Note: Don’t read if you are sensitive to L.A. Noire spoilers, as I mercilessly discuss details of the plot.
Cole Phelps is a dick…the first video-game character I have openly hated.
He spends the first half of the game being a poster child for LAPD regulations — a walking, talking rulebook.
Then, out of nowhere, Cole “that’s not regulation” Phelps cheats on his wife with German hussy Elsa Lichtmann.
This is a moment that the player has no control over. Cole says, “There’s something I gotta do,” and then goes to Elsa’s apartment to bump uglies.
Cut to Cole’s now ex-wife throwing suitcases out on the lawn. At this point, I was yelling at my television, “Hey! I didn’t want to do this!” Then I dejectedly realized I was only there to press A when the controller vibrated.
A few action sequences later, Cole Phelps drowns in a storm drain, and I laugh.
I largely forgot about L.A. Noire until recently when a variety of blogs reported that Rockstar Studios might make a sequel.
Before seeing all the pictures of Cole sent me into a conniption, I wondered if it was good that I hated him. After all, this is something I have thought about film and TV actors for a long time, and L.A. Noire is the closest thing to a movie gaming has ever seen.
Ultimately, the reason I hate Cole Phelps is because he rebels from the player at a crucial moment in the story. I controlled Cole during his meteoric rise through the ranks of the LAPD, but I couldn’t use the analog stick to steer him away from a German woman’s apartment on a lonely Friday night.
Phelps’ uncontrollable urge to sleep with Elsa also serves as the moment when his life comes crashing down. Not so much because of his decision to cheat on his wife…but because his partner (who has “double cross” written all over his realistically animated forehead from the beginning) reports his wily conduct to the head of police, who is also in on the insurance scheme. With Phelps’ proximity to the evil masterminds, it was inevitable that the LAPD would remove him so he could cause less harm.
Cole’s adherence to code — which made him such a boring character in the opening acts — becomes his downfall, as he can’t leave a corrupt police department well enough alone. He tries to put an end to corruption in the LAPD, and he drowns in a storm drain.
Now keep in mind, I still hate Cole Phelps, and he is still not a very good character.
But my opinion of him is multifaceted. He is a tool used by developer Team Bondi to communicate the hopelessness that courses through the veins of all the very best noire stories.
To Cole Phelps: Thanks for teaching me about the utility of characters in a narrative-focused game…dick.