In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
All sleek green curves and embossed lettering set against a deadly background. In the simplest of terms, it looked stunning. The blurb running down the back got down to business, an accompaniment to the serious face on the other side.
It remained silent as I put the disc inside the desperate tray. I was clouded and mesmerised by the artwork of my desires, ready to play the cunning fox, complete with light dalliances of my fingers over the controller. Only it was really I who was being played.
After all, it’s always the quiet ones that have the most problems...
While Red Dead Redemption was an amazing Western videogame, narrative-wise, it paled in comparison to its cinematic influences. The main offender being too many sub-genres in one tale, enough to lose focus of the subject matter halfway in.
In essence, there was the creation of something new and yet it was self-analysed before the credits rolled.
L.A. Noire is a similar title that suffers from a schizophrenic approach to incorporating a cinematic style into videogames. Throughout the narrative, you’re treated with the pulp fiction of post-war cinema and contemporary post-modernism drama. It’s a juxtaposition that constantly struggles to meet the demands of either noir representation. It’s certainly successful with the former, but with the constant interuption of a deconstructive approach to the original material, fans of both ends of the spectrum should ask themselves:
Should L.A. Noire be regarded as a decent replication of B-movie novella adaptations or a failure of emulating complex contemporary works?
Even so, should the awkward assimilation of styles be a major concern, when it’s videogame above all else?
L.A. Noire is reminiscent of the 90’s anthology seriesFallen Angels; a show featuring famous actors in short noir adaptations. More importantly, they were told from an evocative perspective of what noir signified at that time. We had post-modern use of period music, direction and lighting, all in the name of indulgent emulation.
Really, it’s up to the viewer to really decide if it was shallow or if it successfully captured a style that had no influences beyond its early expressionist roots.
L.A. Noire plays out “The Big Gumbo” of evocation in a similar fashion.
Pull away the curtain and it’s a modern conspiracy thriller doused in post-Chandler, pulp novella aesthetics. Throughout, the narrative juggles two different period perspectives, origins and evolvement, pushing a post-modern ideal onto another form that hadn’t developed self-awareness yet.
In layman’s terms, it’s as if L.A. Confidential’s Detective Ed Exley was placed squarely in Humphrey Bogart’s final movie, The Harder They Fall; which is exactly what happens in a Vice Case called The Set Up.
L.A. Noire actually feels like the spanning era development of noir, albeit played out of order, but still moving from influential police procedural The Tattooed Stranger right through to the corruption of L.A. Confidential. Along the way, there’s a heady mix of name-checking, not least from the “Now Playing” signs of local cinemas and dialogue debunking dime store “Johnny Gossamer” antics.
While L.A. Noire achieves pulp recreation with it’s episodic Dragnet approach, when it attempts the complex personality issues found in James Ellroy’s novels, it fails to compete with its cinematic peers, through rushed storylines and underdeveloped strands, e.g. Phelps’ home life and subsequent affair.
Of course, L.A. Noire is a videogame, not a movie. You can’t expect a videogame to put the cart before the horse right out of the gate. It’s a title at odds with its material; where the dangerous situations are heightened because of that need to constantly engage.
An interactive schizophrenia develops in scenes where Phelps has to shoot fleeing suspects without condemnation, drive endlessly into oncoming traffic or fire at red barrels to clear an escape route, before arriving at a “realistic” crime scene investigation.
Sadly, that improvised, tectonic world becomes detrimental within the interrogations.
Here, we have the complexity of the human face to decipher, but to do so, we’re given simplified choices, told to pick evidence that tenuously relates to the “Lie”, which also in theory is sufficient enough for selecting “Doubt”.
Yet, there is no place for your own plausible connections in the world of L.A. Noire. It’s somewhat an insult of intelligence which negates the point of examining quirks and listening to strained answers, when in actual fact, it boils down to staying restrictive for the intentionally circumstantial script.
If you have the complexity of facial animation, then surely, there should be an allowance for the complexity of the human mind.
As a post-modern noir study of one man’s misunderstanding of duty and responsibility, L.A. Noire could have been something special. As it stands, it never manages to reach the intimacy of Hotel Dusk and Last Window; both narrative driven adventures that have an uniqueEastern perspective on 1970’s “end of a classical era” thrillers like Klute, The Long Goodbye and Chinatown. As such, the narrowed focus works better than L.A. Noire’s melting pot direction.
Though, this shouldn’t be read as, “L.A. Noire is a terrible videogame”.
It’s actually a decent imitation of a bygone age, using taboo breakers sensibly in situations that were restricted by the Hays Code before (as with The Big Sleep), while also being an enthralling pleasure when several great actors dupe you during their interrogations. It’s also quite remarkable to see Rockstar Games successfully sell an updated point and click adventure, reminiscent of Police Quest and Black Dahlia, to a mainstream audience...
You see, after all is said and done, we all have our problems.
Nobody would ever be deemed perfect.
It didn’t matter, though. It was those idiosyncrasies that kept us dancing in close proximity to an improvised beat. After I put the disc back in the case, I sat there for a long while contemplating my swirling thoughts, with the imperfect love silently by my side.
Too many tastes get lost in The Big Gumbo, but if you concentrate enough, you can pick out the flavours you love and cherish them forever. Well, at least, until the next love of your life came along. Fashion dictates that they’ll lack the image of perfection too.
What you or I want is always going to be an unobtainable illusion, but in front of the cathode rays, at the dead of night, we still dare to have hopes.