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L.A. Noire Is a Bad Adventure Game

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 7 Jun 2011 12:00
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L.A. Noire isn't a new idea, it's the return of a very very old one. Namely, adventure games. The games that its investigation mechanics most closely resemble would be the Phoenix Wright series, where you also must gather evidence and pick the right moment during a suspect or witness statement to challenge them or present evidence that they're lying. I can also detect strong influence from the now-prehistoric Tex Murphy games like Under a Killing Moon, which involved a lot of hunting around locations looking for hidden clues, as well as an in-game hint system. L.A. Noire isn't even the first adventure game to have action sequences - Full Throttle did that, among others, and it was a bad idea then, too. I suppose it is (arguably) the first adventure game to have a GTA sandbox, but I think Rockstar, for all their fine qualities, badly need to understand that not every game should have a sandbox. Not ones that don't really add anything, and especially not ridiculously huge ones that you're penalized for driving recklessly around. Mafia 2 also take note.

So L.A. Noire is an adventure game and it is very cheering to see games explore new ways to challenge players besides combat all the time. But that's the point. It isn't a new way, it's one of the oldest. It's pretty much how PC gaming started. That's what's less cheering - the fact that it took this long for mainstream console games to rediscover the whole business. It gives me this horrible feeling that gaming is just going to drift around in the same cycle for the rest of eternity, rather than continually evolving. Forgetting about entire genres while everyone rips off the same dreary tripe, then rediscovering them for the novelty points before remembering how much we enjoyed making lots of money off the easy mediocre bollocks and starting the cycle again.

Maybe I'm just trying too hard to be cynical. But I think the sheer cliché of L.A. Noire speaks to Rockstar's feeling that the sheer novelty of investigative gameplay alone could carry the experience. Yes, cliché. Even leaving aside the fact that generous helpings of plot, setting and character were spooned from the film L.A. Confidential, come on - an investigative game about a detective in a fedora in a 1940's noir setting where everyone smokes like a burning building? It's not exactly challenging convention, is it? It's just a very standard sort of arrangement, like cowboys in the old West or knights fighting dragons in medieval times.

A writer uses cliché as a softening agent to introduce something the audience isn't too familiar with. People are easily-frightened little animals and it's always difficult to wrench them out of their comfort zone and make them try something new. Perhaps this is why L.A. Noire opted to used a 1940's noir setting for its detective game rather than, say, Narnia. But damn it, why do we have to go through the whole process again? The last time adventure games were popular they spread out into all sorts of creative stories and settings once people were comfortable with the concept. The Tex Murphy games were about a down-on-his-luck private investigator in near-future San Francisco investigating sci-fi death cults and alien cover-ups. The genre arguably came to a climax with Grim Fandango, another Noir-inspired story set in the Aztec afterlife.

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