A thought on LA Noire

LA Noire, in some ways, represents the next step in gaming.  The facial-modelling software makes cut scenes more akin to cinema that the crude representations of faces we’re used to.  This technology is utilised brilliantly in allowing you to tell whether someone is lying or not, or if they have something to hide.  The design of the game’s world gives it a setting and mood rarely experienced in gaming.  To the optimist, Noire is a glimpse of the future, of next generation gaming.

But why do parts of it feel so old-fashioned?

I’m specifically referring to the dispatch cases you receive.  In Noire, you work through a number of cases, often driving between multiple destinations.  While travelling you occasionally get the chance to break off your task and solve other, shorter cases, before returning to your initial assignment.  These cases are mostly simple: chase a thief, catch a robber.  And these are the ones that feel like they’ve been copied over from an old GTA game.  Most are repetitive: chase a suspect down a street, up a pipe and over a roof (don’t follow too close on the pipe because he’ll kick you in the face every time).  You catch him (he may put up a fight) or you shoot and kill him.  And that’s all.  And this binary outcome is where my problem lies.

After trying a few of these missions, one perp was getting away from me.  On foot, I had no chance of catching him.  Smartly I though “I’ll wound him, that’ll slow him down”.  I shot his calf.  He stopped and limped.  “Nice touch”, I thought, before he took off running again.  I shot him twice more in the leg.  He died.

Now, things like this happen in lots of games.  But with Noire looking like a new the standard-bearer of subtlety in gaming, I thought things would be different.  I was genuinely surprised that I didn’t have the option to incapacitate suspects.

I’m not suggesting that game developers should create a bullet map for character models, detailing where best to non-lethally shoot someone.  But, in a game as immersive and involving as LA Noire, it would be a nice addition to be able to have a third option, wound, between the current ones of catch and kill.

I imagine a fictional LA Noire 2 having this mechanic.  The aiming is tricky, an attempt at shooting to injure could easily result in fatality.  This would stop shoot-to-maim from becoming the go-to method of crime prevention.  Too many fatal interventions and your character’s, eh, character starts to be questioned by his superiors and peers.  Too many deaths and you’re demoted.

I also see a less linear type of gaming that this could help create.  Say you chase someone who robbed a jewellery store.  Despite your best attempts, he escapes.  Later there’s a bank robbery by the same guy.  Again, you fail to apprehend him.  Could that character turn out to be a major crime figure later in the game?  Imagine you shoot someone in the calf, yet they still manage to escape.  Then, hours later in game-time, that same character appears as much more established crime-figure, complete with limp from the injury you gave him.  Games like Deus Ex and Heavy Rain already take an open-ended to their storylines, though probably not in this way (I’ve never played them).

Years ago I read a Judge Dredd comic, its name long forgotten.  A Judge, probably not Dredd, had the chance to injure an escaping criminal.  Yet he shot for the back and killed the perp.  The story focuses on the Judge coming to terms with his actions.  He is advised by another Judge to wear boots that are too small.  He would be so distracted by the pain from the shoes that he would stop dwelling on the death.  There’s something powerful to that kind of story, of a crime-fighter and the guilt from his split-second decisions.  Whether a computer game could competently utilise that kind of situation remains to be seen.

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