The further it moves from video game tropes, the more intriguing L.A. Noire becomes - at its heart, the game is a reinvention of the adventure genre, but its high production values, tight scripting, and performance capture projects L.A. Noire into uncharted territory…
One thing is for certain – L.A. Noire never shirks. It’s an investigation story in the most adult sense. Video game violence is typically voyeuristic, almost pornographic at times but Team Bondi’s gore is confronting – the way violence should be – it’s realistic and (bizarrely) functional. As a detective you must investigate every cut, every gash, in order to find the evidence required to convict the killer. That is your task.
And it’s in the investigation phase of the game that L.A. Noire truly clicks, feeling like the seamless experience it’s designed to be. Scanning the camera across the gutted corpses of murder victims, checking the vicinity for clues, this is when the game simply makes sense.
Picking up and investigating evidence is fun and, strangely enough, quite tactile and responsive. You push a button to look at suspicious objects, and then use the analogue stick to rotate and investigate further. The game responds by giving you aural and visual clues – if you get close to something important as you rotate the camera zooms in and the controller vibrates – giving you a strange sense of discovery.
In fact, progress in L.A. Noire is really dependent on the interpretation of different cues, some more subtle than others. My personal favourite is the simple piano tinkle that plays each time you approach potential evidence while investigating. It sounds familiar, like a motif that might play in some cop show as he finally happens across a crucial clue - it’s that shared understanding that makes it so potent.
During interrogations, however, most of your cues are visual – sneaky looks to the side when lying, sincere eye contact when telling the truth. It seems a bit hamfisted, and apparently things become more subtle as the game progresses, but the trick is being aware of the evidence at your disposal, and utilising the information gained during your investigation to the best possible effect – you can accuse someone of lying, but if you don’t have the correct evidence to back up your accusations, you may fall flat on your arse.
And best of all, the consequences of misguided interrogations are legitimate – you don’t get the chance to replay conversations ala Phoenix Wright, it’s not three strikes and your out, if you get it wrong, you get it wrong and you simply have to work with what you’re given.
This adds a heavy layer of responsibility to each interrogation. You want to get it right. Making the correct choices will make things easier for you, getting it wrong forces you to solve the case by other means.
And this is how L.A. Noire chooses to create divergent gameplay opportunities. Unlike Heavy Rain, which continually evolved its narrative, L.A. Noire dovetails each case neatly from one beginning to a single ending – but in between those two outcomes all bets are off. It’s an interesting solution that encourages you to replay each case, in order to explore the different ways in which you can solve each crime specifically.
While we enjoyed our short time with L.A. Noire, what really excites us is the over arching narrative, and how each disparate case works in terms of the grand yarn Team Bondi are attempting to weave. It’s an ambitious game, that is self-evident, but we can’t wait to see how the entire experience hangs together as a whole – and the sooner the better.