While game news is light, and we're reminiscing on a gaming year gone by, I thought I'd take the time to write about the games that defined my year. They weren't necessarily classics -- some I absolutely hated, some I fell head over heels for, but they're all worth discussing. Today we're looking at L.A. Noire.
I'm playing L.A. Noire. I have a notepad next to me. This is not usual. Before I would keep a notepad next to me if I was reviewing a game, or writing a magazine feature, but I'm not doing either of the above. I'm playing for fun, in my spare time.
And I'm making a bizarre, bitter list of things I hate about L.A. Noire.
But I don't truly hate L.A. Noire. I know this because I continued to play the game and enjoy it despite my multiple frustrations. The reason I'm writing the list is so I don't forget what I dislike about L.A. Noire.
Because in conversation, I always found it difficult to pinpoint precisely what bothered me so much about the game. There were obvious ones -- the interrogation system was way too inconsistent to be genuinely rewarding. You succeeded through dumb luck and, even if you fail, you still somehow succeed. Except on the handful of occasions where the game decided you needed to succeed to progress, subverting the overarching concept of L.A. Noire's interrogations just for the hell of it; just to serve the story.
And the open world, shoe horned into a largely straight forward narrative (or is it the other way round?). Part of me really resented the fact that resources had been mercilessly funneled into a universe that you never truly need to explore -- particularly since so many of the core mechanics felt under developed or, worse, completely extraneous to the experience itself. The amount of detail placed in every single square foot of L.A. Noire's environment is completely staggering, yet we rarely get to engage with it in any meaningful way.
So it felt dead, save for the few times it flickered to life with a light piano riff. But even that system was messily integrated. The piano tinkle may highlight an object of interest, but often directed your attention to an empty glass bottle, or a cigarette packet. So why not the other cigarette packet I saw 10 minutes ago? Or the bottle on that table over there? Why won't you let me rake through this guy's trash for God's sake?!
The rationale is obvious, but still flawed: L.A. Noire's slow pacing would become broken if every single piano stroke signalled important info, but the ability to interact with everything would completely ruin it. The solution? Well, that's probably more tricky, but rolling an empty bottle around in my palm for the 30th time sure didn't feel like the correct answer.
I could go on: repetitive mission structure, weak driving mechanics, the fact that Cole Phelps is an extremely unlikeable borderline sociopath -- but it almost feels a bit pointless. L.A. Noire didn't disappoint me because of its specific failings; if that were the case there are far better targets for my bile. After an hour's worth of play I looked at my notepad only to find a list of the pettiest complaints. The only significant point I could muster was that there were a lot of things I didn't like about L.A. Noire.
The worst part is this: L.A. Noire is perhaps the most glorious failure of its generation. A game simultaneously bolstered and hampered by its own commitment to a grand vision it had no hope of realising. It was almost doomed to fail and it's telling that, while it's easy to sit and pick at the frays of L.A. Noire's cluttered mechanics and clumsy implementations, I can't think of a single solution to any of its multiple problems.
Maybe in the end L.A. Noire is a testament to what is not possible in video games. And maybe for that it's completely essential -- A game you must play in spite of itself. I may not have enjoyed L.A. Noire, more likely I just tolerated it. But I certainly won't forget it.