Saturday, August 13, 2011

L.A. Noire

    I play video games, its one of my favorite things to do. A lot of people discount them, they see video games as a useless waste of time, brainless entertainment dulling the minds of the young. There is some truth to that, there are fighting games and shooting games that seem simplistic and mindless. A considerable amount of research has been done that shows this is not the case, kids who play these games actually have heightened analytical skills as well as improved hand eye coordination.
    Those kinds of games do not really interest me much, I play role-playing of adventure games, these basically have a storyline. In the past these stories were limited by the medium and also by those who were making them, they tended to be simply and repetitive. Not so anymore, Hollywood and writers had better sit up and pay attention. These types of games have reached a technological level that has allowed for increased creativity. Also, the industry has begun to hire professional authors to write for them and it shows.
    I recently purchased L.A. Noire and. . .wow. Imagine being a detective in late 1940's L.A., that's it because that is the game. Now, you are forming a mental picture of what it looks like, and you are wrong. When you begin to play the game it quickly dawns on you that you are very close to being there. Want to go somewhere? You have to walk to your car, get in the car and drive the real streets of L.A. as they were at the time including traffic, people walking, traffic lights etc. Your fellow drivers may obey the traffic laws, or they might turn left on a red right in front of you. If you have a fender bender, and my god have I had many, they get out of the car and yell at you while your partner makes some snide comment about your driving.
     The makers of the game took the real maps of LA at that time and recreated the city. Alleys, streets, shops, parks, weather, litter on the ground. I am having to learn to drive all over again. And if you don't want that, ask your partner to drive, and that will change his opinion of you. And while you drive you and your partner have conversations and they are not cheesy, they actually sound and feel real.
    And the crime, you are sent to cases, look for clues, interview a witness, and keep notes. Once again it is much more involved than you would think, intervieing a suspect is not simply asking questions to some wooden character computer face. Real actors were used for facial expression, body language, a nervous tick and you have to watch all of these and pay attention to what they are saying and what clues you have found. Do they jive? Did he look right or snap at me in anger? The guide book teaches you the basics of readin gpeople but you have to learn for yourself. The creators got real detectives to help them with this element of the game. It is frustrating and yet fun at the same time. I spent 30 minutes interviewing a guy, trying to figure out whether he was lying or not.
    The dialogue is excellent and does not have those odd bits where what you say doesn't seem to match the answer. The characters have depth and backstory. It has the depth and feel of L.A. Confidential, a story I loved. You investigate the kind of petty crimes police come into contact with as well as more serious ones. This is no run around and shoot bad guys story. I was faced with a man holding a bystander hostage with a gun to his head. In this scene I had to decide whether to talk him out of it or shoot. I shot (by accident actually as I was still learning the controls) hit the criminal in the head and killed him. This actually affected the story line, it wasn't just mindless killing, my partner reacted to it and you gain a reputation. Gees, did you have to kill him? Nice job, Cole! So on and so forth.
    Of course, your captain is Irish, a bit of a cliche, but it was a fun one to see.

    This kind of game has the potential to displace movies and TV as the primary form of entertainment. I do not mean anytime soon, as there are still large swathes of the population who simply will never give something like this a chance. But as the younger generations mature they will increasingly make these things dominant. Already, young people no longer watch TV, many don't even buy them, why should they? They can do see anything a TV can better on the phone they carry.

Now, I'm going to go let my captain yell at me because I didn't smack a suspect around in the interrogation room.

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