Tuesday, May 17, 2011

L.A. Noire (First Night)


* 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.

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