Category Archives: Game

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.

Damn you, Tomoko Okamoto!

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.

Also, this guy.

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.

Don't get me wrong. I love this guy.

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).

God-damn broads. Can't keep their pretty little faces out of a man's business.

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.

The Western Revival

So, its been almost a month since my last blog, and I can guess what some of you are thinking: “Do you not have the heart to write a regular blog? Can’t you spare any empathy for us freeloading opinion spongers?” Well, calm yourselves down. For while every other reviewer has been jumping on the Big Fat Gypsy Weddings bandwagon (which is fully understandable considering its pure gawp appeal), I decided to do try something different. I wanted to study a genre, one that until recently has been personally untapped. Of course, I’m making this seem like a big announcement, but you’ve read the title so…yeah, let’s just get on with it, eh?

Of course, by now I am expected to have decided what I like and don’t like. But there are always things that I associate too freely with certain genres. For example, I see most romantic comedies as turgid, unoriginal drivel. And modern R&B always strikes me as… turgid, unoriginal drivel. So you can guess what my initial feelings were about westerns. Its all about a couple of goodies against a few more baddies, in small town in the middle of the desert. Yawn.

But I recently remembered the words of a certain Mr. Fry who I met last September (yes, if I have a name I’m damn well going to drop it). He believed that university is the perfect place to try new things, and to become more cultured whatever your background. And apart from my housemate introducing me to such vapid feces of ‘art’ as Owl City and All Time Low (it’s always worth testing to see if he reads this),  I don’t believe I have.

So I watched my first ever western, not counting Blazing Saddles, as I have no idea what it was parodying. Directed and starring Clint Eastwood (who I was also unfamiliar with), Unforgiven has a stellar cast of Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman and Richard Harris. It follows the story of two retired gunslingers (Eastwood and Freeman) who pick up their weapons one last time to collect a bounty set by a group of disgruntled prostitutes. Standing in their way is a ruthless Sheriff (played superbly by Hackman) who, in a must-see scene of cinema, disassembles the classic western duel. I really shouldn’t give anything away, but if you are as new to westerns as I was, its a pretty damn good place to start.

Not pictured: A dead man walking.

However, what I really want to talk about is what may be the single biggest factor in bringing the Old West back into style: Red Dead Redemption. It has been acclaimed as one of the games of the year, and I hail it as one of the games of my lifetime. From Rockstar, creators of the Grand Theft Auto series, it follows ex-outlaw John Marston on the hunt for his old gang members in a bid to free his wife and son from government capture.

He's like a western version of Omar from The Wire.

It possesses most of the things that made GTA such a success; miles of space free to roam, colourful characters to interact with, and a campaign of missions that should take at least 20 hours of your time to complete. Not until recently were scripting and story development considered in any way important to a game. Yet somehow RDD can fill over 20 hours of gameplay with non stop action, character arcs, decent dialogue and intuitive gameplay. The slow-mo Dead Eye mode is a fantastic addition to live out the dream of dispatching multiple enemies at a time. There are so many different ways to go about your way in the west, which I can only start to list. Such as clearing out gang hideouts, hunting and skinning animals, picking wild herbs, duelling, transporting dynamite whilst shooting bandits, playing Blackjack or Poker, hunting for treasure… well, you get the picture.

Yes, the game may have come out almost a year ago now, but with new Rockstar creation L.A. Noire out in the Spring (which I will also be taking a look at soon enough) Red Dead Redemption might just be starting to come down to a bargain price. For the amount of entertainment you will get out of it, I would recommend a look round the shops in a couple of months time, for those who have that Smith and Wesson sized hole in their heart. And with the money you save, you may want to splurge on the expansion pack, Undead Nightmare, in which you fight off a horde of frontier zombies. Amongst other things.

Oh come on, thats hardly fair.