You have to hand it to Nintendo. The release and massive popularity of the Wii exposed millions of ‘normal people’ to the gaming world and really heralded a change in the landscape. Fanboys and fanatics will probably argue this was a bad move, as it diluted a somewhat niche and hardcore community with an influx of casual games that ‘arent proper games’.
Whilst not a big fan of casual games, I have to disagree. The fact is, a large amount of this new audience soon got tired of dance simulators and virtual fitness coaches, and stuck around at the party to see what else gaming had to offer.
In light of that, which game would I put in front of anyone who had the slightest interest in games? Something that, though not to everyone’s taste, should be considered a benchmark for What Gaming Is and Can Be.
L.A. Noire, which I have shared my feelings on previously, is a great game. It’s revolves around Cole Phelps, L.A’s newest detective and brightest hope against the war against corruption rife in the city. The story concerning Phelps’ case by case rise and fall within the L.A.P.D ranks up there with with films like L.A Confidential. It’s got everything. The shady suspects, the wisecracking partners, mysterious serial murder, deceit, drug rings, prostitution, the whole gamut of Golden Age detective genre staples, wound together into a wonderfully twist, twisted tale.
Even individual cases have their own distinct, isolated storyline. In that regard, its much more like a procedural TV show like CSI. Although not as obvious and self aware of the TV structure as a game like Alan Wake, each case nevertheless is its own self contained episode. Sometimes those episodes end definitively, other times they end in typical To Be Continued fashion, and occasionally little details you miss from previous cases will come back to bite you. Although this linear, structures story approach sometimes seems at odds with the somewhat open nature of the gameplay, its a necessary compromise for such a compelling tale.
Speaking of the TV style of the game, if you notice a few familiar faces as you play, that isn’t by accident. You see, every character in the game isn’t just modelled off a real person, they are real people. L.A. Noire employs a mindblowing system of facial capture called MotionScan, taking actual actors’ performances and a transplanting them straight into the game. Cole himself is played by Aaron Stanton, of Mad Men fame (actually a lot of the cast of L.A. Noire also star briefly in Mad Men). It’s slightly jarring at first, seeing ‘that guy from that TV show’ in videogame form, but its a great achievement for gaming tech, each performance – from the innocent witnesses you speak to once to the husband with something to hide – is absolutely astounding AND, best of all, it serves an actual function in the game.
Aside from visiting crime scenes and residences to collect evidence, you will spend most of your time interrogating witnesses and suspects. And interrogation, just as in real life, depends on reading people. Reading their body language, their verbal language, and importantly, their faces. So rather than trying to determine a lie or a bluff from an artificially animated character, you have to read a real face, from a real person. It makes the whole process a tense, intellectual battle. Does a raised eyebrow mean they mean something they aren’t telling you, or nervous tick? Or just nothing? It could be one case for one character, and one for another. Because every character genuinely different, they all act and react to your questioning differently. Then, when everything comes together and you nail an interrogation, get the suspect to confess, I found myself feeling less “I solved the case, 10 points for me”, and much more “I beat YOU, I caught YOU.” And so did everyone else who saw me play it.
And really, that is the reason L.A. Noire is a game that everyone who has seen it be played has been almost as engrossed in it as the person playing. It’s appeal is so much broader than any other game I can think of. I can even remember a few times when people have asked me to play it, just so they can watch. Because of the way the game is structured, because the action is non-typical (you only fire a gun a handful of times), and because it story, the cases, and the the overall arc is so interesting and put first and foremost, its not a typical videogame.
If it’s that much fun to watch, everyone should experience how much fun it is to play.
(A decent sized list of “Where’ve I Seen That Guy Before?” can be found here.)
Yesterday: Day 11 – Gaming System of Choice
Tomorrow: Day 13 – Game You’ve Played Through Most Number of Times