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?

One illusion less

It is clear that L.A. Noire is aimed at non-gamers. That is not to say that those who consider themselves gamers cannot enjoy L.A. Noire, but that does not excuse it from its downfalls. Upon writing this article I have tried to avoid bringing up the age-old argument known by most as ludology vs. narratology. It seems that this has been an impossible task. Ludologists believe that computer games should not be compared to any other form of media and point towards gameplay as the language of games. Narratologists argue against this stubborn nature and accept the merging of games with a more familiar narrative structure. I doubt I have to clarify which side I favour. From a ludologists perspective, the problem with L.A. Noire is that it simply does not expect much in the way of player input. Playing a game requires, at its most basic, player input and interaction. If player control is taken away you are left with something a lot more cinematic. This is also known as a film. Having a specific narrative journey for your players goes against this, but I do not mind this so much. With L.A. Noire you hardly play your way through the ‘game’. You mostly watch and pick up the trail of breadcrumbs left for you to find.

After being forced out of the illusion that trying to make a game cinematic in any way would appeal to me, I find myself very critical of L.A. Noire. In one respect it is a very well crafted experience. But it is not a very well-crafted game. It feels wrong to consider L.A. Noire without its cutscenes as they are such an integral part, but without them the game is very stringent and basic. Its aim is to appeal to film lovers in what seems to be some desperate attempt to get games recognised on the same level as films amongst those audiences. The only way to do this is to simplify any traces of a game that exist and make it as much like a film as possible.

Barking up the wrong audience

The truth is, these audiences are not into gaming and you are not winning them over with a game that has been stripped down so much. If this is a ‘cinematic game’ then I do not wish to encounter one ever again as long as it constitutes such obtuse gameplay that comes merely pasted over with copious hours of cutscenes. I am happy to embrace the interrogation scenes as ‘cinematic gameplay’ as they actually require thought on the part of the player. L.A. Noire’s interrogation scenes make clever use of new technology and create an example of accessible, yet intelligent gameplay. I reward it for this but can only scowl at the cutbacks made throughout the rest of the game.

These design choices slip in with the general push from the AAA publishers to make gaming more appealing to a wider audience. Whether it is for pure greed or to elevate the status of gaming, it seems that games will continue to become more streamlined so that non-gamers will have access to them. But guess what, they are not interested in games. Consequently I do not know why developers continue to favour these audiences while they abandon the desires of gamers. I fear that seductive marketing has caused many gamers to believe that they will enjoy a game full of cutscenes and gameplay that insults their abilities. Is L.A. Noire a good experience? For a few hours, yes. Is it a valuable contribution to the medium and an indicator of the direction of the industry? I certainly hope not.