Spoiler Warning: The following spoils part of the Homicide Desk section of L.A. Noire, I'd recommend playing that section before reading this.
After playing some of L.A. Noire I came a cross a particular case that got me thinking in a way different to any experience I've had with a game before. And it all comes down to a single choice.
Choice in video games is much debated, from Bioshocks and Fables choice of "nicer than nice and fluffier than a kitten" or "the guy Satan calls a dick", to the likes of the old Silent Hill games and Deus Ex's multiple endings culminating from a number of decisions throughout the game. Most games that I can think of give you arbitrary choice of how the game will evolve and personally, I believe, this can add to the experience by empowering the player. Or at least wringing another play through of the game out of you.
What I've never always found hard about these choices is that it motivates the player to think about the consequences of their actions in a selfish manner, i.e. If I kill this little girl I get the bad ending but its (supposedly) easier, or if I get my good bar all the way up I get a stat boost. Choices like this always strike me as a mechanical decision, one based on "I do x, the game produces y", which can knock the immersion on its ass a little. (not that I didn't feel horrible after harvesting my first, and only, child in Bioshock).
Where L.A. Noire fits into this is on the homicide case "The Golden Butterfly". For those of you who haven't played it or aren't going to, a rough outline of the case is this: A woman is murdered as she parks her car at a parking lot. The naked body is dumped at a "make-out point" type location in the style of a relevant serial killer. As you investigate, the two main suspects end up being the husband (with a history of violence) and a violent pervert. Both with more than enough evidence to secure a conviction against them.
Where it gets interesting is in the final section of the investigation. Both suspects are at the police station awaiting interrogation. Both are convict-able. Personally I had believed it was the husband as his actions and answers were suspicious to say the least but a few doubts started to arise with the perverts answers. The evidence suggested it could be either of them. Then your partner raises more questions - which of the two is the bigger threat. If it was the husband, then the motive was out of passion and it seemed unlikely that he would re-offend, whereas the pervert was a multiple re-offender and had molested children on different occasions.
It was at this point that I had to stop, I had both suspects ready to have the charges placed against them a simple choice. The husband is the most likely choice but I had to think, what would Cole Phelps do. He's an officer of the law, his job is to bring justice and protect the people. I had to choose between the two.
Never before have I had this sort of option. What really made this a hard choice was that the game felt as though it didn't care what the choice was and that it would carry on the same regardless. So I made my choice (It was the pervert) and got 4 stars in the end of case report, only missing one clue. And yet I'm still thinking about it. What if that clue had been the one thing to blow the case open and point the finger, without a doubt, at one of the suspects? What about the missing jewellery that was never accounted for? Had I done the right thing the wrong way by arresting a dangerous man of a crime he didn't commit?
I haven't finished the game so I don't know if I'm right about the lack of consequence but if I am then I commend the writers for adding ambiguity in a non-obtuse way and allowing the player to really feel the stresses and weight that Cole might feel.
Overall I feel this game has given a lot already (and I'm barely into disk 2) and really hope the quality holds up till the end. If it does then I would be happy to say that this game is a huge step in the right direction for emotional and immersive story telling that really takes advantage of what gaming has to offer.
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