It’s been a long wait for any new console videogames that genuinely justify the label RPG. Which makes it far from surprising to find Rockstar’s 1940s detective ‘adventure’ L. A. Noire plastered across every games-related media outlet. (There were even columns in some of the Sunday papers describing the game’s blend of characterisation, investigation and ‘rough and tumble’ in terms of a new art form).
Much of the excitement is justified as L. A. Noire has a lot going for it:
- a game world offering a large slice of a highly detailed and atmospheric 1947 Los Angeles
- a gritty, far from perfect, leading character
- an authentic social community packed with jazz clubs, ’40s fashions and vintage automobiles
- plenty of action sequences involving chases and shoot-outs
- an entertaining psychological spin on questioning witnesses and suspects
- a good variety of mission choices
- the need to use investigative skills and deduction to solve cases
- optional help to speed-up the recovery of clues from crime scenes
- multiple event outcomes
- excellent graphics on the PS3 version tested
These features alone qualify L. A. Noire as a roleplaying game in terms of offering a fairly open-ended gameplay environment, lots of highly interactive gameplay and a good selection of different types of challenges. As a result, the title has to be highly recommended.
However, having gone to the trouble of creating a greater degree of player choice than most videogames, the designers seem to have ‘bottled out’ in certain areas. In particular, the outcomes resulting from your last case don’t always feed directly into your next case. It’s also necessary to see through a number of largely unnecessary chase sequences and, astonishingly, there’s only one save slot.
These ‘features’ as they’re dubbed, (i.e. we’re led to believe that these limitations are benefits), are all about taking choices back out of the game and requiring players to wade through most of the content. To be fair, the developers have made a beautiful and elaborate game world, but that’s no excuse for forcing players to pause to admire the scenery when they may prefer to be getting on with the gameplay.
The other obvious concern is the production of yet another adult-rated RPG videogame, which appears to be aimed at both teenage and adult markets. In the case of L. A. Noire there is considerable justification for the crime scene gore, as the somewhat gruesome search for clues is appropriate to the setting. At the same time, it wouldn’t have been difficult to hit 16+ instead of 18+. Which could have been a bit of a breakthrough in terms of teenagers and adults sharing the game in the living room, in preference to watching another mediocre video or DVD.
Overall, L. A. Noire is a highly polished, very entertaining and thoroughly authentic journey into the worlds of film noire and the pulp detective fiction of the 1940s. It’s definitely not for kids and there are a few inconsistent restrictions placed upon players’ choices. Nevertheless, the title successfully draws together a wide variety of media and interactive gameplay to deliver what the videogame and national media might reasonably see as a new or extended ‘art form’. Tabletop RPG players won’t find the structure of the game quite so novel, but they can enjoy watching the videogame industry play catch-up.