The New Noir(e)
Oh dear. Well… this is awkward.
It’s been 5 long, lonely months in the wilderness for us. I’ve got a degree now. You’ve probably, I don’t know, got a job in a Cafe Nero somewhere? I’m sure taking some time apart has been good for us, and now we can come back stronger than before.
Now, what prompts my return? I do believe that I promised in my last blog that, after critiquing Rockstar’s western success Red Dead Redemption, I would review their new title, L.A. Noire.
L.A. Noire follows the renowned tradition of Rockstar games in years past. Take a uniquely visual setting (in this case 1940’s Los Angeles), recreate it with immaculate attention to detail and sandbox the hell out of it. In L.A Noire you play as Cole Phelps, a decorated WW2 hero that arrives back home to carve out a career in the police force. You work your way through various police departments, solving crimes and hunting down the bad guys. Throw in a mixture of good guys and shady characters, and you’ve got yourself a game, fellas.
Except this game has evolved beyond its prior counterparts. This time Rockstar have created a title that could have a big effect on future gaming. For starters it relatively dismisses the shoot first, ask questions later philosophy of Grand Theft Auto and the Red Dead Series. L.A Noire requires a certain amount of patience and concentration if you want to complete it fairly successfully and with minimal frustration. I often found that, had I discovered that business card in the victims pocket, I could have solved the case fractionally earlier. Not that you can ever not solve a case. You always seem to get to an endpoint sooner or later, and while disappointing, it does give the incentive of trying that case again at a later date to see what you missed out on.
However, much more exciting is the new technology that Rockstar invested in especially for this new title. The MotionScan equipment films the actors using a wide variety of cameras from multiple angles, to create without doubt the most accurate facial movements ever seen in a game. And what a cast it uses, with actors from Mad Men, Dexter and Lord of the Rings.
While star voice turns in video games aren’t unheard of (Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Martin Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Christopher Walken, Mickey Rourke and Sean Bean have all done it), their faces haven’t often followed. This brings us a step closer to proper acting in video games. Though that may still be a few years off, as we can see from L.A. Noire.
The reason for all this super realism in character movements is due to the super sleuth nature of L.A. Noire. A big proportion of the game is asking questions and interrogating witnesses. The ability to pick up on subtle facial hints to determine if potential suspects are being truthful is an exciting new concept. However, it doesn’t tend to be that subtle.
If they’re telling the truth, they sit fixed akin to a taxidermy exhibit. However, any attempts at lying and the suspects are as animated as Stevie Wonder in full flow.
The story is supreme, with interweaving plot lines and flashbacks that run through the whole story, slowly uncovering the big case and the men behind it. Rockstar seem to go the extra mile with details in their games, and the cars, suits and general racism/misogyny all run through this excellent tribute to the idyllic 1940’s (I kid, I kid).
My point being: It’ll take a few years, but with constantly improving graphics, motion capture, scripting, cast talent and a generally increasing gamer base, we should anticipate games becoming properly mainstream. And this game will be cited as the turning point.