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Game Reviewed: L.A. Noire
Developer: Team Bondi
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
ESRB Rating: M
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In one of the latest attempts for gaming to branch out of its usual genre conventions, L.A. Noire attempts to be the interactive equivalent to old noir films such as The Maltese Falcon and Out of the Past. It does so by completely recreating Los Angeles as it existed in the 1940s, even going so far as to faithfully render landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the abandoned set for the 1916 film Intolerance. It even has the option to set the entire game to black and white (a setting I kept on the entire time; made me feel like I was playing a Humphrey Bogart movie).
While this is an impressive feat, this game’s most noteworthy aspect is its interrogations. Though there are occasional shootouts and car chases, most of the game consists of searching for clues (done from a third-person perspective as the player explores a crime scene to find evidence) and interrogating the suspects (also from a third-person perspective, albeit a more cinematic one). Most games would handle interrogations by making some sort of logic/puzzle game out of it, a la the Phoenix Wright series, but L.A. Noire used new motion capture technology to capture every little muscle and movement in the human face. So when the player has to choose whether someone is lying, hiding something, or telling the truth, they must do so entirely by listening to their voice and paying close attention to their movements, just as in real life.
The story is pretty standard fare for this genre, but is exceptional in that this type of tale has rarely graced interactive media; you play as Cole Phelps, an up-and-rising cop in 1940s L.A., as he rises through the ranks of the police force. Most of the cases are not really connected, but as the story progresses we find out more about Cole’s troubled past in World War I. The story deals with traditional noir themes, such as injustice, corruption, and one man’s attempt to uncover the truth among a sea of lies.
Also hidden among those lies, however, is quite a bit of content that may dissuade you from allowing your children to play it, or possibly even dissuading you. This game certainly earned it’s M rating, and while most of it is understandably included for the sake of the story and atmosphere, that does not change the fact that it is there, and it can be pretty intense. Here’s what you need to know.
What Parents Need to Know
Cole will often be involved in shootouts, during which the player will use weapons such as pistols and rifles to shoot criminals. Blood is minimal in these scenes.
When investigating a crime scene, especially in the homicide department, the player will often need to investigate a dead body. Some are not very damaged, but in some cases there are slit throats, slit wrists, or other generally bloody features. In one arson case, a family is essentially nothing more than ash; upon investigation, one of the bodies crumbles as such.
The F-word is used throughout the game.
The S-word is used throughout the game.
The… You know what, if there’s a word that’s considered “harsh language,” it’s in this game consistently, or at least a few times.
A string of murders central to the story involve a killer who kills women and leaves their bodies naked and beaten. Full frontal nudity is shown. The player must examine these mutilated naked bodies for clues. The offensive body parts are never given said examination, but they are clearly visible (the vagina is, however, obscured by pubic hair).
One of the cases involves a young girl who came to Hollywood to be a star and was sexually exploited by the filmmakers (unfortunately, this was a common occurrence in 1940s Hollywood). No nudity or sexual content is involved in this case, but the girl’s underpants are a clue and the dialogue does not beat around the bush on this issue.
Nothing of note.
In the vice department, the player will take on many drug-related cases, investigating overdoses and drug rings.
The game accurately depicts the racial politics of the time, and black characters are often treated accordingly.
It may also be worth noting that, without spoilers, the protagonist does not always make the most moral decisions, and while they are not necessarily condoned, the story’s weakest point is its refusal to explore Cole’s character or the nature of those decisions, so they never really get condemned either.
A Child’s Perspective
I would not ask a child to play this game; it simply is not meant for children. I imagine the focus on investigation and interrogation would turn away most younger players, as the game is relatively slow-paced compared to most.
When it comes down to it, L.A. Noire is your typical innovative game; it is impressive, and will hopefully be influencing the way players interact with their stories and characters for years to come, but it is also predictably imperfect in its execution. The interrogations end up occupying that awkward space between game and simulation, with relatively unclear rules taking a step toward reality, but blatantly black-and-white conditions for victory keeping it firmly within game-like territory. The recreation of L.A. as it was seven decades ago is impressive, but serves little purpose other than making the player drive a lot. The car chases are exciting, but the shootouts are bland, making the game a bit of a mixed bag for people who want more of a traditional action experience.
All of this goes into creating an atmosphere and story that faithfully emulates the style of the black-and-white detective films of old, and in that regard it succeeds splendidly. Unfortunately, the story also fails to explore Cole’s character in any meaningful way, instead sending us mixed signals based on his actions and ultimately giving us a protagonist with little real meaning since we have very little understanding of the motivations and morals behind his actions. All in all, from a gameplay and an artistic perspective, L.A. Noire is very much worth checking out despite its flaws.
However, from a moral perspective, one should exercise caution. This game is not rancid or tasteless, but it deals with very mature themes and content, and does not shy away from its depiction. It is certainly not a game for children. My recommendation is to uphold the M rating and allow this game to be played only when your children… well, are no longer children.