By Superharman 2 Comments
This entry was originally posted on my personal blog More Harman Than Good.
Disclaimer: I understand that Rockstar weren’t responsible for the development of L.A. Noire. However, the game does fit strongly into their catalogue which is probably the reason they picked it up. So reading Rockstar below should take this into account.
I love L.A. Noire, when all is said and done, it will likely be one of if not my favourite game of the year. While it still has basic gameplay flaws inherent in similar Rockstar titles of the open world genre, it manages to overcome these issues with the introduction of some mechanics. The main reason that the game has me enamored though relates to the character interactions. Unlike other Rockstar games where you are just an observant in the cut scene, this game gives you limited choice as to how you interact with the game’s diverse cast.
It is a minor thing, but it is with these interactions and the crime scene investigations that help to engage the player into the setting. From this the narrative becomes more than just the standard GTA style one mission to the next to generate the next cut scene. It really feels like a modern version of the classic adventure game with some open world action thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately, my relationship with the game becomes complicated when it comes to the story. These open world style Rockstar games are often strongly referential of other works. This often worked for them in the Grand Theft Auto games as those games relied heavily on satire. In fact, it didn’t seem that great a surprise that the references so heavy in Vice City and San Andreas were put to the side in GTA IV to help with its more serious story. Of course, with this GTA IV also had the issue of imbalance with its tone maintaining the excellent satire while attempting to tell a highly personal story.
L.A. Noire is a serious game, but it is also highly referential. Perhaps it is just me because I am strongly familiar with the works of James Ellroy, but I have trouble seeing beyond that influence. Here you have a fantastic game engine and the ability to show real character but it is essentially used to produce what I see as a facsimile. As a result of this, the story isn’t doing anything overly original in narrative, character and the themes. This isn’t to say that video games shouldn’t be able to tackle this era necessarily, but with the subject/setting already well represented in both literature and film, mediums that can directly focus the viewer on the narrative, it puts the video game on the back foot. In my mind it also hurts that I am able to identify all character archetypes in the game because I am so familiar with this style of fiction.
It creates conflict for me because while I do love this setting and enjoy playing the game, I’m just not getting anything new from the narrative experience of the game. A large part of why we engage in narrative is because we are able to take something from it be it character, themes or just the story. Gaming is interesting because we can walk away from a game without getting anything from such areas but still enjoy the act of playing the game. I should note that I am aware that the gamer who hasn’t experienced this type of fiction in other mediums before* this may be their first experience with this type of story or setting. If that is the case, I wonder if they will take the same one would take from a similar story in another medium. I certainly hope so.
I think it largely speaks to how we work as gamers in that we can love a game through just its design even when we recognise the ancestry of the narrative and setting. Most large games are derivative of other works in the genre.** With L.A.Noire though, it seems like they are striving for it to be something beyond the standard video game experience, particularly with its story. Again though, for me, it is a work that is a facsimile. Good, but not as good as the originals on which it was so heavily inspired.
I love the game and I love playing it, the story however just isn’t giving me anything to think about, all it does is make me want to go back and re-read some Ellroy or watch L.A. Confidential again. I hope that with what one seems is a hit behind them, Team Bondi is able to go on and make an original game that not only provokes with its game design, but also with a complex narrative with its own themes and ideas. If though they just made L.A. Noire 2, hey, I’d probably play that too.
*May I make the bold assumption of suggesting this is the majority of people playing the game?
**To be fair, most summer films are too, same goes for popular fiction.