There are plenty of things that make me feel seriously old these days, but one that stands out a lot as a gamer is remembering a time when the number of hours a game took was an important selling point. Final Fantasy [ファイナルファンタジー]
games, Baldur's Gate
, RollerCoaster Tycoon
, Football Manager
- back when I was about 14-15, it felt like just about the only thing I judged a game on was how long I could play it. But of course, things change - you get a job, get a girlfriend, have to actually make an effort to keep in touch with your family rather than just see them at dinner time every day, and suddenly a game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
looks almost hilariously unappealing to the 27 year old me, considering that it was literally exactly the kind of game the 14 year old me wanted.
So I guess it says a hell of a lot about L.A. Noire
that it's the only game I've played in 10 years that I actively wish was longer. A lot longer. Even with all the DLC added, L.A. Noire
feels too short, a trip into a fantastically fully-realized world that cries out for sequel after sequel after sequel. Sequels that, thanks to the well-documented issues between Team Bondi and Rockstar, we'll probably never get.
The first thing you'll notice about this game, and the first thing any discussion about it really has to start with, is that it looks absolutely phenomenal. That Team Bondi managed to get a game to look like this in 2011, a whole console generation before it even makes sense for anything to look like that, is incredible - and better yet, the graphics are completely integral to the gameplay. Because so much of the game is spent interviewing people, looking for their tells, being able to cast doubt on what they're telling you, it simply wouldn't work without the level of detail in the character's facial work that L.A. Noire
brings to the table. Thanks to that, playing this for the first time carried with it a childish, giddy thrill, a sense of disbelief that it even exists, that you're even playing it. For somebody in their twenties that remembers how incredible some PS1-era cutscenes looked at the time, L.A. Noire
is a real 'started from the bottom, now we here' moment. Christ, I owned a ZX Spectrum when I was 6. Imagine if music had ever advanced this much in 21 years.
It's a magnificent period piece, too. The game is very careful to tell you that it takes place in 1947 (to the point where one of the trophies is unlocked by driving 194.7 miles), and it's clear that they carefully considered pinning it down to that year - it allows the game to take place during Hollywood's Golden Age, with all the misty-eyed glamour that entails, but also in the aftermath of World War II, with a whole slew of characters trying to rebuild their lives after serving their time in the marines. The research that went into building the world up from those two ideas is almost as impressive as the graphics - there are references to contemporary films and news events all over the place, and half the crimes you investigate are crimes that actually took place in LA during the '40s (most notably the Black Dahlia murder, which you solve and are then given a reason never to reveal the murderer's identity - nice touch). The architecture, the cars, the fashion; this is, frankly, as perfectly realized as gaming gets.
You can understand, then, why it was the first film ever to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival; and yet, it's the more film-y elements that hold the game back a little. While the world and the presentation (including the soundtrack, incidentally) are absolutely fantastic, everything else is good rather than great - the storyline is interesting without being as provocative or gripping as it might be, and the characters are appropriate without being especially empathetic. The gameplay elements, too, are at times ridiculously easy. I like that, because it allows you to enjoy the world and soak it all up without becoming frustrated and constantly being reminded that you're playing a game, but it means that the sporadic action sections - car chases, shootouts, and the like - are fairly repetitive and not very compelling to watch rather than play. It certainly can't stand up to many other triple-A titles of recent years on that count. It's refreshing when viewed as a game, in the sense that it gives you a gun but gives you a responsibility to only use it when necessary, but seen in cinematic terms, it falls a little flat. L.A. Noire
feels like it's encouraging you to view it as a film a lot of the time, but that's just about the worst way you could possibly look at it.
It stills ranks as a hell of an achievement, though. Right now, in 2013, L.A. Noire
feels like it's ahead of its time, and it might well be three or four years into the lifecycle of the PS4 and XBox One before we start seeing a regular stream of games that match up to it at the things it does best. It's flawed, sure, but I'd still feel that anybody who owns a console capable of playing it would be missing out in something special if they skipped it. I guess that's what makes it so galling that we're unlikely to ever see a true sequel for it; if somebody ironed out the flaws from this game (and they're pretty easy flaws to fix) without damaging its strengths, we'd surely be looking at one of the greatest video games ever made.