In the month or so since L.A. Noire has come out, I have read review after review proclaiming it to be a revolutionary game. I have heard this before. Reviewers call games genre-changers or “like nothing I’ve ever seen before” or innovative or even, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun, “game-changers”. I hear this yet again and I am once again disappointed in its usage and game reviewing as a whole. Let me be clear, L.A. Noire is not a bad game. They accomplished what they set out to do, but having completed the game (+/- a few somewhat repetitive side missions) I have seen very little to justify such accolades as mentioned above.
L.A. Noire is a detective game. The game is set in 1947 Los Angeles. The player starts as a patrol officer and progresses through several different crime desks and police stations. The 40s have become an overused setting of late, but I find this forgivable because of their lesser used character choice.
The gameplay is befitting of the game though again not necessarily revolutionary. The game employs an evidence system somewhat reminiscent of The Curse of Monkey Island in its simplicity. Basically, music cues the player that he is near evidence. Once selected, the player “examines” (rotates…) the evidence until the game informs him that this is relevant in some way. The player then questions people of interest at the given location. These interrogations are new for Rockstar because, while this studio has been one of the principle proponents of open-world gameplay, they have a tendency to not have a karmic aspect and/or not allow speech decisions. The player watches short cutscene introductions and must listen closely. At the end of the cutscene, the player must decide whether he believes the last statement to be truth, doubtful, or a lie which the player must support with evidence collected throughout the case. What results is a combination of Rockstar’s typical cinematic narrative style with a clue-based lie-detector minigame. If anything, this is revolutionary for Rockstar. I also do not consider a lie detector system to constitute real speech by itself.
I have heard one realistic claim to innovation that Rockstar could boast in this game. I read a review explain Rockstar’s new methods of voice and facial expression capturing. I will admit that the detail in faces and facial expressions was very skillful and with such a star-studded cast including John Noble of Lord of the Rings and more recently Fringe, it was nice to look at in-game characters and see detailed representations of their real-life counterparts. Character detail is nice. It adds to immersion, but detail alone does not make a game. I enjoyed L.A. Noire and I recommend trying it, but I ask that we all just take a moment to think about the real meanings of some of the words we use to describe games.
Game reviewing doesn’t really understand what it is or what it is supposed to be yet. Reviews have a tendency to focus on consumer advice. Pressure is added to this whenever the game is particularly hyped or coming out of certain studios. The problem with throwing around words like “revolutionary” and “innovative” is that they spread like wildfire. If one review uses them, all the others have to or their reviews will be buried under the oncoming tidal wave of hype. It is what it is, but, at the same time, it is bad policy especially for gamers that are on the fence looking for a real idea of what they would be buying into. In any case, this has been a refreshing comeback from a long absence of game-related writing and I invite any and all to comment as you will. I could use a good game discussion.