read) with the affair.
Ross: Related to that, I never once believed that Cole actually (SPOILER, highlight to read) had that affair, even after the game told me he did. It feels in some ways like a really badly adapted story, one in which several key details were left out that would have required three minutes of dialogue to fill in. Just one scene where Cole actually pulls the ‘”I just want to talk” move. Fade to black.
Ron: Or maybe one scene where Cole goes home at night. It might make us actually care whether or not (SPOILER, highlight to read) he had an affair.
Ben: I agree, I could have used another scene of Cole at home with the wife. Maybe with them fighting.
Phil H: Her upset about how much time he spends on the damn job, perhaps?
Phil H: Character development in general. Another good example, how Cole was such a dick as an officer in the Marines.
Ross: He would have been fragged inside of 5 minutes if he was that bad at command and that much of a dick.
Ron: Not only that, but the Marine sections just made me think that Kelso was a fuck-up and Phelps was trying to straighten him out before he got himself killed in the Pacific.
Phil H: Like Ross said, it’s like an adaptation that loses key information to make the whole thing hang together.
Ben: I think the overweening thing with the character of Cole is that he was flawed in a believable, human way…
Phil H: Yeah, which i enjoyed…
Ben: That’s something you can’t say about 99% of video game protagonists.
Ron: Sure, he was flawed. The problem is, we never really find out how or why. OK, (SPOILER, highlight to read) he had an affair. Why? Dunno.
Phil H: (SPOILER, highlight to read) He was into that singer. We saw that…like two times. He showed up at the blue room for a 30 second snippet in which he sat at a table and watched her so…it’s a fact.
Ron: Basically, the background scenes that played between missions just served to make me wonder what the hell they were trying to tell me.
Phil H: It was just hard to parse bits of backstory against him on the force.
Ben: I think we find out that he’s officious, that he had misbegotten ideas of what it took to be a soldier and a leader. (SPOILER, highlight to read) Then we learn that he succumbed to cowardice at a crucial time and was, perversely, rewarded for it. Which further undermines his idea of what war/the military/life should be like.
Phil H: Which would have been fine if he’d been a likable officer in any way, but he spent so much time just barking at people to do things that didn’t make sense.
Ross: The thing is, I never really connected with Cole
Ron: I was about to say that. He never really came alive to me.
Ben: Can you contrast that to a video game character that you did connect with? That did come alive?
Ross: James Marston.
Ron: Marston is one; Nathan Drake is another.
Phil H: See, I liked Phelps; I liked that he wanted to do the right thing, I liked that he resisted the politics.
Ben: I’m not sure I would said I *liked* him. I sympathized with him. He certainly came alive to me, to the extent that he was believable.
Ross: I felt like he was a cypher. And having the story be narrated by (SPOILER, highlight to read) a dude he worked with for a couple of weeks and barely appears in the game was weak.
Phil H: Yeah, the narration was not necessary.
Ben: Huh, I forgot that there was a narrator.
Phil H: But I enjoyed him as a character — a good cop but not too good, not above a threat or letting his partner take the low road. He felt real in many ways. I also enjoyed Phelps and his interactions with his partners. I liked how they all developed real relationships, how they kinda hated each other at the start but Phelps endears himself to them by actually giving a shit (SPOILER, highlight to read) (except for Earle, obviously, who was conning him).
Ron: Yeah, the partner interactions were probably the best part about this game.
Ben: It was a good example of a Rockstar game being able to use pastiche and adapt tropes but make them feel fresh.
Ross: Agreed — the discussion of politics and approaches to law enforcement really captured the conflict between the old LAPD and new, which going on at that time the game was set in.
Ben: I think he started out excessively moral and softened into a guy who realized you had to make compromises — but was still willing to put it on the line. That’s the lesson he never learned in the Marines. He kept thinking that if he just went by the book things would turn out OK.
Phil H: But if you balance that Phelps against Okinawa Phelps, the game gets muddled. He was so hard to like even a little [in the WWII Flashbacks]. I mean, it’s okay to take a character hard left like that, but you can’t leave me hating the guy.
Ben: But I think at that moment when (SPOILER, highlight to read) they fried the hospital, he becomes broken and disillusioned. He comes back to LA, thinking that he can atone by punishing evildoers.
Phil H: Even with the Silver Star moment, that should have affected him more than it did
Ben: I think the reason they have the Silver Star is to underscore the conflict he feels between people calling him a hero and his feeling like a villian.
Phil H: So maybe it’s in the telling that there’s a disconnect? In these disjointed flashbacks, is there not enough information to make sense or to be memorable from scene to scene?
Ross: I think the issue is that he was so thinly drawn that you don’t really get that the whole game is about his atonement until the end. By then you’ve spent 20 hours waiting for the threads to weave together — and they don’t.
Ben: I disagree Ross, I think they do. I think you have to some work as a reader/player to put the pieces together…
Phil H: I also think they do.
Ross: I feel like they logically progress…
Phil H: Looking back on the story, I enjoyed it. I thought it was pretty strong, especially for a video game, or at least it wasn’t nearly as apologetic, watered down and goddamn stupid as I’m used to.
Ross: I admit I’m being hard on it because it is such an exceptional game. It doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid.
Ben: I think that has to be the overarching point of all of this. The reason people are lowering the boom on this game is because it gave them a glimpse of what could be.
Ross: Switching to gameplay — I think it was ballsy having such a non-action oriented play system.
Ron: I do too. The non-action oriented play system was a huge risk for Rockstar, and it turned out awesomely. Much better at conveying the story than those god-awful CSI games.
Phil H: Haha.
Ross: I agree, and in a way, it does what Heavy Rain did, without being super cheesy or unbelievable.
Ron: Or so terrible.
Ben: I think they got the big gameplay decisions right. Like what we’re talking about — taking the action out of it…
Phil H: And still managed to be very visceral and engaging.
Ben: …but could have done better with the small decisions. Take clue gathering, for instance. Searching those crime scenes was very immersive, slow, and methodical. And the music, noir shots, set design or whatever they call it for games, were impeccable. The big idea, “lets have most of this game be about slowly walking around someone’s house” was great. But finding clues should have been more than just waiting for a vibration.
Phil H: I did have a lot of fun going through people’s stuff.
Ben: The thing that really galled me is that you can’t succeed at the game more by being a good detective. One thing that would have made a big difference for me: adding a togglable first-person view like they have in, say, Prince of Persia to look for the next ledge or item. That way, at least you could feel like you were scrutinizing.
Ron: I think that’s what the vibration is supposed to be. Cole thinking it might be relevant. Then when you examine it, he says “It will take a better detective than me to connect this to the crime” or whatever.
Phil H: You don’t need to do any real thinking to investigate a crime scene.
Ron: Just some targeted wandering.
Ben: Just patience which, to be fair, is an interesting gamer skill to demand, because it is in such short supply.
Ben: I was expecting to be able to go back and forth [in interrogations] and interview each multiple times. There were also more variables in the cases than I realized. In the traffic case with the fake hit and run, (SPOILER, highlight to read) I found the knife in my initial canvas of the crime scene, so the shootout with the boyfriend/bar owner happened at his house. But the game intends for you to go back and find it, then you shoot it out with him in his bar.
Ron: Still, it was cool that it accounted for that.
Ross: To be fair, they were balancing two big mechanics: clue finding and interrogations. I think both were awesome, but the clue finding was a bit more scrutable than the interrogations.
Ben: The whole system is just a fascinating game design challenge.
Ben: Something that ties a lot of things we’ve been saying together, I think, is the fact that the game is in some ways more of an interactive story. There’s not skill involved in finding the clues. There’re no branching paths during the interrogations. All the cases end pretty much the same way. You still have to play out the string. Now, I think what has to be decided is how much of a problem this is.
Ross: That goes back to my gripe about the story — no matter what you do, the ending is the same. Which is kind of a fail flirt. Interactivity should give the player some control of the outcome. GTA IV had 2 different endings, something that could easily have been included here.
Ben: If you have half a brain and you realize (SPOILER, highlight to read) all the “murderers” during the Homicide cases are being set up.
Ron: The only place that you use any type of “gaming skill” is in the street crimes and the occasional shootout.
Ben: How willing are we to participate in a story/game like that? I think what I found, after playing LA Noire, is that it honestly doesn’t bother me all that much.
Ron: Pretty willing, I would say. As long as the presentation is good.
Ben: Clearly it would be better if I had more impact but I didn’t think it was bad for not allowing me to change things more. I think there are structural discussions here that go back to the roots of storytelling, to the roots of detective fiction, and to the roots of games. Writing a murder mystery is hard enough; the idea of having to do it while allowing the player total freedom to rampage around the story sounds like a total authorial nightmare in the most abstracted sense.
Ron: Agreed. In any video game with a continuing story, it’s nearly impossible to give players free rein.
Ross: I wouldn’t argue for total freedom to rampage, but I would have preferred to feel like my actions were meaningful. Considering how relatively empty the game is outside of cases…
Ben: You can find one clue, or all, or none. You can get the interrogations right or wrong, and the game will continue. Basically, the metric that defines success or failure is “how much am I engaging with this story?” “How much of it am I getting?
Ron: But isn’t that what every single story does, Ben? Stakes its success on consumers wanting to see how it ends?
Ross: I admit toward the end I was playing because I’d already put so much time in.
Ron: Here’s a question, because I don’t know. What happens if you continue to fail spectacularly at every case?
Phil H: Nothing, Ron. If you fail everything on a single case, the game pushes forward, basically solves it for you. I mean, even when you have a binary choice, both choices are right.
Ben: I think there’s a distinction to be made between the linear story and the breadth of a story. There’s a different impetus that leads you to find all the clues than the one that leads you to finish the mission. Its like doing sidequests in an RPG. The game, of LA Noire, is akin to “did you do all the sidequests?” And I think LA Noire is basically hoping you do that.
Phil H: Exactly — and I did because I was so engaged by it.
Ben: Instead of there being more story, there’s more detail to a story that stays relatively unchanged.
Ross: Exactly. The outcome and character development remain unchanged
Ben: I guess that’s where it didn’t succeed. It left some people (me) who really wanted to broaden the story for our own reasons — liking Noire fiction/detective stories in general, liking games with good dialogue, voice acting, and this pioneering mo-cap technology — happy. Obviously, it didn’t appeal to other people in the same way. The things that make them want to broaden the story are different, and LA Noire didn’t provide them.
Phil Owen: Speaking of “liking games with good dialogue, voice acting, and this pioneering mo-cap technology,” I kinda feel like those things, and the overall story, are all that this game has going for it, and that the actual act of playing the game gets pretty stale.
Phil H: Yes, like I was saying with the Aftershock — LA Noire subsists on its story after a while, and it shows really that if games invested in strong stories, players would get way into it — they don’t have to be afterthoughts that are added after you come up with a cool dismemberment mechanic.
Phil O: As for gameplay, the interrogations in particular become so arbitrarily difficult that they become less fun.
Phil H: Well, and here’s where I take issue with it — the constant repetition of failure. I enjoyed the interrogations, but the game is always telling you that you fucked up, despite it making not that big a difference. It made a mechanic where it wants you to study and learn but then you’re failing and you’re not always sure why, so how do you improve?
Ron: It’s basically a Choose Your Own Adventure book without choices and commands to turn to a different page. You just read right through it
NOTE: the following contains a discussion of the end of the game. SPOILERS are not marked. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
Phil H: Jack Frakkin’ Kelso, by the way. I liked Kelso as a character but hijacking the entire climax of the story? Really?
Phil O: Yeah, I was just about to start in on that.
Phil H: That’s like firing up MGS 2 and realizing an hour in that you spend the whole game playing as frakkin’ Raiden.
Phil O: Cole really gets fucked over by Bondi there.
Ben: That was a very strange decision. I was expecting it at least to resolve with Cole and Kelso side-by-side, guns blazing. That only sort of happened.
Ross: Particularly since it comes from nowhere.
Phil O: And the story becomes hugely disjointed during the Kelso section, too, like there are a few important scenes missing.
Ben: Well, I saw in two contexts: A) Everybody thought the ending of Red Dead Redemption was clever (ish), so why not try something similar, and B) is there any doubt that the sequel will be Jack Kelso, P.I.?
Phil H: I was left wondering where the hell Phelps was, especially after his girlfriend disappeared. Oh, he’s just…out solving arsons?
Phil O: The difference between this and RDR is that Cole doesn’t die until hours after you’ve been playing as Kelso. What it feels like is that Kelso is the main event, and everything with Cole was the prequel.
Ben: I think they punted on the love triangle a little bit, too. Like for a second I thought Elsa the torch singer was going boff Kelso.
Phil H: I also felt like Phelps’ story never really resolved the way they were trying to make it resolve. Whatever redemption Phelps was trying to earn was usurped by Kelso, the guy everyone liked, and then Phelps was squashed by a tidal wave. After everything Phelps had discovered and tried to make happen, it was Kelso that actually put it together and Kelso that actually went to Monroe’s house and forced the information out of him. In the sense that Kelso will get the credit.
Ben: You think it was usurped?
Phil H: In a lot of ways, yeah.
Phil O: I don’t think it was usurped, but it was certainly undermined.
Phil H: But Kelso also put his ass on the line in the end and did everything important. What Phelps did amounted to making the phone calls.
Phil O: Then Kelso says something like “Cole is the greatest detective this town has ever see, and he’ll be able to put all the pieces together,” and then nothing.
Phil H: Kelso gets his ass beat, he gets shot. He becomes the story’s hero.
Ben: Maybe, but he’s being orchestrated by Cole. Cole is putting him in all the situations he needs to be in to find out the truth.
Phil H: Right, but we’re just told that Phelps is pulling strings.
Phil O: We don’t see Cole doing those things, Ben. We forget he’s even in the game!
Phil H: And even so, it’s Kelso and his character that push the game to its conclusion
Ben: We see Cole tell Elsa to go to Kelso’s office and set things in motion, and his willingness to pursue right at great personal expense.
Phil O: But that’s it, Ben, that’s why it’s undermined: Cole isn’t directly involved.
Ben: I mean, I get what you guys are saying, but powerless and off-camera are two different things. I thought part of Cole’s transformation is learning not to be a hero/crusader/goodie-two-shoes.
Phil H: But right when the character arc gets interesting, he’s booted from the spotlight for Jack Kelso, the dude who gets shot and doesn’t care.
Ron: And it’s a letdown.
Phil H: It’s like we traded up from Humphrey Bogart to Arnold Schwarzenegger to finish the movie right at the climax.
Ben: Yeah, and to pivot off that — the two climactic shootouts sucked, and I would prefer to believe that they were added under duress. Nothing ruins immersion in a game like LA Noire like Kelso gunning down 50 cops.
Ross: Last loosely structured question: what’s the best thing about the game, and related to that, do we think it’s really the game-changing release people are treating it like, or are we looking at a novelty?
Phil O: It’s not even remotely a game changer.
Ron: I think the tech is really cool, but the coolest part for me was how they tried really hard to mirror the experience of being a detective. The game is not a game changer, but if properly utilized the the technology could be. Even if they missed on the experience, they got closer than anyone else has in a game so far.
Ben: I agree with Ron on all points. I think it had better writing than almost any game in recent memory, or any game period. I think it could be a game-changer if people realize what can be done with good writing, voice-acting, traditional motion capture, and MotionScaan.
Phil H: I think that L.A. Noire could very well be a game-changer, provided that other people look at it and see the same things as I did. Heavy Rain got lots of attention because of its story and its immersion. LA Noire does a great job in those two areas as well.
Ron: Same here. I think that it could open the door for a game-changer, if someone looks at it and says, “Man, if they’d just done this, it would have been awesome.”
Phil H: LA Noire could lead to games that tell real, well-acted, smartly written stories. It shows that stories don’t have to be written by a five-year-old for gamers to like them. And they don’t need to include 40 instances of the word “dick”.
Ben: It just remains to be seen whether its possible to strike a balance. LA Noire obviously skimped on actual gameplay in favor of these qualities we’ve been lauding. 95% of games in history have done the opposite. Is it possible to do both effectively?
Phil O: I don’t know if the tech is even a game changer, since we don’t know how much it cost them to put this game together. It was probably a whole hell of a lot.
Ron: They went into it planning to skimp on gameplay, and I think it worked to a large extent.
Phil H: I think it really demonstrates that there’s a hunger for well-told stories in video games.
Ben: And also that a good story can compensate for gameplay deficiencies.
Phil H: And that you don’t have to write the scenario as an afterthought, but should approach games as a mechanism of telling a story and not the story as a mechanism to facilitate the game.
Ron: Amen, Brother Hornshaw.
Phil H: That is exactly why I play video games. I mean, I’ve shot about 2 billion Nazis. I’ve cleared Russia hundreds of times over, I’ve won races and ridden dinosaurs and traveled through time and piloted spaceships. Those things are all special effects. When I play a game and love that game, it’s because I liked to hear what that game had to say. Which is to say I get the same things out of video games that I get out of books and movies, but no one is making video games that cater to that need.
Ross: That gets to the heart of my ambiguity. I kept wanting to love the LA noire story, but I kept feeling like I was eating junk food dressed up like organic. I actually feel like the story kind of was bent to suit the needs of gameplay rather than the other way around. I have experienced real catharsis with well written games. And while I was suitably impressed with how they nailed the look and feel of the noir genre, I wish at the end I cared more. I think it might be a game-changer in the sense they made a riveting game with a ton of non-action based gameplay. A lot of people might chalk that up to the brand name however.
Ben: I think the story treatment, on paper, would have been extremely compelling but in the process of making the game, it got stretched to the point that not everyone could love it, or that I could love it but Ross could be left feeling cold.
Phil H: Even so — write a good story, even for a little while, and people gravitate toward it. Even if it goes to shit after a bit for half your audience, you still had them going for a while. That’s something that no game developers pay enough attention to. L.A. Noire definitely kept me very engaged for the week or so it took to finish. I had a great time with it, despite it annoying me a lot of the time.