Revisiting L.A. For the First Time (Part 1)

Wild jazz drifts half noticed into my thoughts from the radio of a passing car. For a moment I inhabit a filthy post-war America, built by a thousand writers. A point in time where artifice and history are indistinguishable. I expect to see a disheveled Sal Paradise standing with thumb outstretched. A handsome Jimmy Stewart drive by on his way to a cocktail party. Then my partner gets stuck on a door frame and I have to jostle him free.

Playing L.A. Noire is like reading a book after seeing the film. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is that book for me, Johnny Depp's Thompson cipher will always creep into my head when I allow myself to believe in Duke's America. The intrusive thoughts I have when playing L.A. Noire however are not of people, but simply the medium itself. If you have ever been at the theatre and an actor has allowed their character to slip for a second you will know what I mean. A single mistake can shatter your belief in an entire production, an entire medium. L.A. Noire's mistakes are sometimes bugs (just walk through the door you idiot!) or issues of fidelity (the characters look like mannequins wearing bad wigs) but more often than not they are game design decisions.

The payoff for busting an organised car theft ring should be the congratulations the head of the department gives you, not an arcade style score breakdown and a suggestion of how you can do better next time. Similarly earning pointless XP for successful police work is a bewildering mechanic. Worst of all is how Cole Phelps will go from Mike Hammer to Max Payne when guns are drawn. I know the LAPD have a reputation for police brutality but the morgue must overflowing with deadbeats.

The reality that this is a video game is what makes it special, but the realities of being a video game are what hold it back. Hopefully in time I will be able to see past the missteps and once again find myself believing in an America that probably never existed...

I picked up L.A. Noire in the Steam sale and decided to write a little bit about my thoughts, the value of which I hope are magnified by the distance between my playing the game and the media reaction at the time of release. Reading through what I wrote I'm concerned I come across as pretentious and as a biologist my writing style is by no means finely honed. Any comments are welcome and I would enjoy a spoiler free discussion about the game. If I have any more thoughts after playing farther I will write a part 2.