Wednesday, January 4, 2012

L.A. Noire

Rant time! I got some mixed feelings about this one. Sure, the game does a lot of things right and indeed has a rather unique feel to it. Plus I'm a sucker for anything film noir. However, I can't help but be annoyed by how gamey this particular title felt. There are no particularly outstanding design choices in the game, so this is going to be just a rant.

1. Too much feedback 

It all comes down to this really. Usually it's good for games to give the player a lot of feedback so they know how they're doing and can improve their play. Rockstar, not so fast. The case of L.A. Noire is exactly the opposite. It's an integral part of the genre to never really know whether you just made the right choices. The problem mostly focuses around the conversation system which has been the most hyped feature of the game. Most screwed up I'd say. How did they manage to do this? In the system, the player always has to choose whether a particular piece of conversation is truth, suspicious or a lie. The big mistake is this: almost immediately after making the choice, the game tells you if it was the correct one. All the mystery and doubt in one's own decisions gone with a simple right/wrong icon. What remains is just an annoyed feeling of having made the wrong choice with no way to take it back.

The end of a case report is another offense, although admittedly less severe. It takes a bite off the game's atmosphere by telling the player pretty clearly how well the case really went. It even hints at what could have been done better. Again, I'd rather not know but the game offers no options to turn off these forms of feedback. I found this weird because it does offer the option to turn off a bunch of other hints such as vibration near interesting objects in a crime scene. Learning of the consequences from later ingame dialogue would have been far better than the game's very gamey ways of feedback.

2. Modern conversation systems

This one is not limited to Noire. Rather, it's an alarming trend. We've seen it quite a lot now. In ye olde days players saw their characters entire line(s) when choosing dialogue choices. These days it's far more popular to give the player a choice of different attitudes. This is all fine as long as the choice still accurately describes what the protagonist is about to say or do. In Noire it often doesn't. My gripe is with the doubt option which can have results varying from careful leading questions to straight out accusations and threatening. This most likely follows from the fact that there are right and wrong choices. When doubting is the wrong choice, usually the protagonist takes a threatening stance. I guess it's what the game requires but I feel very frustrated when my avatar does something I totally didn't mean them to do. Usually stuff like this happens with bad controls. Now it plagues dialogues in games.

3. Traffic

Okay, off to less ranty bits. Traffic in games following in the vein of Grand Theft Auto is always a curious thing. GTA mostly gets away with its lenient law enforcement but more serious games like Noire have more difficulties. I started playing the game driving by the rules (although I had some trouble understanding the laws since some of them were different from present Finnish ones) but as usual, soon got bored with the slow travel speed. Instead of using the "let your partner drive" option, I went the GTA route of just speeding through the city. No consequences for breaking the law and only minor consequences for damaging property. A bit weird for law enforcers, no?

Sure enough, making by-the-law traffic interesting in games is tough. It's not particularly fun in real life with all the tactile feedback from a car. No surprise it's even less so in games where the player is distanced from the car's physicality. However I do think that in Noire, there should have been more consequences for breaking the law. Make me pick that "let your partner drive" option when I don't want to drive by the rules, instead of allowing me to happily speed through reds on the oncoming lane.


L.A. Noire was not as bad a game as this rant might make it feel like. It's just that I was very disappointed that they succeeded in screwing up so much of the game's uniqueness with so small mistakes. Sometimes less feedback is needed instead of more. I never really got over the game's too gamey feedback, but I learned to ignore it enough to play the game through. It saddens me that just one more option in the game's settings would have made all the difference in the world.

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