L.A. Noire: Error, Does Not Compute

L.A. Noire: Error, Does Not Compute


L.A. Noire is undoubtedly one of the most important games in video game history. Its release is significant as it marks the point at which the line between cinema and games blurs. But is that a good thing?

Mouth twitches

The interrogation scenes are perhaps the closest thing to what can be called ‘cinematic gameplay’. Interrogations are often the finale of a case. Having as much evidence as possible is your best bet to get a confession out of your suspect. During the interrogation process you select questions from your notebook. After each question, the camera zooms in on the suspect so that you can look out for body language: eye movement and mouth twitches tell you something about the suspects involvement. Were they truthful, do you doubt their answer or were they lying through their teeth? If you choose the latter you need to prove your assessment by providing sufficient evidence.

The requirement to assess an actor’s expressions correctly makes you think very hard before making a final decision. It’s a very fresh take on gameplay and one that can be taken up by anyone but Sheldon, regardless of their gaming experience. The interrogation mechanic is significant because they are a challenge for anyone who has a go at them, yet they are easily accessible for everyone including non-gamers. Combining the act of simply watching an actor perform, and then tasking the player to conclude their findings is what I recognise as the first form of ‘cinematic gameplay’.

It's not a game

I think it is fair to say that, apart from the interrogations, L.A. Noire is lacking as game. Gameplay is kept basic so that non-gamers can get through it even to the point that if you cannot get succeed past the action scenes, you can simply skip them after three attempts. What is left are the cutscenes, interrogations and environment searching. During the rest of the game it seems you have no independence as a player at all. Either your partner will act as a tour guide and constantly yank you through the game, or an invisible force will suddenly appear and guide you in the right direction.

The most extreme case of this happened when I pushed the button to get Phelps out of the car, and then had to itch so I did not press any buttons afterwards. To my complete surprise, Phelps walked towards a building, went inside and automatically began a conversation with the person I was there to see. Should I just put the controller down and let the game run while I watch? It seems that the developers of L.A. Noire would much prefer it that way. In which case, I would have stopped playing a game and started watching an animated film.