There are movies and television shows that I very much enjoy, but find very, very intense and this means that I have to take a break in the middle of them to engage with a purring cat or pace for 10 minutes or so before I can sit back down and get back into the (very engaging!) storyline.

Video games have this be somewhat less problematic for me. If the main villain gives a monologue in a movie before harming someone close to the protagonist, I have to go upstairs and get some ice cream. If it happens in a video game, I press X and get myself in position to kick some bee-you-tee-tee… that is, until I started playing LA Noire.

It’s a very different experience than other Rockstar games. In Red Dead Redemption, for example, you play The Outlaw John Marston. It’s fun to rob trains, get involved with the Mexican Revolution, herd cattle, and otherwise archetype it up. It’s a game about Manifest Destiny. It’s a game about the limitations of freedom. It’s a game about the caprice of frontier government. It’s a game about trying to make wrong things right.

Hell, in Grand Theft Auto IV, you play Nico Bellic. Eastern European (Croatian? Serb?) and looking to find the one who done him wrong… and, along the way, rob banks, spar with police, go out to dinner with your cousin Roman (maybe bowling!), and steal the occasional car. It’s a game about the futility of revenge. It’s a game about finding ecstacy in a world overflowing with existential dread. It’s a game about the importance of spending time with your family. It’s a game about how you don’t have to wait for the red light to change to go through the intersection.

LA Noire is different. For one thing, you’re Cole Phelps — a cop. Libertarian horror stories notwithstanding, the archetype does not really allow for the chaotic (even nihilistic) destruction of property the way that GTA IV and Red Dead practically demand. Sure, you *CAN* grab someone out of their car from the middle of the street and then crash it into a busy intersection… but it seems empty. The “real” story behind LA Noire does not involve a cop who does things like steal cars and then creates multi-car pileups. That’s something that you, the (a little bit jerky, to be honest) player is doing in opposition to the story the computer GM is trying to engage you with.

You know, even as you throw passers-by on the ground, that this version of events isn’t the real one. You get the feeling that the “real” Cole Phelps would have a problem with failing to use turn signals, let alone be cool with the idea of cars as missiles. On top of that constraint, you are a detective investigating crimes. So there is a victim (who has already been created) and someone who needs to be “brought to justice”… but justice is little more than a holding cell. You see the evidence (and, more often than not, the body) and go from there to throwing someone in the clink. The victim remains dead. The criminal remains the criminal. Nothing feels like it’s accomplished. As such, it’s a game about the limitations of civilization to maintain itself. A little bit of knowledge of the last 40ish years throws the contrast between “nowish” and “thenish” into stark relief.

Sure, you’re chasing the Black Dahlia killer… but, you know what? Dexter, Season Five, finished recently. The prurient interest in chasing serial killers has evolved into the joys of watching a serial killer have to juggle a job, a family, and his “hobby”. This removes the hope/joy to be found in the fantasy of making the city safer for everybody and Cole becomes little more than a Dutch boy with his finger in a dike. No, wait. That story had a happy ending. He becomes a Cassandra? No, that doesn’t work either. It’s like the Morgan Freeman character from Se7en playing the Brad Pitt character in the Se7en video game.

Which, may I add, ought not be seen as a complaint about the game. It’s not… not at all. I’m just explaining how a Rockstar Game as awesome as LA Noire has me put the controller down and me pacing the stress off rather than, say, blowing stuff up like you can in the other universes. It’s because the story is so good that you have no choice but to play your character so you both can see what is “really” going on.


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com


  1. So, you are feeling the strees your Cole character would be feeling? Weird.

    • I will give an example.

      I’m now in homicide and I stopped by a happ’n’n nightclub.

      My partner moseyed up to the bar to get some rye whilst I went to the back to grill the owner, see. Once back in the car, I started giving him a lecture about drinking on the job and how we, as police, have a responsibility to the fine citizens blah blah blah.

      This lecture flips from Fridayesque high camp to incoherence if it is given while I drive up the sidewalk taking out pedestrians waiting patiently at bus stops.

  2. True, it means they have created a very good atmosphere that you can immerse yourself in.

    • I play video games instead of watching movies for the most part. I enjoy being part of the story, if not the driver *OF* the story. Yeah, some games (I’m thinking GTA3 here) allow you to just up’n do whatever you want. Like… have a “how many cars can I explode in a row?” contest. (I think my best was 8 with one grenade.) Only after my goofing off did I say “okay, let’s get back to the game.”

      Others (LA Noire) have a story that they are telling and to refuse to participate is to invite the question “why in the heck did you buy this game if what you wanted was to play Carmageddon?”

      • So, what is the story? Have you found the over all plot? You mentioend the Black Dahlia killer. Is that the main storyline?

        • So far, in homicide, I have investigated two women found beaten and in a state of undress who have had similar methods applied to them.

          There is enough to make them similar to make me wonder if it’s not the same guy behind both, and there is enough to make them dissimilar to make me wonder if they’re both not just copycatting the real Dahlia and hoping to get a “freebie”, as my partner so charmingly puts it.

          At the same time, I periodically (get it?) pick up newspapers that continue to tell a story about a psychoanalyst who seems to put a great deal of emphasis on opiates in his practice… and the crime that appears in his wake.

          I’m sure it’ll all tie together before the end of the game.

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