The next big game from Rockstar Games and Team Bondi will be challenging - or easy - in unusual ways.
The game, L.A. Noire, is a detective story, a dialogue-heavy noir adventure punctuated with brief moments of violence. Much of the game involves searching a crime scene for clues, pondering the wounds on dead bodies and scrutinising suspects' facial expressions as you press them for information or a confession. Most people can handle that, but some of the new gamers that L.A. Noire's creators hope to attract - fans of mysteries who may not be fans of video game controllers - might have a tougher time with the game's occasional fistfights and car chases.
L.A. Noire's creators will have special mercy on those new players who struggle with the game' action parts, letting them skip action sequences that they fail multiple times. Beyond that, all L.A. Noire players will discover that the game just doesn't let you fail as often as most games do.
"You can die in a gunfight; you can lose a suspect while chasing him, and that's a fail, but to fail a conversation is a weird prospect," Rob Nelson, one of the senior developers at Rockstar told me during an interview yesterday in New York City. "We had it, but it's a new kind of gameplay and we were figuring it out as we went. If you're in a gunfight and you get shot, you die. It's over. That's a failure. But if you're investigating a place and you don't find all the clues, but you decide I think it's at this person's house and I'm going to go there. If you didn't get all the clues, eventually your partner will say, 'We missed something, we've got to go back to the crime scene and investigate it.' That's not a failure, you just can't progress at a certain point. As far as the interrogations go you can do better or worse… you can take from that what you want."
Rockstar's goal, as we've mentioned in previous previews of L.A. Noire, is to give gamers a fluid experience of navigating an unfolding noir mystery. Those players who miss clues or both interrogations will be able to access stat screens at the end of each of the game's cases. Those screens will show how many questions they got wrong and how many clues they missed, and that information may explain why a case seemed to take more circuitous route than it would have if you'd done better virtual police-work.
As progressive as Rockstar and Team Bondi's approach to difficulty in this game sounds, I could imagine that some gamers might find that it makes the detective story too easy.
The developers thought of that.
L.A. Noire includes subtle in-game help systems that are designed to subtly aid players in their investigations. Those systems, Nelson said, can be turned off. So while the average L.A. Noire player might want there to be music playing at a crime scene and rely on the fact that the score only quiets when all the scene's clues have been found, the expert player can turn that off. A regular gamer might want their controller to rumble when they're near a clue. An expert player can shut that off too. Nelson said he plays the game that way and, even after many, many re-playings of the game, still can't always remember if he's found all the right clues. He likes the mystery of that. It makes the game more exciting and makes it feel more authentic.
L.A. Noire is still a bit of a mystery of a game. It's an unusual work, with some unconventional game design. But we'll be playing it soon. The game's out on May 17 in North America.