The Cinematic Experience
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. Some would argue that Heavy Rain did a lot to meld the two and, being released in 2010, beat L.A. Noire to the punch. This is true, but it didn’t go far enough. L.A. Noire’s film noire ambiance and unique style of play make it the first game to truly straddle the threshold.
But... is that a good thing? I am not so sure.
In the grand style of movie releases, L.A. Noire was screened to a live audience of film buffs at the Tribeca Film Festival. They were shown one of the game’s most disturbing cases, ‘The Red Lipstick Murder’, which left them every bit as intrigued as they would have watching a real movie.
Impressing film industry professionals is no small feat. So what is it that differentiates L.A. Noire from the other so-called ‘cinematic games’? Heavy Rain promised a cinematic experience, offering film-like narrative and characters. The ‘game’ turned out to be little more than watching a movie interrupted by a number of quick-time events requiring some user input. Another game often cited in comparisons between the two mediums is Uncharted 2. No one will dispute the intense action-film quality of gameplay, the engaging set of characters or its involving story. It is clear that the Uncharted series aims to offer some of the pleasures associated with cinema but it doesn’t blur cinema with a game. At its core, it is very much a game and as such appeals only to gamers.
That raises the question if a cinematic game should appeal to those outside the typical gaming sphere. According to Team Bondi, their aim was to make a ‘cinematic game’ that appealed to gamers and non-gamers alike.
At some point during the industry’s long-time effort to create a ‘cinematic game’, I got caught it up in it all. Developers have always aimed to make their games look better, to achieve something closer to realism and it’s an understandable pursuit. At times, we all wish for the fantasy worlds we play in to be reality. And I don’t have a problem with trying to make games more realistic per se, but... what on earth was I thinking when I decided that a ‘cinematic game’ would be a good idea!
To make a cinematic game - that unfortunate hybrid child - we need cinematic gameplay. And now we get to the heart of the matter: what makes gameplay cinematic? Can such a thing truly exist? In L.A. Noire, cinematic gameplay mostly consists of, well, cutscenes. At first, L.A. Noire pulled me in with its gripping and intriguing storyline but the novelty didn’t last. After a few hours of playing the game started to get repetitive and it seemed that about 60% of my time was spent watching cutscenes. The snippets of very basic gameplay in between just weren’t enough to keep me entertained. As the game progressed, I kept wondering what it was Team Bondi was trying to sell to me. Is this not a game that I am supposed to be playing? If so, then where is the gameplay?