|"Get back, nothing to see here. Well… except that dead guy."|
Serialized cop dramas being all the rage these days, I can easily flip through some cable channels and find a plethora of shows featuring officers of the law out beating the streets. Although, the best cop drama on TV right now can’t be found on cable. It can only be found on a game console.
I personally have always enjoyed a solid cop drama (NYPD Blue, The Wire, Law & Order, etc.) and have a penchant for “noir” storytelling. A glorious unification of these two concepts has made L.A. Noire an instant delight, but that’s not why I love it. I love it because of Team Bondi’s ability to manage the game’s pacing, making L.A. Noire my new favorite cop show. As time goes on and I continue to mature into a responsible adult (currently a 26 year old man-child), the option to grind a video game for hours on end starts to become lost on me. There just isn’t a lot of time for me to sit around gaming all day. The best I can muster tends to be a couple hours a session, which L.A. Noire easily fills, one case at a time.
Once Cole Phelps completes his stint as a 1940’s L.A. beat cop, he receives a promotion to various detective desks and begins taking cases. Each case runs about 60 – 90 minutes in length, mostly dependent on whether or not I let my partner drive from scene to scene. Typically I let him, since my driving can break the immersion that the game works so hard to maintain. When a case begins, I am treated to a black and white title card, while witnessing a brief snippet of the crime being committed. With that, the story thread for the established case and my investigation begins. I will join Phelps and his partner as we look for clues, question witnesses, and ultimately convict the assailant. This ‘episodic’ delivery of these cases also affords Rockstar the opportunity to continue to release additional cases as DLC. Even though I may complete the main story before I purchase the DLC, that sensation of completion makes each case feel self-contained. Like if I had just watched a new episode of my favorite cop drama.
The cases also contain overarching plot threads, with returning characters, which help to maintain the cohesiveness between each case. Some of these threads deal with previous cases, other threads I experience via flashback and environmental cues (background dialogue, newspapers, etc.). The dialogue, facial reaction, and atmosphere all help to bring the experience together, developing L.A Noire into a “series” of cases. I have heard murmurings on the internets of L.A. Noire being overtly linear and redundant. This may be true when compared to a traditional “open world” game, but like TV shows, most games can be redundant. In my experience, each case had an interesting little puzzle or surprising encounter with an NPC, which kept me intrigued. These bits of variety helped to break up the game mechanics, so much so that I never noticed L.A. Noire’s redundancy. I am simply having too much fun and cannot wait for the next episode of L.A. Noire.