L.A. Noire

by Rachel Baker on June 18, 2011

Last month, we started playing Rockstar Game’s new game L.A. Noire.  I was excited about this game when I first started hearing about it.  All the preview articles about L.A. Noire sounded like something right up my alley.  The world was somewhat open (my favorite are the role playing games with sandbox worlds), and the whole premise of the game sounded like an avid readers dream come true. No one that I’d heard of yet had associated a game with a set of short stories based on an actual time period and genre.  – can you say anticipation?!

We played the game for about two days straight (working from home has its advantages), and though the gameplay itself got somewhat boring and repetitious, the storyline was interesting.  In retrospect, playing the game straight through I think was not really the right way to do it.

Like many short story anthologies, one can not sit down and expect to read every story straight through from cover to cover.  One could say, the way L.A. Noire is set up, from a readers perspective, the game is a series of short stories centered around one man – Cole Phelps.  Phelps is a rookie cop who has just gotten back from the war, as a decorated veteran. The year is 1947 which is one of the most violent years in LA crime fighting. He’s paired up with partners who are jaded in some way, and while most of them seem corrupt, only one is – the others have just been doing the job too long to see the big picture. The game takes you through four different police desks and Phelps’ duties solving the crimes. We follow Phelps from walking the beat, to trying to solve the black dahlia and other murders of young women whose husbands go to jail for their deaths, to figuring out who is setting homes on fire in up-and-coming developments, and then to vice.  Ultimately, each of these departmental sections have to do with the final outcome of the game.  There are cut scenes where you watch a movie that gives you insight into the section of the game you are playing or shows you Phelps’ war experience.

As I said before, the gameplay was quite repetitious.  Each section was the same thing over and over again – go to the crime scene, walk around and wait for the controller to vibrate, pick up the evidence; then after making an arrest, go back to the precinct ask a few questions and then make charge the suspect.  Often times, the player really didn’t have a whole lot of control of the game, as you were, for the most part, sent from place to place with little time to veer off the beaten path for exploration purposes.  This is sort of a failure gameplay wise.  Ultimately, one wants a game that will immerse the player into a world where they don’t realize the passage of time. Unfortunately, there were times in the game when I’d look at the clock and wonder how much more we had to go until the end. Further, I was a bit a more intrigued with some of the other characters in the game than the main character, Cole Phelps.

Now, here’s the intriguing part for a reader/gamer and even a specific segment of movie fans, the whole game is set in the film noir genre, both story-wise and aesthetically. The cut scenes in the game give that interesting flashback feel of movies in the genre, accomplished by picking up a newspaper which then cuts to a movie telling you about the bigger plot line than just what you are in the middle of playing.  Then, at the beginning of each new desk assignment (if I remember correctly), there is a black and white flashback that gives you Phelp’s war background. While the game is not in black and white for the most part, the coloring of the game is very reminiscent of the movies Bugsy and LA Confidential – low level lighting with glimmers of brightness, that are never fully realized.

Along with the game LA Noire comes a collection of short stories.  In this  collection of original short fiction you’ll find: The Girl by Megan Abbott, See the Woman by Lawrence Block, Naked Angel by Joe R. Lansdale, Black Dahlia & White Rose by Joyce Carol Oates, School for Murder by Francine Prose, What’s in a Name? by Jonathan Santlofer, Hell of an Affair by Duane Swierczynski, and Postwar Boom by Andrew Vachss.  So far, I’ve read the first four and found them extremely satisfying for that short story fix that I want on a regular basis.

Rockstar Games partnered with Mulholland Books to put these thrillers together in one neat collection. Using the same time period as the game, each one of these stories either takes place in one of the game locales, or draws from the characters in the game, or uses one of the games archs as a starting point for the story.  As an example, Black Dahlia & White Rose centers around the Black Dahlia murder and is told from the perspective of the Black Dahlia, Norma Jeane Baker (young Marilyn Monroe), and the photographer that introduced the Black Dahlia to her murderer. In the game, you see a likeness to the photographer’s warehouse, his photographing area and the little room with a hole in the wall so someone could watch the models being photographed in the nude. (Insert ick factor of 10 here)

Reading these stories will take you back to a time when a quarter would buy you a complete detective or true crime magazine.

You can find these stories individually here on the Rockstar L.A. Noire website   or you can find the collection on Amazon for free here for the kindle.

The game is truly worth playing if for no other reason than to see what 1947 L.A. looked like, on both the physical and social levels. However, whether you read the stories or play the game first, I would like to recommend you treat both as you would any anthology – read/play a little at a time.  Doing so will give you the ability to truly enjoy the environment, the ambience and the true dark thriller aspect of the game/stories. In the end, the impact of the overarching story of L.A. Noire may just give you a bit more of an understanding of what this time in this place was like.

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