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Rockstar have a habit of keeping kids out of their games. The trend is bucked slightly in LA Noire but, with only their toe in the water, perhaps they should have stuck to their guns.
For obvious reasons Rockstar’s hit games, which pride themselves on believable rendering of entire cities and landscapes, are notably lacking in one human element: children. Being the purveyors of the kind of video game violence and questionable content that anti-gaming lobbyists love to pounce upon, its choice to keep the streets of Liberty City clear of innocent ankle biters saves the developer that particular political pitfall. Somehow mounting the curb with your stolen vehicle and mowing down a group of innocent passers-by while evading the LCPD would take a turn toward the sinister if mangled prams were among the wreckage in your rear-view mirror.
I approve of this choice, as nothing freaks me out more in gaming than kids. Be it Little Sister from BioShock, the child-like necromorphs from Dead Space 2 or even “normal” kids like those from Fallout 3’s birthday party, their presence in games is unnerving to me and, with the exception of John Marston’s son in Red Dead Redemption, their omission from my Rockstar diet is greatly appreciated. That is, until LA Noire.
The streets and parks of 1947 Los Angeles aren’t filled with children, and their absence simply makes the free-roaming aspect of the game feel like a GTA title, but during your investigations the story sees you interviewing one child and hounding the father of two others in front of them after telling them their mother had been murdered. Their odd responses to the devastating and life-changing events unfolding around them are somewhat unnerving, especially when conveyed using the game’s MotionScan technology, and I actually felt a deep pang of guilt as I condemned one of them to a life of state care.
These child characters serve a purpose in the game; they add a level of believability to the family dynamic of some of the homes you investigate in the course of the game’s cases, they provide a focal point for the reactions of some suspects to help you make your judgement on their guilt. However, because there are only a handful of child characters in a city of countless sprites, their presence in the game is also to its detriment. It leads to a nagging thought in the back of your mind when playing: Why is it there are no kids anywhere else in the game but for the few cut scene encounters in those investigations? It’s not something that spoils the overall enjoyment of the game, but combined with a couple of other aspects (like the ridiculous body count) it picks away at the mortar of a superbly written story, which is delivered – for the most part – in a refreshingly new and exiting way.
Unlike GTA and RDR, LA Noire has heavy focus on protecting the population of the city and hurting pedestrians as you speed through the streets chasing down bad guys is heavily discouraged. Indeed, the game prevents you from un-holstering your weapon at inappropriate times and collateral damage is kept lower than in any other similar title I can think of. With that in mind, and Rockstar’s choice to use child characters in the main narrative, I feel it should have made the braver step to infuse the game with a more believable age range within the city’s population. Not doing so simply highlights how out-of-place the ones that are there feel.