What LA Noire Could Learn From Red Dead

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This week Team Bondi, the LA Noire developer, is rumoured to be going bankrupt and selling off its assets, including game IP. This comes in the wake of the furor over alleged extended crunch times and a slew of employees complaining about unfair working practices. Thankfully, the L.A. Noire IP is owned by Rockstar, so the possible sequel is in safe hands.

Noire was the biggest disappointment of the year for me. Being a huge film noir fan, I had high hopes for this game, but it just didn’t deliver, from a film buff’s point of view. I’m just hoping that Rockstar San Diego get to take the helm if there is a follow-up to L.A. Noire because there are a few things that game could learn from Red Dead Redemption.

Both Noire and RDR took iconic movie genres as their basis and gave them the gaming treatment. Obviously, they both had that Rockstar feel, but Red Dead was a far more successful game in terms of gameplay and atmosphere than Noire could ever hope to be.

L.A. Noire wasn’t a bad game. Yes it did present an amazing leap forward in facial technology, with recognisable cameos from various actors. Yes, it did nail the detail when it comes to period touches. The cars, the buildings, the clothes and household items were period perfect, but somehow there was still a bit of a vacuum when it came to atmosphere.

When it comes to a sequel to L.A. Noire, there are few things I would like to see. There are also a few things Noire can learn from Red Dead Redemption…

Picture Perfect

Red Dead Redemption took all the elements from the Western and ran with them. The disaffected lead, a man on a personal journey, ambiguous moral core, man against nature and the whole nine yards. All the cliches were there, but they weren’t shoe-horned in. They served as reminders of the world we were in, what to expect…and boy did Rockstar San Diego deliver.

I feel that Team Bondi needed to buy themselves the ultimate Humphrey Bogart boxset and read a few Dashiel Hammett books. Team Bondi’s effort was a lesson in noir by numbers, but without actually understanding what noir is. They needed less time watching Columbo and more hours spent channelling the spirit of Phillip Marlowe.

Next time around it wouldn’t hurt to make the whole thing black and white – think Sin City. I want red lips and peekaboo hairstyles on femme fatales who triple cross the lead, I want the gaming equivalent of Peter Lorre and friends who turn out to be foes, who turn out to be friends again.

Weird and Wonderful

Part of Noire’s problem was it was all a bit bland. Sure they threw in a cool jazz soundtrack and a serial killer, but that’s no replacement for an intriguing story with so many twists and turns you could call it a rollercoaster.

Red Dead gave us the mysterious stranger who kept cropping up in different parts of the story. He seemed to know everything about John Marston and forum theories suggest he’s everything from God to the Devil, Marston’s son, or Death. He’s a minor character, but added a whole new level to the game. Noire’s Phelps is in dire need of some extra depth to make us want to stand by him to the bitter end, and get the feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia that should be part of any good noir.

Cinematic

I shake my head in despair when I think about the missed opportunities littered through L.A. Noire, when it came to hitting the aesthetic touchstones of film noir. In contrast, Red Dead gave us the vast landscapes, it gave us ponchos and tumbleweed and boot-eye view and lens flare.

Noire should have been pushing sharp camera angles, but it was all just fixed, bland, square-on framing. We should have had extreme close-ups, panning shots, shadowy scenes cut by the glare of car headlights. We had none of that. I don’t even remember a voice coming out of the dark and then a standard lamp being switched on to reveal the foe. This is film noir 101, but Team Bondi missed the beat at every turn.

A tale of two games

When it comes to story, Red Dead wins hands down. We had intriguing characters littered throughout the game. It was by no means a Pulitzer Prize winner, but it definitely had me hooked, and best of all, Marston was cool and complex and I cared about his story, right through to the brilliant ending.

L.A. Noire just failed to entice me. I know this is a game that’s going for the slow burn feel of the old movies, rather than an action, in-your-face rampage with a gun, but this requires a little more narrative artistry. Phelps wasn’t an intriguing character. He needed a bit more Don Draper swagger to really get me rooting for him because basically I didn’t care.

I’m hoping that Rockstar San Diego will take a long hard look at the story for the sequel. It needs more red herrings, more intrigue and conspiracy with less of the find clue, find clue, find clue, then drive, find-clue, then drive/interrogate style gameplay.

I so wanted to love L.A. Noire. Please Rockstar San Diego, let me love Noire 2.

Most played: Mass Effect 2

Most wanted: The Journey

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