Friday, 20 May 2011

'LA Noire': Game changer?

Rockstar, the video game developers behind the popular 'Grand Theft Auto' series, today released 'LA Noire' - an open world detective game set in 1940s Los Angeles, which boasts almost miraculous, hitherto unprecedented motion capture technology. For the best part of a decade video games have been shamelessly aping Hollywood, often even drawing from the same talent pool, but 'LA Noire' comes with the added credence of having been shown off at the recent Tribeca Film Festival.

The "video games as art" discussion is increasingly tedious and redundant, but 'LA Noire' is - at least in terms of acting - a potential game changer for how the medium is seen as a means of telling stories. I've only played it for a few hours so far, but its characters make realistic facial expressions, display subtle changes in emotion and are even often played by recognisable US TV actors giving really decent performances (including the bulk of the cast of 'Mad Men'). Personally, I think the games that best make the case for the art form are those which try less to copy Hollywood and try to play on the medium's own strengths (for example 'Flower' or 'Shadow of the Colossus'). However, whilst games from 'Resident Evil' to 'Call of Duty' have, for years, attempted to tell Hollywood stories using a faux-Hollywood aesthetic, 'LA Noire' may be the first game to do so with this degree of credibility. (Yes, I've played 'Heavy Rain', but that was woeful.)

In any case, 'LA Noire' wishes it was a film and is no doubt written by a frustrated film student. Like Rockstar's other games, it puts you in a world informed by the movies and television much more so than history (which is not to say that it isn't a rich and interesting world all the same). And in that spirit I am going to review it on this blog as if it were a film. Too often a story that would be laughed off a cinema screen is given the benefit of the doubt (if only by gamers) because we don't expect games to have the same quality - the same ability to tell stories. In order to see whether 'LA Noire' bucks that trend I'm going to be reviewing it as if I'd watched it as a show on HBO.

So, if you're interested in that, check back in the week for that. And for reviews of 'Pirates 4: On Stranger Tides' and US indie comedy 'Win Win'.

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