By Jim Rossignol on June 23rd, 2011 at 6:51 pm.
So what should PC gamers expect from L.A. Noire? Well, for a start they should expect a strange hybrid of a point adventure game, a GTA-free roaming driving game with on-foot pursuits and shoot-outs, all hung on an arduous, sometimes perplexing interrogation game. But what else? And what could be fixed? What should be fixed? And what about Red Dead Redemption?
There’s lots of things to think about.
L.A. Noire is a fascinating game in many ways. L.A. Noire is a flawed game in many ways. It is, of course, ideal fodder for the PC, as all Rockstar’s games are. They are, after all – with their living cities and hybridised action sequences – based on a legacy of PC gaming design ideals that has given the past two console generations the life and depth that have made them so popular. What’s remarkable about L.A. Noire, however, is that it seems to be roughly based on quite another PC genre: point-and-click adventures.
L.A. Noire is a procedural police drama set in the 1940s. The lead character, as in most of the recent Rockstar games, is a man with a past – a war hero who wants to see his police career unfold by the book. Needless to say, things don’t go entirely according to plan for the poor fella, and it’s down to your to plod him through an unsettling tale of criminal and emotional adventures in the Californian city.
Anyway, such context is beside the point, what’s important is that much of what you do in L.A. Noire is wander around crime scenes, waiting for the vibration of your gamepad. Quite how this will be articulated in the PC version, I’m not sure, but presumably it’ll need a new visual cue for the feedback-free mouse-keyboard population as they fail to vibrate over the evidence of bloodied bodies, discarded murder weapons, and irrelevant period beer bottles. The solution shouldn’t too difficult, of course, because these sequences are remarkably similar to point-and-click games of decades past where you are asked to search a pre-rendered scene for clues. Think Police Quest in super hi-fidelity graphics, and you’re (more than) half way there. The only real difference here is that you get to walk around a bit, and can go up to your crime-fighting chum to shrug in real-time 3D space.
So far, so re-imagined, but the bit which is challenging for most people is the interrogation. This sees you sit down with a suspect and ask them questions. The issue with this is that you actually don’t ask them questions, at least not as you might in an RPG, but instead pick from an initial list and try to guess the logic of what follows. Your character asks something, and then you get to decide whether the response to it was a truth, or a lie, or whether it should be “doubted”. The distinction between what is a lie and what happens if you doubt the answer isn’t made clear, but it actually resides in what evidence you have. If something is a lie and you can prove so because of the clues you’ve previous collected, then your cross-examination is a success. If you pick the wrong clue, or they’re not lying at all, then you just seem incoherent.
Essentially what this means is that the game plays out near-perfectly if you get everything right. The cases make total sense, you get your man, and everything functions in a clockwork fashion. What the game struggles with is making your failure to pick up things cohere with what must happen for the case to resolve in one of a couple of predefined ways. Hell, Phoenix Wright’s cross-examinations run more logically.
I don’t expect the PC version will be able to fix any of this stuff, but perhaps elements of it can be tweaked so that the weaker cases, and the few loopholes where you either know something and can’t get at it in an interrogation, or where you don’t know something, but it comes up in the game in anyway, are smoothed over.
There are some things that the PC pass can do, however. L.A. Noire on the 360 rather does show the limitations of the hardware. The city is bustling, but remarkably low-res, and lacking in too much detail. It’s also remarkably boring. I mean, I know a lot of people would say that’s an accurate portrayal of 1940s LA, but accurate isn’t want gets the juices of the imagination flowing. We want atmosphere, and for the large part that’s not really delivered. The tech is occasionally breath-taking (those faces!) and often lumpenly average (the bodies they’re attached to!)
The level of detail scaling that made GTA4 possible even seems somehow less artfully dealt with in L.A. Noire, so perhaps a fresh pass on the graphics might spruce things up for PC. GTA4 was notoriously demanding on its PC specs, too, for various “technical” reasons, and, despite some work after release, it really only ever played brilliantly on high spec PCs. Hopefully the same won’t be true of L.A. Noire, but then PC specs are on the whole a little higher anyway, and this isn’t a game that makes enormous demands of pixel-shifting in the first place. If it doesn’t run okay on the average PC, then something’s definitely amiss at Cops ‘n Robbers HQ.
There’s also the Social Club stuff. While L.A. Noire seems less attuned to hijinks than GTA4, I suspect there’s still something in the whole movie sharing aspect of the game that could be tailored to this. Even more crucial to continued interested could be some – any! – official attention given to modding. A few bits and pieces turned up for GTA4, but as any number of people have mentioned, the scope for mods that L.A.Noire provides could be fascinating or even hilarious. That said, you’d need a state of the art motion-capture studio on your mod team if you intended to get those interrogation and dialogue scenes into your total conversion. Any modding will be to the outfits, the sprawling city, and the vehicles.
So to a more serious and crucial question for many of us: does the appearance of L.A. Noire on PC give hope the Red Dead Redemption – arguably the best of Rockstar’s past few years’ output – might make it to PC? I think not. It seems to me that these decisions are made a long time in advance, on the requirements of particular company financials, and on the basis of which studios are free to work on a fairly significant porting and re-optimising project at any one time. I suspect that this, as a project, is actually an easier one to deal with in terms of porting than RDR would have been. Whatever the reality of that stuff, the real decider is money: L.A. Noire might simply be on PC because of financial need.
It’s a shame. Red Dead Redemption is the most PC-spirited game I have played on a console. I’m amazed – genuinely amazed – and a little saddened that it has never found its way to our platform. Hopefully some benevolent spirit of game development will see to it that my judgements are wrong, but I don’t ever expect to see that game on my desktop.
Oh, and I suppose there’s no way to genuinely address that L.A. Noire essential misses out on many of the great Noir tropes of the past that its title appeals to (this is just a cop game set in the 1940s) but it could perhaps play with some lighting filters, throw in some Noirish shaders, just for the hell of it. As Comrade Cobbett points out, just enable a monochrome option does not a Noir experience make…