It wasn’t until I completed L.A. Noire that I finally started getting an idea of why some of my friends don’t like reading depressing books. It doesn’t usually bother me to read novels where the good guys don’t always win, or where the main protagonists are put through an unbearable amount of strife, but apparently my brain objects when it comes to games.
You see, it’s one thing to be reading about the characters in a book, it’s quite another when you are the protagonist in a video game. In L.A. Noire I find myself connecting to my character on a whole different level because I’m the one playing Cole Phelps, making his decisions, determining his successes and failures. I become attached to my video game characters in a way I don’t with heroes in a novel.
So when bad things happen, I get royally pissed.
In some ways, this is my way of giving my kudos to Rockstar Games and Team Bondi. They’ve done a great job with the story and characters of L.A. Noire, and made me care. Still, I’m detecting a pattern here, no pun intended. Those who have played Red Dead Redemption will know what I mean. Without giving away anything, let’s just say most of L.A. Noire isn’t exactly all sunshine and lollipops either. In fact, it all goes downhill after Homicide.
Once again, I’m don’t want to make it sound like that that’s a terribly bad thing — after all, as its title suggests, the game draws heavily from elements of film noir, including sex, violence, and moral ambiguity. All those themes were captured very well, and it’s certainly not Rockstar’s fault that after finishing the game I felt like I needed a hug.
Anyway, enough of me bitching about the story. Moving on to the other features, I’d mentioned before how much I liked the interrogation aspect of the game, even though I sucked at it.
There is a super fine line between “Lie” and “Doubt”. Trying to read a suspect’s expression remained the biggest challenge for me (other than navigating awkwardly through the mean streets of L.A in those old 1940s automobiles), especially once I discovered how very little distinction there is between the behavior of someone who is actually lying versus that of some hyperventilating idiot whom I just tackled after chasing him down for like 8 city blocks. Seriously, all the perps are friggin’ Olympic sprinters or something.
The beauty of the game is its open world, but here you are much more limited in your activities. Playing as a cop, shenanigans can only hurt your mission and make you score less at the end of a case. There aren’t even mini-games to distract you, though you can drive around discovering famous L.A. landmarks or hidden cars, and there are always street crimes you can solve by accepting them as they come in on your radio. However, they all end up boiling down to three categories — shoot the bad guy, chase the bad guy, or shadow the bad guy.
The recycled content was probably my biggest disappointment, but at least they make it dramatic. The character of Cole Phelps himself is like a mystery within a mystery; he’s a good cop but also a flawed hero, and the more you play the more you learn about him and his past. There are twists (albeit some good, some bad), great dialogue, and like I said, some emotional moments. The game soundtrack is also incredible.
All of that makes the repetitiveness easier to bear, though at some point I did stop picking up street crime cases all together, not to mention it also took me 3.5 weeks to finally finish L.A. Noire. The game’s formulaic nature (at least for the first half) made it impossible for me to sit through more than one or two cases per play session. At times I loved it; at other times I wanted to hurl my controller at the TV screen, especially near the end when the game took a baffling turn.
Like I said, however, it’s a rare gem that can make me care that much about a story and the characters despite its flaws. I’d rather feel something than nothing.