Friday, June 24, 2011

L.A. Noire - Genius or Pretentious?

Sigh, I know what you're thinking: Kimberley, how could you call such an avant-garde piece of visual storytelling pretentious? Oh gosh, did I just lose cool points? Sorry, but I must be honest here: L.A. Noire was one of my biggest disappointments this year. It's a game that I didn't wait on a price-drop for - I bought it on release day, because everything I had read was indicating that it was an experience I couldn't miss. I thought it was so suited for me, I'm a big fan of games where you have to play detectives and piece things together yourself, but something about L.A. Noire didn't make me feel very detective-like.

In fact, the game pretty much abandoned the logic it initially taught you to tell if someone was being truthful, doubtful, or lying to your face. You're supposed to watch for visual cues and use your brain to piece together what's actually going on. However, the visual cues get tossed aside as the game goes on. I even double checked this after completing the main game, when I played a case that took place earlier in the timeline that I received for free DLC. It was so much easier to figure out the right line of questioning people here. Was L.A. Noire just trying to be sneaky? Yes, it's somewhat realistic, as you're not always going to know perfectly how to read everyone. I'm not sure there, but what I do know is that the gameplay is severely flawed, but I'm supposed to ignore that because the storytelling going on is standout?

But it's not. I solved many cases during my time with L.A. Noire, more than 20, and you know what? So many of those cases felt like filler content, I didn't care what happened as I finished them. What emotion did get gleaned was frustration; I was particularly infuriated by the lack of closure in many of them. People run from you, you catch them, you get a small blurb at the end. I'm sorry, but when I'm helping out a preteen girl who has been victimized, I want to see my detective make sure she gets back on her feet alright. Perhaps it would have provided deeper characterization, because while Phelps rises in the ranks after several humdrum cases, his character is mostly stagnant. While you could argue not every case will be exciting, if Phelps is supposed to be the protagonist, at the very least, missions should improve him. Instead, while playing L.A. Noire, I was bored, forcing myself to play through it because I wanted to see where the game would end up. I guess I'm an optimist in the end, because I wanted the game to prove me wrong. And maybe it did save itself with the ending, but did the ride up it to have to be so lackluster, so unfulfilling?

See, the game doesn't pick up until you're on the last couple cases, which initially feel just as empty as their predecessors. However, the repetition stops, and we get some answers. This last part of the game is where the story wins, because it tries to do something different, both in what we're expecting and in how it tells its story. I'm keeping this blog entry entirely spoiler-free, but it felt like even in the end, I had mixed emotions - it felt genius, but still very pretentious. Somebody asked me if I was expecting a nice, tidy, happy go lucky ending. Actually no, with a game named L.A. Noire you really don't, but as I watched the credits roll, I could see the magic of what the game had been doing as I went along - building up these grandiose ideas regarding the main character. I'll give the game credit for making use of multi-dimensional characters along the way, as plenty of the characters walked the line of morality many times in the game. For this I give kudos, but something just felt off for me about L.A. Noire, as if they game was sensationalizing itself along the way. Being a detective, you encounter sad cases and corruption, but sometimes it felt it was throwing in some sickening, over the top element to place characters in a dark light, and it just felt unnecessary.

I've never been quite so angry and conflicted about a game at the same time; it's riling me up, so maybe that's a good thing. However, I think the anger stems at a place of seeing a great idea for a game poorly executed. At first, when I loaded up L.A. Noire, I was in awe of the world Team Bondi created - they captured the time period perfectly. I really thought the gameplay was going to follow suit and be extremely intellectually stimulating, but that wasn't the case. I know people will stand by this game, because I think it's one of those you want to love. How often do we get a new IP that tries to change the way we play video games? Not often. And so we want to give credit where credit its due, and I can see some of the great things that were done here. But, in the end, L.A. Noire is probably one of the most frustrating games I have ever played. I don't even want to buy any of the download content, because this game lacked the action that was necessary to truly capture the player.

In the beginning, when I saw others write negatively about L.A. Noire, I thought they just weren't getting what Team Bondi was trying to do. But as I played it, I began to see the love I found initially turn to hate. A great ending can only pan into so much when the rest of the game is less than stellar - a walking contradiction within its gameplay mechanics. Somebody said somewhere that L.A. Noire could have been a movie, and maybe that's what it should have been, because it would probably cast aside all the boring, filler cases. Team Bondi did get something right, the title really did look like a movie; I've never seen such realistic looking character models, where the expressions were highly accurate. In the end, I think the project lost sight of being a game, and what it takes to keep players invested the whole way through.

I'm sad to say it, but L.A. Noire was a dirty trick. A game that promised so much - and failed to achieve everything that it set out to do.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written review, didn't know you delved into the world outside of RPGs