No Escape From L.A.

2 Jun

My review of Team Bondi’s new detective game L.A. Noire is now online at Kill Screen. It’s a weirdo existential Twilight Zone kind of thing, and I’m happy with how it came together.

Soon I had run more than a mile, down alleyways and across parking lots, past cars and buses and trains, through side streets and straight up Hollywood Boulevard. Cars always stopped just short of striking me; police officers made no note of my passing. I could not draw my gun, I could not use the phone, I could not even speak. I could only run.

This game was so strange for me—there were a lot of things it did well, or at least, things it did interestingly. Chief among them the whole motion-scan thing, the way the game recreated human faces so effectively. As several folks have said, when you look at the faces in L.A. Noire, you don’t feel like you’re looking at videogame characters—you feel like you’re looking at people.

So many games revolve around shooting, jumping, or simply accumulating numbers and comparing statistics. I for one have begun to wonder what else is out there. L.A. Noire represents an intersting stab at answering that question, and while it doesn’t succeed, I’m still glad it exists.

Since I elected to go with a nontraditional critique, there were a lot of things I didn’t get to talk about. I think I’ll probably have to write some more about the game, but for the time being I wanted to throw some recognition to Andrew Hale’s fantastic musical score. It’s equal parts Dragnet and Gil Evans, and it’s just so cool… I only wish there was more of it!

The close harmonies, the excellent horn voicings, that noble, clarion trumpet… killer. And any chase scene that’s scored by a bari sax/bass clarinet battle is aces in my book. Great work by the bass and saxophone soloists as well as the trumpet player — Garry Schyman’s work on Bioshock 2 was the last videogame score I remember to feature instrumental soloists to the degree that L.A. Noire does. More, please.

There’s been some meta-discussion about my review—whether it should be called a “review,” and whether there should be a score at the end. I generally don’t like that kind of semantical debate, and few things bore me harder than the “game review-scores” discussion. But some thoughts:

The word “review” doesn’t really seem like it has to mean “product review,” and I sense that it is only as loaded as it is because it has gained certain connotations over the past twenty years. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t change the terminology instead of trying to change the meaning. Honestly, “critique” and “critical essay” describe my piece just as accurately as does “review.”

But then, these things don’t happen overnight, and I’m confident that Kill Screen is going to be at the forefront of whatever new methods of critique surface as we continue to wrestle with how we talk and write about videogames. For now, I’m content to focus on content over labels; call my piece whatever you’d like.

As for the score, I scored the game according to Kill Screen‘s rubric—a 50 means the game was kinda below-average, an experience that I didn’t really enjoy. In addition to the way it weirded me out, I found a lot of the story and mechanics to be significantly flawed. As I said, I might have to detail those more at some point, but I thought that both Mitch Krpata and Tom Chick‘s reviews covered a lot of my complaints.

Anyhow, I have been really happy with the reception my piece has gotten so far; thanks everyone for reading. And just today it got cross-posted to Pitchfork, which, ya know, is only pretty much the coolest thing ever.

Here we are, three days before E3, and I have never felt as caught up in the breathless sprint of videogame coverage. Trying to slow down and actually evaluate a game feels like trying to keep my feet under me after jumping from a moving car.

I have several games that I’ve yet to write a word about—The Witcher 2 in particular is quite fabulous and deserves some love—but I’m already running forwards to the next thing. Sigh. I hope that a more lengthy discussion of L.A. Noire emerges, because it raises several questions that we would do well to attempt to answer.

In the meantime… time to pack up my stuff and head to L.A. Hopefully I won’t have to solve any crimes while I’m down there.

Read L.A. Noire review at Kill Screen

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