Thursday, May 19, 2011

L.A. Noire (Day Two)

* The wife and I knocked out cases six, seven, and eight last night. Things are going to get spoiler heavy from here, so let me just say that the game really gets cooking with case seven, and both it and the following case were truly satisfying. This game isn't for everyone, but stick with it through the traffic missions.

* Yesterday, I regaled you with a story of my wife's simulated driving. Trust me, if you want a white-knuckle experience with L.A. Noire, and if you're concerned about your case rating, hand the controller over to someone who doesn't play a lot video games for the driving segments.

She's getting the hang of it now, and I'm both sad and surprised to say that it isn't anywhere as fun now that she isn't a loose cannon terrorizing the city streets.

* It really is a trip to recognize a lot of character actors from TV and movies -- especially when you realize you're seeing their body language and facial tics.

* And was that Elizabeth Moss and Michael Gladis playing the two witnesses at the diner in case six? I couldn't confirm it on IMDB, but they're often unreliable about video games.

* I enjoyed case six, but like the case before it, it tips its hand far too early with one clue that solves the whole mystery for the player, which leaves you feeling like Cole Phelps is playing catch-up to get to where you're at already. The next two cases are better at syncing your experience with Cole Phelps'.

* Finally turned off auto-aim last night, and I was finally able to enjoy the shoot-outs, especially the one at the end of case seven. That being said, Cole Phelps can take an absolutely ridiculous amount of punishment. Seriously, multiple bullet wounds without flinching. At this point, I think the whole war hero and ace detective pose is something Phelps does to pass the time until Sarah Connor is born.

* So maybe I'm nitpicking, but as enjoyable as the final shoot-out at the movie set is, it's quite out of character from the rest of the game, feeling like something out of an 80's action movie, instead of 40's noir thriller. I'm not going to complain too much -- shooting fake Tommy Guns at fake gangsters is the sort of thing I live for -- but I will say this:

Red barrels that explode? Really, Rockstar/Team Bondi? Really?

* Second Rockstar game in a row with full frontal nudity. Surprisingly, I don't remember hearing a peep out of the media for the scene in Red Dead Redemption, which felt a bit crass and exploitative. While the nudity did have a purpose in that scene, it still felt like Rockstar was saying, "Hey, look what we just did!" to cable news outlets.

The nudity in case eight was surprising -- even shocking -- but it felt honest. It'll be a shame if the media sinks its teeth into this one.

* We got four stars on case eight on our first try, but I don't feel like we deserved it. SPOILERS HERE: I went to the actual killer's house before interrogating Jacob, thinking I would get as much evidence as I could before interviewing him. But if you go to the killer's house, the case ends with a successful completion, without knowing if Jacob had any involvement in his wife's death. I replayed it to speak with Jacob a second time, but I didn't get much out of it.

I'm assuming we'll see the killer again and learn more about this case in a later mission. If not, we seriously missed something.

* During our final case last night, my wife turned to me and said, "Hey, don't we still have that bottle of Scotch?" After acknowledging her inherent allure and sexiness, I said yes and grabbed the bottle, two glasses, and some ice. At this point, we got firsthand data that backs up a hypothesis that L.A. Noire and so many other noir dramas have postulated again and again:

Booze + Detective Work = Fail.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

L.A. Noire (Day One)

* Something I forgot to mention yesterday: Most people I saw buying the game Monday night also bought the strategy guide. I'm assuming many of you out there did the same. I'm a live and let live kind of guy, but if you did buy a strategy guide without trying the game first, I'm sorely tempted to describe you using a phrase that involves the words "sand" and "vagina". Why the hell would you do this? With this game, that's like picking up a dozen mystery novels and reading all the last pages first.

Try things. Screw up. Have fun.

* Only had time to knock out one case yesterday, "The Driver's Seat." Overall, it was pretty enjoyable. The actual mystery, which I won't reveal here, was obvious -- but the steps needed to build a solid case was satisfying. I rated three stars on my first time through -- I botched the final interrogation and had a lot of property damage (more on that in a minute). Went through it a second time before going to bed and nailed the case with a perfect score. It's definitely worth it to go through the cases a second time, to try new things and correct mistakes, but like traditional adventure games, it's a very fixed experience.

* Does this game remind anyone else of all those FMV adventure games from the mid-90's -- like Phantasmagoria, Under a Killing Moon, and Return to Zork -- but with much, much better writing, acting, and gameplay?

* Went through the first four cases again with the wife, and was surprised by what I missed or could do differently. In case three, the one with the fist fight on the rooftop, I accidentally threw the suspect off a ledge and he fell to his death, which truly shocked me in a way video games usually don't... like I made a serious mistake and was, you know, responsible for it. Hopefully, the real cases also have multiple endings with very different -- and unpredictable -- results.

* Will probably go through this game at a slower pace than usual, because I want to play it with the wife. She's pretty much The Sims, Harvest Moon, and Professor Layton type of gamer, but she was a fan of adventure games growing up -- especially the Tex Murphy games -- and I'm always looking for a "gateway" game to get her to game more. 'Cause, you know, it's hot.

She's helping to solve all the cases, but the only time she takes the controller is for the driving segments. Like most people, I assume, she's having trouble with the notion that you can't drive like a maniac (at least not without getting punished for it), which is where all the property damage came from in our first run through case five. To be fair, I wouldn't have done much better -- but it did lead to one of my favorite wife quotes in a while.

While driving like a bat out of hell, she made a left turn at a four-way intersection. For once, she actually had the light, but she took the turn too tight and slammed head-on into one of the cars stopped at their red. I cringed, and then she turned to me and said, "How was I supposed to know he'd stay in his own lane? I mean, I don't."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

L.A. Noire (First Night);thumb;1

* Was going to wait and get a copy from Gamefly like a good little nerd. Then, the reviews got posted Monday afternoon, and a now seemingly inevitable midnight trip to Gamestop followed.

What can I say? I'm weak. Bored, easily excitable, but, most importantly, weak.

* Really excited for this game. Not just for the period or the melding of Rockstar's sandbox game play with classic adventure games, but hopefully for its contribution to how stories are told in video games.

I'm certainly fascinated with the debate over whether games are art, but here's the thing: "are video games art?" has always been the wrong question. The debate should be focused on whether video games are a viable medium for telling stories -- something this generation of games has proven in the affirmative again and again.

More than anything, I'm curious to see what L.A. Noire and all its fancy performance capture tech has to add to the medium.

* Rockstar & Team Bondi got their Infocom on and included a little envelope with fake photo negatives inside. Quite cool. Personally, I would've also included a fake badge and a little notebook with a stubby pencil (without charging twenty extra bucks for some bullshit collector's edition).

But I come from an older, simpler generation of gamers. Back in my day, we didn't have tutorial missions. We had to mess around with the manuals and code wheels before we could play a game.

And by God, we loved it!

* Speaking of tutorial missions, I've mixed feelings about Noire's opening levels -- or "cases." The game speeds through these obvious tutorial missions, and much of the mood it tries to create is lost in the process.

Most Rockstar titles -- especially GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption -- have started slow, but of all their games, L.A. Noire truly deserved a slow burn of a beginning. Instead, it rushes through its tutorial missions faster than any of their previous games, with mixed results.

I finished the fourth case (love the old school movie title cards, by the way) around three last night, which I assume is the last of the tutorial missions. The first and fourth cases aren't too shabby, with a combination of investigation and action. Cases two and three, however, are solely designed around a specific game mechanic -- gun play and chasing a suspect, respectively. There's no build-up and neither sequence is particularly satisfying.

I get what the developers are going for by breaking these levels up -- that Cole Phelps builds a reputation for himself over time. But both the game and the story would've been better served by tying most -- if not all -- of these elements together into one case.

* The auto-aim in the gun fights is entirely too helpful. It seems like Rockstar and Team Bondi have designed the shooting segments with casual gamers in mind. Personally, I can't see that demographic buying this game. If the action segments are as easy as the reviewers claim, then Rockstar has done a disservice to regular gamers.

* One last thing before I shut up. Did anyone find the final interrogation in case four a little wonky? True, I was pretty tired by that point, but I got stuck there for a lot longer than necessary.

When interviewing a suspect, you have three possible responses to their claims -- truth, doubt, or lie. The murder suspect in this case is obviously lying, but I thought I'd start easy on him, and picked doubt instead of lie. Instead of this being a viable option, there was only one correct answer, which wasn't doubt, and the interrogation was reset.

On the second try, I picked the correct choice: lie. Then, I had to back up my accusation, which I did by choosing the right piece of evidence. For the suspect's second claim, I chose lie again. This was the wrong choice, but instead of telling you so immediately, the game allows you to pick something from your list of evidence. I repeated this segment several times, with no piece of evidence matching, and wondered what I was doing wrong.

The correct course was simply to choose doubt. In retrospect, this makes sense -- but it was not intuitive to me at first. Of course, it was almost three in the morning at that point. So that could be a shame on me situation. How was it for you?

Also, it appears that you can't skip past any of the dialog. A bit annoying, but while listening to the dialog got old, watching the characters interact -- a remarkably true representation of an actor's full performance -- did not.

There's a lot of interesting ideas and tech on display here, but we'll have to see what it amounts to once the game settles down a little and stops holding your hand.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Random Thought #13,312

You know, it's difficult to write an only slightly dirty joke involving tentacle porn.