LA Noire is shaping up to be one of the most interesting games in recent memory. It’s a mystery thriller that doesn’t rely solely on a third-person shooter mechanic and embodies both good writing and authenticity into its DNA. The game is built around finding clues, solving cases and, most important, interacting with suspects and other people. This is important for one specific reason, LA Noire is being published by a certain Rockstar Games. Team Bondi is developing the game, but Rockstar are fully behind its design and the nature of the game.
You see, one common criticism of Rockstar that I find a lot (and completely agree with) is that they make great stories and fantastic narratives, but they make poor video-game stories. For example, name one part of Red Dead Redemption‘s storyline that wasn’t told through a cutscene or any other means that took away the player’s control. Got one? The dialogue between missions doesn’t count as that’s still taking the control of Marston’s mouth out of the palms of the player. Simply put, Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic movie but a generally shallow video-game. It doesn’t exploit the Western to its full interactive potential.
LA Noire then is completely different in that the player can control Phelps (the player character) in both shooting things, collecting clues and talking to suspects and people. The game looks to excel at doing a fine and dandy job of the whole Mass Effect dialogue system, which will work wonders also given the facial recognition technology in the game. The player has full control over the narrative, which is completely and utterly different to past Rockstar Games which either ended with a little choice that barely mattered or no choice at all.
So, the game is there and it’s got everything going for it. What doesn’t it have going for it then? Well, for starters, we have a game based around finding criminals and catching clues… yet doesn’t a third-person shooter mechanic feel a little misplaced. Detectives barely touch that area of policework, although it’s said Phelps will have to rise from the lowly ranks of the police in order to become said Detective, so I may be placing my chips into the wrong bet. Rockstar’s support behind the game strikes me a little bit odd though, as it essentially further develops the death of cinematic game.
A cinematic game could be Red Dead Redemption in that everything happens in a very filmic environment. Cut-scenes, giant set-pieces and (most importantly) nothing to do with the whole ‘interaction thing’. You know, the whole ‘video-games’ thing? I’d often had my disagreements with the industry on just about everything, but our tendency to just rely on Hollywood’s way of thinking really does strike the core of what exactly is wrong with us today. I’ll be exploring interactive storytelling further in my new book venture, Up, Down, Left, Right – Volume Two, but it will definitely feature a chapter on our obsession with cinematic ways of storytelling.
See, LA Noire still has that Rockstar flair about it, it’s running on a similar engine to next-gen Rockstar games and it’s got that whole aura about it. Crime, corruption and third-person action – it’s Rockstar’s trademark and there’s no doubt that they’ve picked it up because of its potential to offer a cinematic world. Thankfully though, this is more of a dying cinematic game, one that looks to embody certain aspects of a Rockstar game but take some steps towards offering something new. An actual story told through not just the cinematic way, but an interactive way.
You could argue that Rockstar have always told their stories through an interactive way, by just offering mechanics and a world to explore. That is true, there are countless tales that you can make and spin out of Grand Theft Auto just on your own – but all of this emergent storytelling (also encouraged by the likes of Minecraft but on a higher level) is all overshadowed by the linear cinematic story at hand. I don’t want LA Noire to fall into this trap, I want it to be what it looks to do, a blend. An interactive story with cinematic elements blended in.
Once Rockstar realises it has to stop telling its story through cinematic means, to further develop the industry, that’s when we can all raise our arms and say that we’ve got a superpower furthering the medium. By the way, you could say that the ending of Red Dead Redemption offered an important glimpse of interaction with its narrative. No, it didn’t, you were bound by the rules and it should have just been a cutscene since the player’s place in the world is only further distanced by the lack of interaction he has over (apparently) ‘the greatest video-game ending in years’.
One day, I’m gonna write a lot more on Red Dead Redemption given how much praise it’s gotten for its story and characters and ‘cinematic gameplay’.
They’re called ‘video-games’, not ‘DVD-games’.