Monday, January 9, 2012

Most Potential 2011 // L.A. Noire

The "Most Potential" award goes to the game that sounded awesome on paper and had real flashes of brilliance, but could still be so much more. Hopefully this game will get a sequel that can deliver on its promise.

I did not finish L.A. Noire. I made it about halfway through the Arson Desk, which means I'm maybe an hour or two away from finishing the game. But I can tell you right now: I'm never going to finish it.

It completely broke for me after the Homicide Desk, about halfway through the game. I realized how utterly formulaic the game was: You get a case, examine the body, collect evidence that leads to new locations with more clues to find or people to interrogate, and once you've exhausted those, solve the case. Rinse and repeat. Nothing I did felt like it mattered anymore, so eventually, I just stopped.

But until that point, L.A. Noire had been absolutely blowing my goddamn mind. I'd never played anything like it. I was being challenged to think like a real detective, learning how to interpret evidence and use it to either corroborate people's stories or catch them in their lies. I couldn't play it absentmindedly, either, since a sharp eye was always needed to read people's faces during interrogations.

Oh man, those faces.

L.A. Noire broke every other game for me. I simply can't look at other games anymore without thinking about how awful and fake the characters look. The MotionScan technology at work here is astounding, easily single the most impressive thing I saw in a game all year. It uses 32 high-definition cameras to capture every little detail about an actor's face as he performs his part, and the results are stunning. The characters in L.A. Noire actually emote. They look like real people, and that's because they are.

I want that technology in every game I play from now on. In L.A. Noire, it was an essential part of the game since you needed to study people's faces to determine whether or not you should trust them. While most games don't really require this level of detail, they could all benefit from having characters that look and act like real people. It's a huge leap forward in the art of telling immersive stories in games, and I know this term gets thrown around a lot, but I really believe that L.A. Noire represents a watershed moment for games.

L.A. Noire reminds me of Heavy Rain. Both are deeply flawed games, but they're also incredibly ambitious in the way they attempt to push the medium forward. I don't know that I would necessarily want an L.A. Noire 2, but I definitely do want more games like it.

If you want to hear how I chose L.A. Noire, you can download my deliberation process, subscribe with iTunes, or listen to it below:

Runners-up: Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, Red Faction: Armageddon


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