LA Noire is truly something special. Certain games have been branded as works of flawed genius, but none elevate that concept to the same lofty heights that LA Noire does. It’s like the Mona Lisa if it were made from Lego blocks, Beethoven’s 5th with an accordion solo or Citizen Kane filmed with an iPhone; the underlying concept is so beautiful that it can be appreciated even though the execution borders on being farcical at times. Though I rate the game as one of my favorite this year, I find it difficult to give it a wholehearted and unconditional recommendation. For those who have yet to play the game, all I can say is that this is a game that, for better or worse, you should experience. This is also your cue to skip the rest of the article. There aren’t any spoilers, but you should have your mind free of my judgments as you experience the game. Enjoy the mental gymnastics you’ll undoubtedly be doing as you struggle to decide whether you love it or hate it. For now I simply need to vent about a game which I love, riddled with aspects which I despise. Like dating a stunning French girl who has an inexplicable aversion to shaving her armpits.
Speaking of gymnastics, one thing that the Grand Theft Auto engine has consistently failed to do is give you a comfortable feeling when controlling your character. Niko, John and now Cole all suffer from apparently the same genetic condition which results in them staggering around like a drunken bandy-legged sailor on shore leave. I’ve seen yachts with a better turning circle than these guys. Yet the other games manage to compensate for mud-wrestling controls. Niko is a man who is always either sprinting at top speed or belting away in a car, as half of the crime syndicates and police officers in the city are hot on his heels. This constant, slightly haphazard charging movement almost makes sense given the fact that he is on the run. As for John Marston, when playing Red Dead any time not spent on horseback is time wasted. With the added sense of separation, you are controlling a character that is controlling an animal; the movement comes off as feeling surprisingly natural.
Cole though has no excuses. Walking feels painfully slow, jogging looks a little ridiculous when investigating a crime scene, and flat-out sprinting involves praying that the character you are chasing doesn’t take a sudden turn. It just never feels right, and cheerfully hurdling over the corpse of brutally murdered naked lady just because the movement is a little awkward does somewhat ruin the immersive nature of the experience.
Another rather large disconnect between Cole and the player is that is it sadly difficult for him to know what you are thinking. When interrogating someone the game is very clear on something; it knows what the right answer is. If you fail to follow the same internal logic that the game has mapped out, you are wrong. Whilst it’s satisfying to hit upon the sometimes esoteric thought process of Cole, it’s a massive source of frustration when you feel that you have presented evidence which contradicts a witnesses’ statement only for Cole to completely fluff his lines and throw out wild accusations. At points like this the game manages to come off as incredibly patronizing; the loud musical sting provides the soundtrack to your inadequacy, Cole babbles out apologies like Hugh Grant hitting on a woman, and all the while the smug son of a bitch across the table from you grins like a cat who has found the keys to a Dairy Queen.
Both of these issues though pale in comparison with the most damning issue. The real problem is that, well, nothing really matters. It’s something truly horrible which slowly dawns on you after a couple of hours. And once you have come to that realization you can’t get it out of your mind. The action sequences, as clunky and awkward as they were, became meaningless once I discovered that they are skippable without any consequence whatsoever. I understand the reasoning behind this choice; the action sequences are merely ways in which to convey aspects of the story and to allow the player to get a greater sense of the danger in which Cole has found himself by providing a challenge to the player. As such a lack of skill shouldn’t be an impediment to being able to experience the story, clearly the main focus of the game. But this utter disregard for any weight to whether you succeed or fail to complete an action sequence renders them, and with it a decent chunk of the game, hollow.
What really bothered me though was the fact that the interrogations have little to no bearing on how the game unfolds. I really cared at the beginning of the game. I absolutely agonized over each and every decision. I thought things through and my heart was in my mouth every time I made a decision. Then I began to notice that whatever I happened to choose the story would continue to unfold in much the same manner. This lack of consequences to what are, within the context of the game, incredibly important decisions over whether an innocent man could go to prison and a guilty man could walk free, greatly weakened my sense of responsibility towards the character of Cole Phelps, and of those upon whom he was casting judgment. It may just have been my personal response, but for me much of the appeal of the game lay in wanting to put the right man behind bars. Barring the flimsy points deduction in your star rating in a case, there are no consequences to your actions. Whether you embrace it, or try to deny it, LA Noire is a roller coaster of a game. There are thrills to be had, but the sense of danger relies on your ability to suspend disbelief.
But to leave the topic of LA Noire on a more positive note, the characters in the game are impressively realized in a manner which I have never seen in a game before. The voice acting is superb, the mannerisms, though at times exaggerating in the interrogation scenes, feel organic, and the facial expressions are some of the most lifelike digital representations to date. At least they were until this...
Eye on Japan: Eguchi Aimi
Yes, I know this is old news by now, but in case you hadn't heard I couldn't resist the temptation to give a little nod to the omnipresent and omniscient force in Japan that is AKB48. Besides being role models to the youth of Japan, and giving many a man over the age of 25 distinctly uncomfortable sensations of guilt, AKB48 has recently been at the forefront of humanity's dream to create fake people so we don't have to hang out with real ones any more. Eguchi Aimi shot to fame after appearing as the face of the 'ice no mi' AKB48 advertizing campaign from obscurity. Seeing as AKB48 is more efficiently organized than most democracies (AKB have their elections every year) this was seen as highly suspicious. Then, finally on June 20th the truth was revealed through a series of posters. It was as everyone had suspected, Eguchi Aimi was a fake; a composition of some of the most popular members of the band.
Long story short? Rejoice people! Thanks to some gifted people who evidently have watched Weird Science one time too many, Skynet is closer than you thought. And a lot cuter.
Well, it's been a very long time since I last blogged so I hope I'm not too rusty. Feel free to rip me a new one though!