Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Detective Work - LA Noire - Part 1

Lately, thanks to my own personal run of the Ace Attorney games, I've had police procedurals on the brain. Though not a detective game in the strictest sense, I was hoping that streaming The Council would help to satisfy that itch.

Turns out I was wrong. As interesting as it was mechanically, The Council doesn't have much to offer in terms of notable content beyond that initial conversation piece. Thus, it behooves me to move onto a game I know I have much to say about.

Welcome to LA Noire!

LA Noire is a game I have decidedly mixed feelings about. On one hand, I'm a sucker for detective fiction, and it's a very polished example of that. On the other hand, there are a number of problems I have both with the game and the circumstances surrounding it's development. We'll get more into it as we proceed, but this episode lays the groundwork for future discussion.

What I will talk about in this column, however, is the way the interview/interrogation system works. When talking to a person of interest, the player always begins by asking a question. After the witness makes their statement, there are 3 available options:
  1. Truth/Good Cop
  2. Doubt/Bad Cop
  3. Lie/Accuse
By selecting "Truth", players indicate that they believe the witness's statement, and attempt to gently coax more information out of them. This is usually easy to figure out.

However, what is more difficult is determining when the correct answer is either "Doubt" or "Lie" (and there is always a correct answer). Either way, players are showing that they sense deception from the witness. The difference being that "Lie" allows one to present direct evidence contrary to the statement made, while "Doubt" is reserved for when no such evidence exists.

This gets complicated for a number of reasons. Some of them are the obvious ones that adventure game players are used to, namely that the developer logic is sometimes obtuse and difficult to understand. (As I said in the video, just changing the options from Truth/Doubt/Lie to Good Cop/Bad Cop/Accuse made the game much easier to read for people, but there are other examples we'll get to later.)

Less obvious is the fact that players aren't necessarily guaranteed to possess all the evidence they need to successfully complete an interview. If one goes into an interview without the evidence required to call out a "Lie/Accusation" successfully, then even pressing Doubt will not be sufficient to arrive at the correct answer. There's no points for partial credit, and once an answer is submitted, there's no way to undo it. While the game will funnel the player to the end of the case of matter how badly they screw up, it always hurts to botch an interview because there is no second chance.

I can't but compare this to the Ace Attorney games, since I've been playing so much of them lately. Because that game is a visual novel with a set "correct" path through the investigations, the game can guarantee that players have all the evidence they need before a witness makes their statement. And when while the witness is reciting their testimony, they can read and reread through it as many times as they need to, pressing them for information to clarify specific points until they can present the contradiction between said statement and the facts that have been gathered so far. If they screw up, they'll take a penalty (enough of which will result in a Game Over), but can take another shot at presenting the correct piece.

While LA Noire is certainly fun, I can't deny that the interrogation system, the game's biggest defining feature, feels like it was eclipsed by a system that was created well before Team Bondai began development.

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