GamesBeat

Why L.A. Noire Was A Colossal Failure

I love it when a game tries something different. I also love games with a focus on single-player with a great narrative. So it goes without saying that I should have loved L.A. Noire. 

And for the first few missions, I did. Off the bat, we have a likeable protagonist in Cole Phelps. He's apparently a veteran and a bit of a doo-gooder in a job with the gritty LAPD. Phelps' determination to do the job right, oftentimes disregarding political consequences and even his partners, Phelps quickly rises up through the rankings of the LAPD, making a few enemies along the way. The early missions, particularly the homicide missions, really show the promise the game held. 

And then, the narrative changed. Phelps goes to a club and sees a girl, Elsa, singing. He's intrigued. But he's also married and is a father. He has an affair with Elsa. 

Phelps is a man who won't even take a sip of alcohol on the job because he feels it's morally repugnant, but he cheats on his wife and eventually adandons his family? If the condition of Phelps' marriage was known, if the game even bothered to give players a hint why Phelps would engage in this scandalous behavior (it is the 1940s, after all), then maybe players would feel worse when Phelps becomes the fall guy for the higher-ups in the LAPD. Even if Elsa pursued Phelps, we might understand his moment of weakness, but the man abandoned his family for a woman who seems to be a night club whore. Given everything players know about Phelps' character and the environment, these events simply don't make sense.

And that's not even the biggest problem that the game has.  One very tricky thing about single-player games that feature a heavy narrative is making the player feel that like their actions matter. A linear narrative has much more impact on the story than an open-ended plotline, so making the player feel in control of certain events is a bit of an art. L.A. Noire takes the player's visceral, gut feelings, chews them up, spits them out, and tells player that their feelings don't matter.

The best example of this is the first arson case, "The Gas Man." Houses are being burned down, and the investigation reveals two suspects. Both of these guys seem like they could be guilty. Your job is to charge one of the two. I went through the interviews with both men and had a hard time determining who I was going to charge. I eventually made used some logic to determine why I thought one guy did it while the other one didn't. I charged the guy I thought did it, and then my boss at the LAPD told me that I had charged the wrong guy.

After I reloaded my save and charged the "right" guy, the very next case reveals who REALLY did it! That's right, the guy the game wants you to charge with arson in "The Gas Man" is not the guy who actually did it at all! But I, controlling Phelps, had no option of figuring that out while I was playing the game. I couldn't choose "Neither man," because the game wouldn't let me.

L.A. Noire basically told me that my instincts and feelings don't matter, or were wrong when they were completely right. Dark Souls has much of the message come to think about it, however Dark Souls isn't driven at all by narrative and characters. I think there's a lesson to be learned in this for developers and writers of games that aim for realistic plots and settings. Either that, or I'd make a really crappy detective.


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