By vidiot 9 Comments
Hey, look, I can blog again!I finished up over two months of paperwork. I'm going to a different college next year, but the amount of time and energy I had to devote to finishing this was a monumental task that pulled me away from here.
I'm also have been preparing for a four-day music festival, I'll be trying to pump out a new TOS before the end of this week.
I want Cole's hat!Getting caught into the hype of big name launch titles, can be pretty difficult to gauge. Taking that bold step back, and rolling a fine-tooth comb over a game's issues can be difficult sometimes, especially if that game is a critical darling.
I'm not going to lie: I'm a few hours into L.A. Noire, and I'm thoroughly impressed. To be fair though, my bias was already constructed prior to jumping in. The sheer concept of an interactive version of L.A. Confidential, really freaked me out from the get-go. I'm a fan of American films from the golden age of noir cinema. That time period, especially the ones that seem to go almost toe-to-toe with the then required censorship of that time period.
If the first few hours continue at the rate that L.A. Noire has so far established, recommending the game for other people will come to be a very easy concept for me.
What's fascinating for me so far has been one of the most vocal "complaints" about the game since it's launch.
I go hunting on the forums for opinions about the game, it doesn't take long to find another proclamation. The user begins by stating how he likes "the faces", but then goes on a tirade.
Apparently, this game is not Grand Theft Auto.
My face contorts in an expression that one might interpret as pain. It's not. It's just the the bouncing logic ball hit a metaphorical brick wall in my head.
This won't suffice. I need to ponder all this.
Of course, actual game...context...aside, we know why this assumption was made and why it has lasted so long. There's a bunch of fair factors really, but the core one and the easiest to point-out is the similar open-world design. Before we start comparing the narrative criminal undertones and comparisons, it's the way the game is presented that immediately get's our attention. A mini-map in the bottom left corner, side-missions that are opened as you progress, and a realistically replicated version of a section in Tokyo.
"So what exactly is Yakuza 3?"
"Well, it's kinda like the Japanese Grand Theft Auto."
"Uh- Like hell it is. What the hell does that even mean?"
"It's like GTA."
"So you drive cars?"
"So, there's no stealing cars in Yakuza 3?"
"So why in god's name is it the 'Japanese GRAND THEFT AUTO'?"
Somewhere between the release of GTA3 and now, I feel the concept of an "open-world design" has become so synonymous with the GTA series, that we have collectively completely forgotten that this design has been around for decades. I mean no disrespect for Rockstar, in my personal opinion they have nearly almost perfected and understand the open-world design blueprints better than most developers.
The problem is that any notion of an open-world environment brings up reminders of Grand Theft Auto. It's problematic because GTA isn't just open-world game, but also has a very liberal sandbox addition to it's core design: Giving you a bunch of tools to mess around with the world dynamically, aka: Deciding if it would be fun to jump on the hood of car with a rocket-launcher and redecorate a lane of traffic.
Reading complaint's specifically about L.A. Noire's core design not being similar, gives an immediate gut-reaction of concern and confusion. If you're on the fence wondering if you can just kill anything with a shotgun in this game, and you haven't read a preview, review, or one of the many developer made video's explaining how the game works, let me take this time to explain in very subtle detail the context of this game's design:
L.A. NOIRE IS AN ADVENTURE GAME.Yeah, it's an adventure game.
Those game's where you pick up items and junk. Those games that you talk to people, and don't shoot guys.
I have the impression, that a game should be categorized on the vast majority of it's design. While you do get into many fire-fights in L.A. Noire, it's not a shooter. A vast majority of your time is scrounging crime-scenes for clues and interviewing people. The mechanics for a large majority of the game, like most adventure games, are not immediate. It's slow, methodically put-together, and is very accommodating if you screw-up.
In fact, you really can't screw-up. So those who do not enjoy receiving the penalty for an adventure game, can sit back and relax that their experience will not be halted. It's design that requires you to think, but ironically you don't have to.
There's a part of me that thinks that L.A. Noire play's almost like a veiled product. The front cover has "Rockstar Games Present's" emblazoned like a spot-light of an auto-sale. It's only on the back where you see the small icon for actual developer Team Bondi. While it's easy to harp on people for not taking the time to research their gaming investments, I don't necessarily blame them for walking in and expecting GTA from something that has virtually no interest in being GTA.
On the flip-side, it's been incredibly interesting to see and hear opinions from people who normally don't like adventure games enjoying L.A. Noire. For years I have had the impression that it's been primarily the slow methodical nature of adventure game design that had turned-off usual adventure game dissidents. I'm slowly considering that this isn't the case. If one were to compare and contrast the motions of going about your detective work, to any adventure game, you would see the sharp similarity. The mechanics on the other-hand, are an entirely different story with the usual pixel-hunting/item collecting/hot-spots being represented by audio cues and other means that more represent what one might consider a more "hands-on" game. It's that distinction that I think are winning people over.
Coherency The down-side of screwing up in a traditional adventure game is simply not doing anything. You hit a brick-wall and nothing happens. Would it make sense for a crime-scene investigator to wander around in circles for three hours trying to solve a rubik's cube? Granted, our perceptions and suspensions of disbelief need to be held back a bit when it comes to games, even those that are technically period pieces.
While L.A. Noire keeps pushing you forward, it also keeps you on a track regarding where the story goes. If Rockstar has a legitimate place in this ramble, it's that L.A. Noire's linear story-structure is still quite comparable to previous Rockstar games. Ignore the gameplay for a second, and just think story. Linearity in story offers far more coherency than a nameless, voiceless protagonist wandering around a desolate wasteland.
At the end of the day, Niko Bellic needs to loose something dear to him, and John Marston will need to calmly walk out through a door and obtain redemption. You have no direct control over these very amazing and memorable events. Similarly, as a bright detective: You will solve, or at least attempt to solve, the cases and crimes presented to you.
The lack of any direct "failure" is in contrast to another game L.A. Noire get's wisely compared often too: Heavy Rain. In that, you could have had main playable characters die, but still continue on-ward and watch the narrative continue.
I'm not sure such striking and sweeping directions the plot would take, if you decided one choice over another, would have made the experience better. L.A. Noire's plot, like GTAIV and Red Dead Redemption seems very clear on the direction it want's to take. It has characters and events that need to require, and fill out a purpose...
The debate......Which I can imagine might be a difficult reality for us to all agree on, because we play games. I can see this hand-off approach to narrative being confusing to some. Rockstar had the narrative context, to inject their games with a heavy amounts of sandbox elements: No one would bat-an-eye if on of their anti-heroes decided to take a break and cause havoc. You also never really thought about the lack of control and say you had with the plot, the game-world was big and interactive enough that such a discrepancy can be over-looked.
But because Cole Phelps is an individual who's moral compass overshadows his own persona, he is not allowed the usual GTA sandbox shenanigans. His gameplay is regulated to an adventure game, one that seems built in a manner in an attempt to bridge fans who detest the genre and those praise it. The more I think about it, the more bizarre it structurally makes sense in my head, and yet the more it begins to make sense.
The real crux of the "debate", and the initial point, is that if an adventure game, or perhaps any other genre can be allowed to exist in an open-world design? Is it possible to appreciate what the game is trying to do, without any comparisons to GTA.
Case in point: About a year ago Mafia 2 was released to critical confusion. Taking a lead from it's predecessor, the linear 3rd person shooter was stretched out by long-drives, and a lack of things to do in it's game-world. Overtime it also became a very tire-some, uninspired game, but the notion that the open-world had a lack of variety out-side it's main missions was a stickler by many reviewers.
Unlike Mafia 2, L.A. Noire has about 40 side-missions to take on and at least attempts for a certain amount of variety. It should be noted that it's core design and sandbox elements seemed out-of-touch with it's self, and one shameless paid DLC later gave the game a myriad things to out-side of it's main campaign.
That being said, because of the game's narrative context and it's adventure game focused design, the similar illusion of freedom others might have in GTA or RDR isn't on the same level. Is this okay? Should we even be making these connections, seeing how the genre's are so far apart in it's execution.
I'm wondering if my opinions will be jaded to one side or the other after I finish. Perhaps after those side-missions dry-up, I'll be aching to do something else between drives. For now, I get the feeling that we need to take a break, take a step back, and appreciate the game for what it is. Just a thought.