Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Different Type Of "Game"

So, no. This is not yet another Game of Thrones blog entry. Put the sword down and relax. That's probably going to come tomorrow or the day after. I haven't seen the latest episode yet.

This is about the new Playstation 3 game I just started up over the weekend -- L.A. Noire. Yes, yes, I know I've already mentioned it yesterday, and in my "Now Playing" sidebar . . . but since then I've made a bit more progress. And I wanted to tell you about one of the cases I recently completed as newly minted LAPD detective, Cole Phelps.

See, on Sunday I managed to start the game and work my way up to detective. This got me off the patrol desk and placed in Traffic. Now the Traffic desk is not what you might think. As a detective, you don't go around writing parking tickets and telling people to fix their tail lights. No. In Traffic, you deal with any crimes pertaining to automobiles -- such as hit-and-runs, car theft, etc. So, once I made it to Traffic I decided to call it a day. I had been playing for only 2 hours, but I felt I knew enough about the ins and outs of this game to do a stellar job the next time I picked up the controller.

Monday afternoon, after getting some unrelated writing work done, I powered up the machine once more and dived back into the seedy underbelly of 1947 Hollywood.

My first case as a bonafide detective had me dealing with a guy who tried to fake his death by leaving fresh pig's blood splattered all over the cab of his derelict car. Like many of the cases in L.A. Noire, this one was based on an actual case that occurred back in the 40s. I flew through it with flying colors, though, earning a five star rating on my report when the case was closed.

But the next case is where I really shined. And where I began to realize that I'm actually smarter than the game. See, I'm one of those annoying people who watch crime shows and figures them out before the 15 minute mark. My wife hates it. So lately I've learned to keep my mouth shut. Very few shows actually stump me, though, like Dexter or House. Most shows are annoying simple to figure out: to whit, all the CSIs, most of the L&Os, and a good deal of NCIS.

So needless to say, this video game has its work cut out for it if it wants to fool me.

But this next case was far too easy. Laughably so. I figured it all out almost as soon as I arrived on the crime scene. And, despite how I might come across in the preceding paragraph here, I don't actually think it's due to my big brain. No. Unfortunately, it's because they made it too easy for players. Specifically, they left behind way too many obvious clues at the crime scene.

Still, it was a fun case. Let me go over the particular details. At the start of each case in L.A. Noire, you get a nice old skool title card in black and white. Such as with this particular case:

We're treated to a brief preview of the crime, by which a man stumbles drunkenly out into the middle of the street and gets hit by a passing car. The car stops, but then quickly speeds away.

Next, we're Cole Phelps getting the case handed to him by the captain of the Traffic desk. I head out to the scene of the crime and find that the area has already been cordoned off by patrol. An officer briefly informs me of the gory details, and that they have one witness waiting to be interviewed -- an aspiring actress (of course) who lives above the nearby bar and saw the whole thing from her window.

Rather than interview her, I make a beeline straight for the body first. There's tire marks, blood spatter, and a long blood streak leading up to the corpse. The coroner tells me the body of the unknown victim was thrown 20 feet from the point of impact. Straight forward hit and run; the driver didn't even stop. But already I have a sinking suspicion that all is not what it seems. I stoop down and examine the poor sap, sifting through his pockets and finding a wallet and a curious letter from his life insurance company.

So, I learn the victim is one Lester Pattison. Okay. He's married, too. Great, I'm going to have to notify the spouse of her husband's death. Next up, I examine the letter more closely. Seems his weekly premium had recently increased from $3.70 per week to $5.90, with his lump sum payout increasing from $10,000 to $17,000. Back in 1947, this must have been a LOT of money. But on the letter this amount is circled in red and the words: "WHAT THE FUCK!" are handwritten next to it. Hmmm, curious. This makes me think that Lester did not authorize this increase himself. Immediately I smell something fishy here.

Further examination of the body reveals a puncture wound in his chest. But the coroner tells me that this is normal in hit and runs, and that the car involved must have had a fairly detailed hood ornament. I don't know about that . . .

I get up and examine the clues on the street once more. The grisly streak of blood leaving from the point of impact seems too bloody for a hit and run. And at the point of impact, I notice a separate pool of blood. Okay, that doesn't match up. If the car was speeding and hit the vic here, throwing him 20 feet forward, there would not have been enough time for that much blood to collect in a stationary spot. There's something else going on here, I think to myself.

The presence of tire marks are also puzzling. This would suggest the car came to a sudden, screeching halt before impact. The driver slowed the car down! He must have driven off out of fear. Okay, so by now I have a pretty good hunch that it wasn't the impact of the car that killed the vic. There must be another clue somewhere else . . .

I notice that the point of impact is directly before the exit of an alleyway. There's a trashbin inside the alley, propped up against a huge dumpster. I head over there, and guess what I find inside the bin?

Yup! The proverbial "bloody knife." I knew it! Ha-ha, something tells me this is tied in with the vic. But in the game, my character seems a little slow on the uptake. I've already put it all together, though. I now know how the vic died, who killed him, and why. But for the sake of the game, I still have to go through the motions.

So I interview the witness. She tells me that she saw the guy step into the street and a red car come barreling into him. In the game, you have to watch the facial reactions of your suspects and witnesses to see if they're lying or holding back on you. This woman so far seems to be telling the truth. Barely 3 hours into the game, I've already figured out a certain trick to seeing through these different expressions. It's so easy!

I ask her what made her decide to come to the window in the first place, and here she gets cagey. So I put the pressure on her, calling her into doubt, and she caves. She tells me she was going to save this last detail for the papers, to get her face out there. But now she comes clean. Before the accident, she was in her apartment when she heard a loud argument coming from the alley. The argument was between a man and his wife. She knew they were married because the wife was using intimate knowledge of her husband to make him angry. The kind of stuff only a wife would know and about her husband.

Afterwards, the man stumbled out of the alley and that's when he was hit by the car.

Realizing I'm not going to get any more out of her, I venture into the bar and question . . . the barman, of course! He's a little antagonistic, but eventually through my questioning I learn that Lester and his wife, Lorna, were regulars. Well mostly Lester, who liked to get drunk and play the tables in the back. Apparently the two were constantly arguing, but on this night Lorna was really pushing his buttons. They took it outside, and that's the last the barman saw of Lester.

Further questioning reveals that the barman is covering for his boss, Leroy Sabo, who owns the joint. Turns out Leroy is looking to open a new, better joint and is a little short on dough. It also looks like him and Lester's missus have been getting cozy as of late. In fact, he took Mrs. Pattison home after the accident and this is why he's not at the bar now.

Oh boy. Now I have to go make that home visit sooner than later!

I grab my partner and book it to the Pattison residence. There, Lorna acts despondent over the death of her husband. I ask her if she's alone, and then Sabo comes slinking out from a back room somewhere. He says he's there to "comfort" his good friend.


I grill the wife pretty harshly, telling Mrs. Pattison that a witness saw her arguing heatedly with her husband just before the "accident." I also show her the updated life insurance policy and ask her if there's a reason why ten grand suddenly wasn't enough for her. At this point Sabo takes over and quickly puts an end to the convo. As I don't yet have enough evidence for an arrest, I have to lay off and leave.

But then I get a call to head down to the coroner's office, and this is where I'm vindicated. Turns out the vic was fatally stabbed twice on the right side of his thorax by a long, sharp object. Hmm, you mean like the big ass knife I found at the scene of the crime? So much for a hood ornament doing the job.

My partner is flabbergasted (stupid man!). He says that this case has just been upgraded to a Murder 1. No shit, Sherlock? I've known that since 3 minutes in!

Anyway, so we rush back to the Pattison residence with a warrant for Lorna's arrest. But she puts the blame squarely on Sabo. Sabo guns her down (the things he WOULDN'T do for love, eh?) and then runs like mad out the back door. I have to chase him down on foot, and when I finally catch up:

The punk ass! He actually has the nerve to pull a hostage on me. Oh, he's going down! I wait long enough for his head to come into view, and real quick -- POP! I pull the trigger.

That's right. Head shot go BOOM! Cuz, you see, that's how I roll baby!

Anyway, case gets closed. Because I collected all the clues and got right down to the nitty gritty in my interrogations ... er, I mean interviews, I get a 5-star rating on my performance, and a hearty atta-boy from the cap'n.

And there you have it. A "typical" case in a day in the life of Cole Phelps, LAPD detective.

Now tell me: doesn't this game sound SWEET to you? Despite it being so easy so far, I actually do love all the attention to detail and how each case unfolds differently. Interrogations are my favorite, with clue gathering coming in at a close second. Running and gunning is not quite as fun as it should be, given the gameplay mechanics. But that's never really been the strong suit of Rockstar games anyway.

I went on to unlock 5 more "trophies" yesterday, bringing my total now up to 12 trophies in all after only 2 days of play. Pretty nifty! I've also solved all the cases at the Traffic desk, and have now been promoted to Homicide. My very first case as a homicide detective is based on the real life and infamous "Black Dahlia" affair, which some of you may know about due to the big-budget Hollywood movie of the same name a couple of years back. I'm tempted to read up on that case in Wikipedia before I solve it in the game, but then it'll be beyond easy and so I don't want to spoil it for myself.

Yeah, I'm hooked! Can you tell?


  1. Damn, it looks like I'm the only schmuck that screws up the interviews... Everyone I know that plays the game aces the interviews... Dammit! I need to learn to read CGI people better.

    But now you see, what I'm talking about! This game is awesome!!

  2. David, in your opinion how does this stack up to GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption so far?

    I just started the old school Fallout 1 game (circa 1997, turn-based combat no less!) a couple of weeks ago but this looks mighty tempting.

  3. Rod -- Yes indeed, I do see what you mean! :) And I'm sure you're going to get better at it. I suggest you wait an extra second or two after the Lie, Doubt, or Truth options flash on the upper left hand of the screen. When they're holding back information or lying, they do an extra smirk at that moment to give it away.

    Watchtower -- GTA IV and RDR were both truly AWESOME experiences. This game uses the same engine, so it plays almost identical to those games. Except, L.A. Noire is more streamlined. What I mean about that is, there's a lot less side-tracking going on. You don't have missions that just go on and on. You don't start a mission, then have to put it on pause until you finish other missions and get the components you need to come back and finish the first mission. You don't have to engage in extra curricular activities, or hang out with in-game buddies to improve you interpersonal skills.

    None of that.

    Just pure, unadulterated crime solving! Sure, there are secret items you can go looking for. But the meat n potatoes of this game are the cases. And, for the most part, they're pretty straight forward. I like that!

  4. That looks amazing! So many facets and decisions, cool stuff.

  5. It looks so real! I haven't played video games in forever, but I always used to LOVE them.

    P.S. I gave you an award today. I figure you would make a phenomenal Overlord (I mean, hey, you sat in the Iron Throne!). Hope you will have fun with it.

  6. It sounds very exciting and interesting! Glad you're enjoying it!

  7. GYSC -- Don't it, though? :)

    Frisky -- Cool! Thanks for the award! I'll stop by and check it out.

    Yvonne -- I am, I am. Hey, enjoy your blog break btw!

  8. Oops, sorry. I got confused, Yvonne. sorry about that. It's Jen who is taking a brief little blog break, not you.

    It's late, so that's my excuse. :)


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